This blog brings you the latest and greatest news about Assistive Technology. Follow to read more about electronic devices, phone and web apps, services, prototypes, and other news items that would benefit people with disabilities.
We have heard quite a bit about universal design and accessibility recently but what do they look like when actually implemented in real life?
To promote universal design in houses, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation recently launched a new campaign called “Accessibility Is Beautiful” that highlights some key aspects to be taken into consideration while designing a house that’s accessible to everyone, irrespective of age, ability or disability. The Foundation has launched a new mini video series that features three different families that built truly accessible homes in various locations – one in a Seattle suburb, another in a seaside location in Mexico, and the third in a busy downtown location. All these houses have everything for everyone without screaming accessibility – in a truly universal design-esque fashion. Along with the videos, the Foundation has also released a 40 page “Look book” that shows various facets of each house in the form of photographs and detailed descriptions, inspiring the rest of us on what universal design really means, and how important it is to consider each person’s requirements and tastes, and blend them into the final design. The end of the look book has a universal design checklist too that highlights necessary elements of a fully accessible house.
Check out the first of three videos from the mini series below. The second and third videos will be released on May 23rd and May 30th 2019 respectively. (keep an eye on the source link for those videos)
More recently, we have seen accessibility becoming more prominent in the gaming world. To make things a lot more accessible and easier, especially for visually impaired or blind gamers, Microsoft has filed for a patent design for a braille controller. This proposed controller will have paddles at the back that can be set up in various configurations. These paddles will be used to provide input using Braille as well as to receive output in the form of haptic feedback to the person holding the controller.
The patent design
doesn’t have a lot of details but this design obviously will revolutionize the
way blind people interact with gaming console. Filed in August 2018, we are not
sure if Microsoft will really make this patent a reality. If Microsoft doesn’t,
others can, right? It is great inspiration for us to make every day objects
accessible for blind people using Braille.
“Audio can give you information, but it can’t give you literacy.”
– Chris Danielsen for the National Federation of the Blind
Even though Braille
literacy is associated with better job outcomes, estimates suggest that only
ten percent of blind children learn how to read Braille. This may soon change
with a pilot project Lego launched recently.
The project, Lego Braille Bricks, aims to teach Braille to children
Through this project, the lego bricks will repurpose the knobs on the top as Braille dots. The bricks will also have the letter, number or punctuation mark printed on them so that blind and sighted children can play together with them. Lego Braille Bricks is expected to be launched in 2020 in partnership with schools and associations for the blind.
The number of children learning Braille has been on the decline because of many reasons. Various other assistive technologies like screen reader have also taken over. Over the years, audio has also been pushed as a substitute for Braille even though advocates say audio cannot teach critical skills like spelling and complex math. Children develop a natural affinity towards Legos and are very comfortable with them. This affinity can go a long way in helping them learn Braille quickly and in a very fun way.
Watch the video below to learn more about Braille Legos. How useful do you think these Legos will be for blind and visually impaired children? Let us know in the comments below.
LEGO Introduces Braille Bricks to Help Visually Impaired Kids - YouTube
Braille is the de facto language when it comes to printing documents for blind people. This dot based system has been around for more than 200 years, and has proved to be extremely crucial in bringing literacy, independence and employment to blind people. However, one problem with Braille is that less than 1% of blind people can read it. Moreover, people who lose sight later in their lives either don’t learn Braille or struggle to learn it.
To curtail the limitations that come with Braille, Andrew Chepaitis, a former equity research analyst, has created ELIA (Education, Literacy, Independence for All), a new system/font for blind people.
ELIA has two basic components to it – an outer frame that’s made of circle, semi circle, square and house, and interior elements that form the characteristics of standard alphabet letters. A-D are in a semi circle, O-S in a circle, and the rest are boxed in a square outer frame. These letters look very similar to the standard English alphabet letters, and a new user can learn this system in less than 3 hours, as compared to months of rigorous learning that Braille demands.
ELIA is available as a free download, and can also be used as a tactile keyboard cover so a user can learn it easily and type faster. It is also in talks with Hewlett-Packard to develop a printer that will allow users to print tactile text on paper.
However, not everything is rosy for ELIA. The US National Federation of the Blind thinks that ELIA will slow people down especially because tracing the outer frames will require more time. Chepaitis is not too worried about this concern though, and thinks that eventually the NFB will warm up to ELIA. Whether it’s a practical system or not is a different story but one must applaud the efforts of Chepaitis and his team to overhaul an existing system to make learning and independence available to a much larger audience.
Watch the video below to learn more about ELIA.
ELIA Frames Kickstarter Campaign Video - YouTube
Interested in quickly learning this new system? Try it out yourself!
See how ELIA compares to Roman and Braille letters:
80% of people on the Autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. Microsoft took a huge initiative a few years ago to start hiring people on the spectrum for technical jobs. To encourage other organizations to do the same, Microsoft, in collaboration with the University of Washington Information School, came up with the Autism @ Work Playbook. This playbook is meant as a guide for any employer who is interested in starting or expanding their inclusive hiring program and hire people with Autism.
This guide shows an employer how to plan the hiring process by answering some fundamental like “why are we doing this?”, “where do we start” and many others to make the program effective and successful. The playbook lays down all aspects required for inclusive hiring, and also shows how other big companies made their case for inclusive hiring.
In order to help people with disabilities use its products much more comfortably and independently, and to foray into inclusion, Ikea recently launched the “ThisAbles” project that includes a line of low tech assistive technology devices that bridges gaps between existing Ikea products and the needs of people with disabilities. These products, like the Mega Switch that can be used to turn on and off a lamp without the need for precise use of fingers, can be easily printed by consumers on a 3D printer at their own convenience. There are 13 such products available that cater to people with disabilities related to vision, mobility and hand functions.
Visit ThisAbles.com for more information and to learn about these new developments as well as existing products suitable for people with disabilities.
IKEA ThisAbles- The Project - YouTube
Make sure to watch these quick videos to see some of the products in action.
A large number of people across the world are unable to feed themselves because of mobility issues and amputation, and, for the most part, have to depend on a caretaker to get fed. Thanks to some researchers at Washington University, a robotic arm may be coming into their lives to change the way they are fed.
ADA (Assistive Dexterous Arm) is a robotic arm that can be attached to a motorized wheelchair. One specialty of ADA is that it can feed a person with mobility issues without having to depend on someone else. Once activated, the first thing ADA does is pick up a custom, 3D printed fork docked on the side of the wheelchair. Next, thanks to a couple of special algorithms built for it, ADA’s camera scans the plate and tells the arm how to pick it. Once the food is picked, the arm moves and rotates, and brings the food close the user’s mouth so they can bite it.
Eating food with a
fork seems like a very trivial task to humans but for a robot, it is perhaps
one of the most difficult things it may have to deal with! Humans naturally
adapt their approach to accommodate shape and size of food items they are
dealing with, however, a robot needs to understand the size, type, and texture
of foods they are dealing with. For example, if ADA is picking up a slice of
banana, it may have to prick it with its fork at an angle so that the banana
doesn’t just slide off the fork. Similarly, to pick a long piece of celery or
baby carrot may require have to be
first, pricked at an end and not the middle, and second, placed in front of the
user’s mouth in such a way that it’s easy for them to bite it. Several factors
are in play here – shape, size, texture, hardness – that determine how it
should be dealt with by the robot. Some questions that need to be answered in
such scenarios are how much force should be applied to pick up food without
dropping it? How should the fork be rotated? Do some foods require more force
than others to be gripped perfectly?
ADA seems to answer all these questions very well. Thanks to its arm mounted camera, ADA can also adjust to head movement of the user. If the plate is empty or the user indicates they’ve eaten enough, ADA moves the arm away and puts the fork back into its dock. The video below shows a great demonstration of how ADA works, and how much effort and thought has gone into its design.
Autonomous Robot Feeding with Assistive Dexterous Arm (ADA) - YouTube
Interested in learning more about ADA? You can read the published article and also watch a series of videos that show how ADA was tested with human subjects, like this one:
Towards Robotic Feeding: Role of Haptics in Fork-based Food Manipulation - YouTube
In order to encourage people, especially students at schools to develop 3D printed assistive technology solutions, PrintLab, a UK based 3D printing curriculum and global distributor has just released a free course that will allow anyone to solve real world problems for people with disabilities.
A majority of people living with disabilities use some kind of aid or assistive device on a daily basis to be more independent. In a lot of cases, assistive technology solutions are extremely expensive, and many of these solutions are not even customized for individual users. More recently, 3D printing has helped break these barriers by helping create cost effective solutions tailored for specific users.
The course consists of 5 lessons that involve case studies, CAD tutorial videos, hands on activity, and a team activity that involves identifying a user and brainstorming challenges the user faces. After the brainstorming, unique concept designs are developed and a 3D prototype is manufactured and tested. Successful models may be requested by people with disabilities and even manufactured by schools or local makers.
Check out video below and source link for more details.
Assistive Device Academy - 3D Printing Lesson Plan - Vimeo
In order to make conversations a lot easier for deaf people, Google recently introduced a new app called Live Transcribe that will convert people’s voices to text in real time. Using Google’s cloud based automatic speech recognition, Live Transcribe captures people’s speech and converts it into real time captions for the deaf user and displays them on the phone. The words appear on the phone as they are spoken. The app captures speech using just the phone’s built-in mic – no additional accessory is needed.
The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2055, there will be 900 million people with hearing loss world wide. Apps like Live Transcribe can help several people who are deaf or are hard of hearing break barriers and enable them to communicate in environments where they may not have access to a sign language interpreter or other assistive technology and accessible features.
Live Transcribe is a free app, and you can download it from the Play Store of your Android Phone. It supports over 70 languages and dialects, and also provides bilingual support with quick switch between two languages.
Vibrations play a very significant role in a deaf person’s life, especially when it comes to music. Thanks to the Music: Not Impossible suit (M:NI), listening to music, especially at concerts became even more enjoyable for deaf people.
The suit consists of a vest and wearables on the wrists and ankles. Music is sent to the suit wirelessly, which is then converted to vivid vibrations which can be felt by the person wearing it. So, instead of transmitting vibrations through the ear, it is transmitted through the skin!
The vibrations are quite distinct – different instruments send out vibrations to various parts of the body, not just one. So, vibrations related to drum beats could start with your ankle and go up through your leg. Similarly, a bass line could be going up and down your lower back, and a harp could be moving across your chest. Through these vibrations, deaf people can really experience music holistically.
Watch the video below to learn more about the suit, and to see people’s reactions who tried it.
Music: Not Impossible Highlights - YouTube
Additional reading: How else can similar vests work for deaf people?