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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

CSUF News Service

Student Research for ALS Patients

User-Friendly Prototype Helps People Communicate Online

ALS Interface TrialStudent David Diaz tests an electronic communication system with the help of alumnus Dean Zarkos, which would allow him and other ALS patients to use a computer using thoughts, facial expressions and head movements.
Computer engineering major Krystle Ilisastigui hopes her efforts to help develop a high-tech communication device will improve the quality of life for those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
Ilisastigui and several of her classmates are developing an electronic communication system to enable ALS patients to access the Internet and communicate via email, text document, chat or Skype using thoughts, facial expressions and head movements, said Kiran George, associate professor of computer engineering.
George and his students have worked on the prototype since February — supported by a $100,000 grant from the Oakland-based Disability Communications Fund — and partnered with the ALS Association Orange County Chapter to fine-tune the technology and design.
This summer, the communication device was tested with the help of patients at the chapter's Tustin office.
"I have 100 percent faith in you," said Cal State Fullerton alumnus Dean Zarkos, diagnosed with ALS in 2011, as students placed a wireless headset on him.
With the device, patients like Zarkos — who uses a motorized wheelchair and is unable to move his hands, arms or legs — can communicate online with head tilts and facial expressions.
"What they are doing is phenomenal: it's cutting-edge technology. Anything that can help patients like myself is a tremendous asset for us," said Zarkos '78 (B.A. political science) of Seal Beach, who holds an MBA and law degree and owns a property management business.
"I can see it opening up the world for people like me. You can do email — communicate with anybody. These students make me proud to be a Titan."
ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. An estimated 75 percent of ALS patients lose their ability to speak, along with use of their hands, said George. Speech problems are progressive, and most will experience a severe breakdown in their ability to communicate with others, he added.
"Patients face tremendous barriers that make electronic communication a challenge. This inability to communicate is equally frustrating and emotionally devastating," George added. "But this device will help them to engage in electronic communication and allow them to stay connected to friends and family."
What is most appealing about the technology is that the device is user-friendly, requires minimal training and is low cost, observed Jared Mullins '04 (B.A. political science), executive director of the ALS Orange County Chapter.
The wireless communication system utilizes commercially off-the-shelf components to minimize design time and cost, George explained. The goal is to keep the device's cost under $150.
While the project allows students to apply what they learn in class and put it to practical use, it also is an eye-opening experience in seeing how their work could help ALS patients regain control of simple tasks.
"It's been challenging and a great learning experience for us to work directly with the patients," said graduate student David Diaz. "It's real hands-on — something you are not going to get in the classroom."
Fellow graduate student Aaron Castillo added that one of the biggest challenges has been to personalize the device to meet patients' needs as the disease progresses.
"We're going to give this project everything we have; we just want to help," Castillo said.
George and his students also are working on other brain-controlled systems for ALS patients, in which thoughts and expressions can be used to control a robotic arm and electric wheelchair.
For more photos, visit online
- See more at: http://news.fullerton.edu/2015su/ALS-research.aspx#sthash.VTDHjMjP.dpuf

Friday, July 31, 2015

AT&T awards $100K for tech to help people with disabilities

Twenty-five years after President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, AT&T called on developers to use existing technology to create solutions for people with disabilities.

kinesic-mouse.jpg
Jason DaSilva, a documentary filmmaker who has multiple sclerosis, has been working with developers on Kinesic Mouse, software that allows him to control his PC hands-free by using a 3D camera that detects facial expressions. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, AT&T teamed up with New York University's Ability Lab to challenge app developers to use their network and technology to make life easier for people with disabilities.
Together they launched the Connect Ability Challenge, designed to spur innovation for people with physical, social, emotional and cognitive disabilities. Winners of the contest, which saw a total of 63 submissions, were announced Monday.
In total, AT&T awarded $100,000 in cash. That included a $25,000 grand prize for Kinesic Mouse, software that uses Intel's Real Sense Web camera to detect facial expressions and head rotations, enabling people to operate their personal computers hands-free. Other winners include a smartphone app to help visually impaired shoppers find their way around a store using existing beacon technology, and one that uses Bluetooth to connect sensors to a smartphone preprogrammed with stock phrases to enable nonverbal individuals to push a button to communicate basic needs.
The ADA, signed into law on July 26, 1990, was monumental legislation intended to ensure that people with disabilities could participate fully in the workforce and their communities free from discrimination. The most visible legacy to the law has been the changes in infrastructure from cut-outs in sidewalks to ATMs marked with Braille to widespread closed captioning to fire alarms that can be seen as well as heard.
But advocates for people with disabilities say more needs to be done, as many disabled Americans still find it difficult to participate meaningfully in their communities. Technology, including AT&T's efforts to encourage more development in this area, can help bridge the gap between public policy and real life, said Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T New York.
"The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act was to remove barriers that people with disabilities face. It's clear from these extraordinary submissions that technology can play an important role in fulfilling the law's mission," she said. "The winning solutions address specific challenges that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in our society. We hope that this unique competition spurs further innovation in this area and highlights how much mobile technology can improve people's daily experiences."

The contest

The purpose of the contest was to challenge developers to use off-the-shelf technology already in existence to help solve problems for people with disabilities. While the ADA helped pave the way for an entire industry dedicated to assistive technology, the products developed have primarily been tailored to niche audiences and have been expensive. AT&T's vision for the contest was to encourage developers to use mainstream technology, such as smartphones, tablets, voice-recognition software, Web cameras, and 4G LTE wireless networks, to create affordable apps and software.
"The beauty of the contest is that the solutions the developers came up with are super simple, affordable and use technology, like the Android and iOS operating systems, that everyone is already using," said Neil Giacobbi, executive director for public affairs for AT&T. "The truth is that people with disabilities are already using this technology -- just like everyone. So why should they have to use a separate device to get the help they need in their everyday lives?"

Putting it all together

To find out what solutions people with disabilities were looking for, AT&T enlisted the help of four people to consult with the app developers participating in the contest.
For Gus Chalkias, who is blind, that meant sharing with developers his deepest anxieties about going out in public on his own.
"For me the biggest issue I face when going somewhere new is just figuring out where everything is," he said. "I usually have to ask for help, which I'm very willing to do. But it would be nice to not have to ask a stranger where the bathroom is."
The developers at Enlight, which won a $10,000 prize for the "Best Solution Impacting Policy and Society," created a smartphone application that leverages existing iBeacon technology in stores and other public places. The app enables people who can't see to scan their surroundings with their mobile devices to help them navigate.
For Jason DaSilva, an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a decade ago, the Kinesic Mouse software -- which won the grand prize -- allows him to control his PC completely hands-free, using Intel's Real Sense 3D camera that detects facial expressions and head rotations. With a tilt of his head or a pucker of his lips, he can control the PC, joystick or keyboard, helping him regain some independence that had been lost to the disease.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling, disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body. Over the years, DaSilva has lost the ability to walk and to dress himself. As of about nine months ago, he lost control of the motor function in his hands necessary to work a mouse and trackpad on his computer, which he uses to edit his films. He said he has been forced to rely on his assistant to click his mouse during the edit process as he dictates editorial direction.
DaSilva said the process of relying on a middleman to operate the computer's editing tools has helped him become a better film editor and director. But he admitted the added step is hugely time consuming. Using the Kinesic software, he's learning how to make those edits on his own again. He's also able to check email and browse the Internet without the help of someone else.
"All of a sudden, I'm regaining some independence," he said. "It's huge. It's a small thing that helps make life more normal for me. And it makes me more productive."
While other software exists that offers similar functionality, DaSilva said Kinesic Mouse works better than anything else he's tried. And it costs less than most other solutions. Markus Proell, founder of Kinesic Mouse, said his solution adapts software and hardware originally developed for gaming. As a result, Proell said his solution, which costs about $400, is priced far below that of software created specifically for the special-needs community.
In fact, he said, the cost of the software is so low, some customers in the US may not be able to get it covered by federal Medicaid insurance, which typically picks up the bill for assistive technology for people who have disabilities.

Only the beginning

AT&T's Giacobbi said that the technology industry is still in the early days of figuring out ways to leverage existing technology to help people. As mobile technology becomes more pervasive and less expensive, he said it will also be easier for developers to create solutions for people with disabilities. And he said that AT&T hopes it can encourage developers to innovate and create solutions for this underserved group.
"It doesn't take a computer scientist to realize that something like a fitness tracker with GPS could be used to help someone with a disability," he said. "We've just scratched the surface in terms of using existing technology to help people with disabilities."

A bionic hand in five days: how tech innovation is changing lives


Assistive technology is giving disabled people more control over their lives, but businesses and charities have a long way to go on accessibility and affordability
Bionic hand
Nicky Ashwell is the UK’s first patient to receive a lifelike bionic hand. Photograph: Laura Lean/PA Wire
For those who need it, a bionic limb can cost up to £80,000 and take three months to make. However, by using 3D scanning and printing, a Bristol-based start-up reckons it can provide an amputee with a bionic hand for less than £2,000 in less than a week.
Using the latest in advanced robotic prosthetics, Open Bionic’s prototype hands generate movement in the fingers in response to electrodes connected to muscles in an amputee’s arm.
“It’s an intuitive way to operate the hand and it give them (amputees) back a freedom of movement that they had previously lost or were born without in some cases”, Joel Gibbard, the company’s founder, has said.
A winner at the recent Tech4Good awards, Open Bionics’ prototype is emblematic of a gradual, but burgeoning interest in how new technologies can help meet disabled people’s needs.


So-called assistive technology has the potential to “transform the level of dignity and independence that disabled people experience in their everyday lives”, argues Constance Agyeman, manager of theInclusive Technology Prize at the independent charity Nesta.
Despite emerging interest in this space, however, current solutions are frequently expensive, unattractive and too narrowly-focused, adds Agyeman. “The feeling from a range of disability network organisations is that a lot of the big manufacturers are very much tied to the healthcare sector… which means there is a limited range of assistive technologies for disabled people to access.”

Increasing the pace of innovation

In an attempt to broaden the scope of assistive technologies currently available, Nesta awarded £10,000 to each of the 10 finalists of its prize to bring their ideas to market. The list includes a free-to-use communication aid, an “evolvable” walking aid, a one-handed lap belt for wheelchair users and a hearing loop listening app.
In a similar competition last year, Google recognised – among others – a network of volunteers who use 3D printers to provide prosthetics for free. The e-NABLE community received a $600,000 grant to advance its work. In a UK version of the competition, RNIB, the charity for the blind, won an award for its development of “smart glasses” that improve the sight of individuals with limited vision.
According to Agyeman, “Unless you have a deep understanding of what it means on a day-to-day basis to experience what a disabled person is experiencing, it’s very difficult to cater to those needs.”
Virgin Media seems to have taken that message on board, this week launching a £1m partnership with disability charity Scope. The partnership, which marks a paring down of Virgin’s 27 different charity relationships, will see experts from Scope working alongside the company’s internal innovations team.
The alliance will build on existing trials of assistive technologies undertaken by the company over recent years, such as a bluetooth-enabled system that automatically tracks and records the vital health stats of individuals with conditions such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes.
The funding will also help Scope disseminate information and training around assistive technologies it is using in the four specialist schools it currently runs. Examples include “switching devices”, which enable computers, tablets and other learning equipment to be controlled by everything from eye movements to hand gestures.
“There is always more tech companies like us can be doing,” says Katie Buchanan, head of sustainability at Virgin Media. “Technology is moving quickly, so I think we have a role to play to help [disabled] consumers as well as charities to keep up with that pace of change.”
According to Scope, 27% of disabled adults have never used the internet, compared to 11% of non-disabled adults.

Making the right technology

For Jaime Purvis, an expert in screen-reading software at the Digital Accessibility Centre, a non-profit working on digital inclusion, the tech industry needs to move faster on assistive technology.
“There’s more being done now than three or four years ago, but it’s still not as widespread as it could be … There are a lot of [disabled] people being left behind because they don’t have access to the hardware that tech companies are creating,” he says.
Making the tech industry aware of the “huge market potential” for inclusive assistive technologies would help galvanise activity, he suggests. It’s an argument disability charities are increasingly comfortable with, according to Tamsin Baxter, head of partnerships at Scope.
Baxter cites the final report of the independent Extra Costs Commission, published in June, which puts the spending power of disabled people in the UK at £212bn per year. Individuals with physical impairments, for example, incur disability-related costs of almost £300 a week, the report states.
“With 53% of households in the UK having a connection with or being touched by disability, it’s not a niche group [so] there’s real value in seeing disabled people as a group of consumers,” says Baxter.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

3 lessons from developers who have embraced assistive technology

Ap_261484163877
Executive Director Karla Jutzi, right, watches as assistive technology trainer Michael Babcock works his iPad at the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Anchorage, Alaska on July 20, 2012.
Image: Alaska Journal of Commerce, Michael Dinneen/Associated Press
When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 25 years ago, few could have imagined just how much would change as a result of the legislation.
Fewer still could have imagined a world where almost anyone has access to pocket-sized computers that would open so many doors to people with disabilities.
Today, we have apps that can help the blind see, give words to those who can't speak and enable independence for people who would otherwise be forced to rely on others. To celebrate these advancements, Apple debuted a new collection in iTunes Thursday, highlighting apps that take advantage of accessibility features on iOS devices. The selection includes apps that help people with hearing and visual impairments interact with the world around them, those that enable communication for people with autism and apps that encourage learning at all levels.
We talked to some of the developers on the front lines of accessibility about what they've learned while creating these powerful apps, here's what they told us.

1. Design matters — even if your users can't see your app

Design is a fundamental part of any app. But even the most seasoned software makers find they need to rethink many aspects of design and user experience they would otherwise take for granted. While Apple makes its accessibility tools, like VoiceOver, readily available, developers often find making their app truly accessible requires a much more nuanced approach than what they're used to.
Winston Chen, a developer with a background in enterprise software, originally created Voice Dream Reader as a way to help him get through his reading list. The app extracts text from web pages, PDFs, ebooks and other files and uses text-to-speech to allow people to listen to their reading lists.
Voice Dream Reader

Image: Voice Dream LLC
After it was released, Chen began to hear from a group of users he had no idea he was reaching: people with dyslexia. Kids and adults with dyslexia were using the app to for help with reading. He soon decided to focus completely on helping users with special needs and committed to learning about what that entails.
"
It really involved a bunch of things that are counterintuitive from a developer standpoint
It really involved a bunch of things that are counterintuitive from a developer standpoint, one guy told me that I should hide a big part of the screen," Chen recalls.
The reasoning, he explained, was that many people with dyslexia also have difficulties concentrating so the app should reduce the amount of text that appears on the screen at any given time to eliminate potential distractions. "From a developer standpoint, I'm thinking 'oh, I'm going to waste all that screen real estate.' "
Likewise, the creators of TapTapSee, an app that specializes in photo recognition for the visually impaired, learned that some common design paradigms — like display ads — were incompatible with user experience. The app, which identifies everyday objects to people through the photos they take, relies on a custom-made image recognition API.
But maintaining an API of that magnitude requires investment, and the company realized early on they would need to think about monetization in different terms than many developers, explains Julia Gallagher, who heads up customer service and social media for TapTapSee,
"A lot of apps utilize ad space in order to help curb costs, but since TapTapSee's interface is designed specifically for blind and visually impaired users, we realized that implementing ad space would only hinder the functionality of the app for our users," Gallagher writes in an email to Mashable, adding that the company tries to take advantage of grants when possible to avoid passing the extra cost to users. "Elements like minimal design, intuitive navigation, and fast but accurate results were also huge priorities for us."

2. New devices open up new opportunities for everyone

Hardware and software improvements often go hand in hand and this is true of accessibility-focused apps as well. The effects of more powerful processors and sensors, larger displays and wearables are particularly profound for those who rely on technology for everyday communication.
"The increased performance and memory of the devices has really allowed us to make our software more powerful and smarter," explains David Niemeijer, the creator of Proloquo2Go, an app that helps people with Autism and Down Syndrome communicate with those around them.
Niemeijer, who has already created two Apple Watch apps, said he sees a big opportunity with wearables in particular as extensions of existing technology. The watch counterpart to Proloquo2Go, for example, allows people who have fine motor challenges to more easily control certain functions of the app.
Proloquo apple watch

Proloquo2Go's APple Watch app.
Image: Proloquo2Go
This isn't limited to smartwatches alone.
BlindSquare, an app that uses a combination of VoiceOver and Foursquare data to help the visually impaired navigate the areas around them, is increasingly taking advantage of iBeacons.
By using the small bluetooth enabled devices, BlindSquare is able to help users navigate indoors as well. When a room or building is equipped with the battery-powered devices, the app is able to provide indoor navigation guidance. Each beacon has a specific message or direction associated with it so any time someone comes within range of that beacon, the message is played.

3. Know your users — all of them

Most developers, regardless of the type of apps they're creating, understand the importance of rigorous testing ad getting to know their users' needs through feedback. But for developers for whom accessibility is a top priority, this process often requires striking a more delicate balance.
Ilkka Pirttimaa, the creator of BlindSquare, says he spends a lot of time talking with users about what features or updates they want. The trickier part, he says, is balancing those requests while maintaining the right user experience.
"An app like this can get bloated with features and that's not nice if it becomes too complex," Pirttimaa says. "Even though I listen to my customers about what they would like to have I'm not doing whatever they say they need to have. It's about how to do it correctly."
Sometimes your app needs to optimized for two different sets of users.
Sometimes your app needs to optimized for two different sets of users.
Jonathan Izak, the founder of SpecialNeedsWare, the company behind Autismate and other apps to help with learning, notes that apps in his field need to be designed with both the individual with special needs in mind, as well as their teachers and caregivers,
"One thing that we've learned very strongly over the last five years is that while you're looking to suit the various needs of those with special needs, it's very important to take in mind those who are going to be creating the content or personalizing the tools for those with special needs," Izak explains. "Whether it be a parent, family member, a teacher or a therapist, a lot of the tools were not really built with those individuals in mind. When you really start to think about and look at their needs, it brings about a new way of thinking. "

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How Tech Removes Boundaries

 

Assistive technology and mobile devices help people with disabilities regain their independence and live without limits.
 
When Jennifer’s eyesight deteriorated to the point that she could no longer read the newspaper or mail, this small-town Minnesotan could only wait and hope patiently that a friend would come by daily and read to her.
Fortunately, Jennifer found an easier, more convenient way to keep up with the local news and her personal business. A year ago, she learned about Minnesota’s System of Technology to Achieve Results (STAR) program, a division of the Minnesota Department of Admin­istration that helps residents of all ages gain access to innovative assistive technologies that can help overcome disabilities or functional issues.
A STAR community partner presented Jennifer with several possible solutions. She opted for a specialized scanner and reading machine. To use it, she simply scans her personal letters, newspaper articles and bills, and the device reads the material aloud. With this relatively simple piece of technology, Jennifer has gone from a life of dependence to one of independence, fully able to listen to everything on her daily reading list.
For Kim Moccia, director of Minnesota STAR, recounting stories like this one rank as the best part of her day. “Today’s assistive technology is really life-changing to the people we serve,” she says. “They can be active, productive and independent in a way that was difficult, if not impossible, before. And in the process, they gain dignity and a chance to really get out and be a part of their community.”
82% Percentage of those who use screen readers on mobile devices, compared with just 12% in 2009
SOURCE: WebAIM, “Screen Reader User Survey #5,” January 2014
What makes Moccia’s job even more satisfying is that many people don’t even realize that such technologies are available until they meet with her organization. STAR is tasked with helping to provide access to assistive technologies to anyone who needs them.
“Nothing touches my heart more than hearing about a parent who says, ‘My child has never spoken a word, and now all of a sudden you’ve helped us discover an app or a device that allows my child to communicate with me,’” Moccia says. “It’s amazing to have a role in enabling success stories like that.”

Latest and Greatest

Ben Wimett, an assistive technology access specialist for the Vermont Assistive Technology Program (VATP), has cerebral palsy and has experienced the evolution of assistive technology as both a user and a professional. To him, assistive technology has made a quantum leap in usefulness and availability over the past decade.
“Before, you were kind of on your own to figure out what was out there and what could work for you,” Wimett says, noting that technologies were usually too expensive, bulky or difficult to operate. “A lot of times, you just had to make do without because there just wasn’t that much available, it was more trouble than it was worth, or it was too cost-prohibitive.”
That has changed significantly thanks to advances in mobile technologies that make assistive devices more convenient and more affordable. Minnesota STAR, VATP and other state and local agencies partners with organizations that offer demos of speech-generating devices, mobile eye trackers, LiveScribe pens, Dragon Naturally Speaking software, Bluetooth-enabled switches, refreshable Braille displays, sound field systems and iPads and other mobile devices that come equipped with built-in Universal Access tools such as speech-to-text and screen-reading capabilities, subtitles and captioning, text enlargement, and adjustable screen colors and contrasts.
In some cases, modern technologies become even more meaningful when used by a person with disabilities. Wimett recounts the time he was called in to help a man recently diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neuromuscular disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. “It was very important to him that he could somehow continue to communicate even as his disability progressed and began to affect his speech,” he says. “But his wife couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to hear his voice.”
Wimett and the VATP team came up with a solution that met both needs: They suggested an iPad app called GoTalk Now, which is able to generate speech in the user’s normal voice.
“The client was able to work with a speech and language pathologist to record his voice saying customized words and phrases so that as he progresses to the point where he can no longer speak, he’ll still be able to communicate with his wife and sound like himself,” Wimett explains. “When we told his wife that we could do that, it was the first time I saw her smile the whole day.”

Breaking Through

For some, the introduction of an assistive device can seem like a miracle. When New Mexico Technology Assistance Program Supervisor Tracy Agiovlasitis and her team provided a college-age car accident victim with a speech-generating tablet, it was the first time that the girl was able to communicate with her family and caregivers since the wreck.
When Agiovlasitis returned for a follow-up visit, the girl’s “mom cried, telling us how [the tablet] had finally brought basic communication back into her daughter’s daily life and how it had such a huge impact on her overall rehabilitation progress because her spirits had been lifted so much,” she says.
$975,000 Estimated amount Vermont has saved by using the GetATStuff.com online assistive technology device exchange over the past three years
SOURCE: Vermont Assistive Technology Program
Wimett notes that new advances in assistive technology bring hope to even the toughest situations. He points to his work with a middle-aged paraplegic who lived in a rehabilitation facility for more than a year after a devastating accident. “He wanted to move back home, but all he could move was his head, so the big barrier that kept him from his goal was figuring out how he would use the phone to call for help when he needed it,” Wimett says.
A relatively new solution did the trick: Wimett suggested a Tecla Shield, a Bluetooth-enabled interface switch that is mounted to a headrest on a wheelchair and can be programmed to work with an iPhone, iPod touch, Android device or wheelchair joystick.
To activate the calling function and the Siri natural language user interface, the user touches the device with his head and holds it for five seconds. The phone goes to speaker mode by default, so he only has to speak the phone number he wants to call and he’s good to go.
Depending on how long he holds the switch, the user can also access email, post to Facebook, take pictures or perform any other function that can be commanded with Siri.
The client will soon be heading back home, and Wimett and his colleagues at VATP are thrilled.
“Without assistive technology and this program, he wouldn’t have been able to ever live independently and regain his life,” Wimett says. “Now he can. There aren’t words to describe how it feels to see a breakthrough like that. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Assistive Technology

Hands-On Help

Although assistive technology is more mainstream, affordable and easier than ever to use, people with disabilities need hands-on experience with a product to determine if it’s the best tool for them, advises Tracy Agiovlasitis, supervisor of the New Mexico Assistive Technology Program.
Agencies funded under the Federal Assistive Technology Act program offer a variety of programs to pair people with the solutions, which may include the following:
Assessments: Assistive technology specialists aid clients in determining which products best meet their needs. The Vermont Assistive Technology Program, for instance, has over 1,000 different pieces of equipment in inventory.
Technology demonstrations: Program officials demonstrate a short list of devices in action. For example, the Minnesota STAR program demonstrated a variety of mobile tools and software to a 17-year-old with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder who was struggling in school. After outfitting him with an iPad and its built-in universal access and organization tools, he’s improved to an A student, says Kim Moccia, Minnesota STAR program director.
Short-term loans: Assistive technology programs allow clients to keep solutions for a 30-day trial and provide short-term device loans to clients awaiting a new purchase or repair.
Long-term loans: When technology is no longer quite cutting-edge, programs will sometimes loan that equipment on an ongoing basis to clients with financial need or who meet certain criteria.
Technology reuse: When clients no longer need a certain device, they can donate it for use as a loaner or they can sell it through an exchange, such as GetATStuff.com.
Chris Bohnkoff

Monday, July 6, 2015

AT&T, NYU launch challenge to help develop technology for people with disabilities


 
The AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge is a three-month global software development competition leveraging mobile and wireless technologies to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.AT&T via Youtube

The AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge is a three-month global software development competition leveraging mobile and wireless technologies to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.

AT&T is partnering with NYU's Ability Lab to celebrate the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and help develop new technology for those with disabilities with a new initiative.
The Connect Ability Challenge is a three-month software development competition focused on developing mobile and wireless technology that can help improve the lives of people with physical, social, emotional, and cognitive disabilities.
Some of the software that was submitted includes smart glasses for the visually impaired, apps for people with autism and dementia, software for those with speech impediments and headgear for those diagnosed with ADHD. There are 63 submissions in total online.
Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T New York, said the challenge was inspired by other competitions created over the past years across the country and world to find technology for several sets of issues. This year's would focus on the disabilities in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA.
"It's a collaborative process, but it's also a competition," Shorenstein. "I'm very encouraged by the action of the exemplars."
Xian Horn is one of the exemplars and judges of the Challenge. She is a teacher, speaker and writer from Manhattan who has cerebral palsy.AT&T via Youtube

Xian Horn is one of the exemplars and judges of the Challenge. She is a teacher, speaker and writer from Manhattan who has cerebral palsy.

Developers will be judged by four exemplars—along with other AT&T executives—who have different disabilities. They will be able to genuinely review developed software and help choose a winner they think will impact the lives of many in their communities.
The four exemplars are: Xian Horn, a teacher, speaker and writer from Manhattan who has cerebral palsy; Paul Kotler, a lecturer and student from Philadelphia who has autism. Kolter communicates using computer-assisted technology and struggles with impulse control; and Jason DaSilva, a filmmaker from Brooklyn who has Multiple Sclerosis.
The fourth exemplar is Gus Chalkias, who works as an assistive technology specialist, career counselor and college student from Queens and is blind.
"It's been amazing for me to be part of something that is bigger than this contest," Chalkias told the Daily News. "I think it's setting a standard for people with disabilities. It's taking a stance where they are saying we need to include people with disabilities."
Paul Kotler, who is also judging the software, is a lecturer and student from Philadelphia who has autism. Kolter communicates using computer-assisted technology.AT&T via Youtube

Paul Kotler, who is also judging the software, is a lecturer and student from Philadelphia who has autism. Kolter communicates using computer-assisted technology.

Chalkias, along with the other exemplars, will be looking to see if the software and hardware submitted solves four functional categories and one category addressing public policy for the disabled community. The categories are: people with sensory disabilities, people in need of mobility solutions, social and emotional solutions, solutions for people with communicative and cognitive disabilities and solutions impacting policy and society.
"My biggest desire is to have some kind of technology that can get me from point 'A' to point 'B' without stopping and asking someone if I'm in the right place or room," Chalkias said. "I'm blind in a time where technology can actually meet my needs."
Kotler, who hopes the challenge improves the lives of millions, said that as a judge he's very impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of the presentations.
"We hosted collaborations sessions a few weeks ago to help guide the developers and provide feedback prior to the submission deadline," Kotler said. "There were many apps and products that I thought were outstanding and I can't wait to see all that have been created and submitted."
The AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge is currently letting the public vote on submissions. Public Voting will end on July 10.AT&T via Youtube

The AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge is currently letting the public vote on submissions. Public Voting will end on July 10.

Developers have already submitted their software and it's currently being judged by the exemplars. The challenge is also open to the public, who can vote until July 10 on the Connect Ability Challenge's website.
The winners of the challenge will be announced on July 26, which is the anniversary of the enactment of the ADA. More than $100,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to developers in the five categories.
"While I hope that the winning solution or technology will help improve the lives of people living with autism, I also hope that the challenge has inspired developers across the world to build new tech that focuses on the user and incorporates the feedback from our community," Kotler. "I think that one of the most important things to come out of this competition will be the awareness that I am hoping developers will build."
 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

These Assistive Technology Advances Will Transform Lives


These Assistive Technology Advances Will Transform Lives
By definition, technology is the application of science to make human lives better and easier. We often get lost in the latest smartphones and gadgets, but some of the most important advances are those that target those of us most in need of help – the elderly and disabled. Researchers are doing amazing things on the cutting edge of assistive technology. Let’s take a look at some examples that you or a loved one could make use of one day.

The DEKA Arm



Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same organization that funded the Big Dog robot, the DEKA Arm is a robotic arm designed to restore functionality to individuals who have undergone upper arm amputations. By all accounts, it has revolutionized prosthetics — giving the user greater range of motion and control options than any other solution.
The DEKA arm is still slow and clumsy compared to an organic limb, but it’s still a huge improvement over no limb at all – and the technology is improving quickly.

Grid Pad Communication Aid


Grid Pad by Smartbox is a communication aid that generates high-quality speech output for those with difficulty communicating. Depending on which model you choose, it can be controlled by touch or a very accurate eye gaze system. Users can carry it around as a mobile device or mount it on a wheelchair for easy access. Devices like the Grid Pad have the potential to change lives by breaking down a major social barrier, allowing people to communicate more effectively than ever before.

The World’s First Braille Smartphone


Imagine what it must feel like for the visually impaired to try to use a smartphone. This is a major aspect of modern life, which is almost entirely cut off to them. While most of today’s devices offer accessibility features that make some use possible, the reality is that the results are inconvenient at best. That’s why India-based startup Kriyate is working on a Braille-enabled smartphone that allows blind users to enjoy a fully touch-based experience. The device features a grid of pins that move up and down, allowing the user to touch and read messages and other information. It is expected to sell for about $184.

The Kenguru Car


If you have a disability that inhibits the use of your legs, getting around can be difficult — particularly if you need to drive somewhere. Sure, there are car modifications available, but they’re just that — modifications on vehicles designed for the non-disabled. Wouldn’t it be better to drive a car that was built from the ground up for people in wheelchairs? That’s where Kenguru comes in. It’s an electric car capable of driving up to 25 mph and up to 45 miles on a single charge, designed specifically for paraplegics. The Kenguru car allows people to be more independent and spontaneous — two traits often lost in the wake of a disability.

SMART Belt


People with epilepsy can have seizures at any moment, often without warning. This can create a dangerous situation if they’re not prepared, particularly for epileptic children. A group of Rice University engineers has developed a wearable device that detects seizures and calls for help. Known as the SMART (Seizure Monitoring and Response Transducer) belt, it detects changes in skin conductance and monitors breathing to determine when a seizure is taking place. The device can then wirelessly notify a parent or caregiver to take action.

Self-Driving Cars


We already know that driverless cars are on track to change transportation forever, but one implication that isn’t often discussed is the potential for the blind or otherwise disabled to regain some of their independence. Once self-driving cars have become commonplace, the visually impaired and the infirm will be able to leave their homes at a moment’s notice without depending on anyone else to pick them up.
The video above shows Steve Mahan, who suffers from 95 percent vision loss, taking a ride in one of Google’s autonomous cars. “You lose your timing in life; everything takes you much longer,” he said. “There are some places that you cannot go; there are some things that you really cannot do. Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go the places I both want to go and need to go, when I need to do those things.”

ReWalk Exoskeleton


When Israeli engineer Amit Goffer suffered a terrible accident that left him confined to a wheelchair, he never stopped dreaming of the day technology would allow him to walk again. In 2001, he founded ReWalk, a company that aims to help people with spinal cord injuries regain their mobility. Now, with approval from the FDA, ReWalk’s bionic exoskeleton is helping paraplegics stand and walk normally — an achievement they could only dream of just a few years ago.
These technologies can dramatically change the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our world. They’re incredibly important – and advancing rapidly. It’s an incredibly exciting time, and anything is possible.
Have you or a loved one used any of these technologies? Did we miss anything that should have made the list? Let us know in the comments below!