Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Video Game Accessibility For Disabled Gamers

screenshot from uncharted 2. Two men on a motorcycle with a third person in the background.

You may know that video games that are played on video game consoles like Xbox and PlayStation require a lot of proficiency, and can be physically quite taxing. They require a lot of interaction through the game controller - think of mashing buttons constantly during a fight sequence or when a door needs to be opened. In some game modes, there are not many colors available for options. For example, in a  team based game, there may be a red team and a green team. Those options don't really work for someone who's colorblind!

Disabled people who like to play video games do it not just to escape the daily challenges that come with being disabled but also to avoid people out there who judge them because of their physical appearance and disabilities. Disabled gamers would rather be in a social space where they are judged purely on their video games skills. However, as described above, there are certain limitations that a person with physical disabilities has to face while playing video games. There are times when games cannot be beaten because they lack certain accessibility features that make gaming not so easy for disabled gamers. How frustrating would that be when they spend around $60 and cannot finish the game?

At the request of D.A.G.E.R. (Disabled Accessibility for Gaming Entertainment Rating System) editor in chief Josh Straub, Naughty Dog, the company that makes the "Uncharted" series, added several accessibility features to reach out to a much wider audience. These features may be considered minor changes from an able bodied gamer's perspective but bring great convenience to a disabled gamer. The developers added a little tweak where just keeping a button pressed is the equivalent of pressing the button repeatedly. Similarly, while in combat mode, the camera moves on its own to help spot the enemies. Also, when a gun is pulled out and aimed at an enemy, it snaps to the target so the gamer could shoot with minimal effort. Last, but not the least, for team based games, they added more colors then just blue and green!

uncharted 2 menu showing new accessibility options.

The goal of Naughty Dog is to make games as widely accessible as possible. Why is accessibility so important in gaming though? It's because people with disabilities, just like anyone else, like to escape into a fantasy world where they are completing awesome missions and finding secrets. This little escape is why accessibility is important. The more games offer that, the more people will be able to experience the escape and have better lives.

Watch the video below to learn more about accessibility in Uncharted 2.

Source: Kotaku

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Augmenting Social Cues For The Blind

photo of haptic chair that is connected to a webcam. Facial expressions of the person sitting across are "Drawn" in the form of vibrations on the back of the chair.

We know of several assistive technology solutions that help blind people navigate out on the streets, detect objects for them, and enable them to perform daily actions through apps. These technologies are good for being self sufficient, however, what happens when that blind person is in a social situation interacting with others? How would they know how other people are reacting to what they are saying? Are they smiling? Still engaged in the conversation? Surprised? Offended?

How does a blind person gauge how effective their social interaction is?

Arizona State University's Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing has developed a chair that enables blind people to understand social cues. The chair, that looks like an ordinary black chair at first glance, has a USB port  that can be used to plug in a computer with a webcam. A blind person  sits in the chair and interacts with another person, whose facial expressions are tracked by the connected webcam and a built in facial recognition system. Whenever the person's facial expressions change - from happy to surprised to neutral, that expression is communicated to the computer, which controls the lining of the back of the chair. The lining, through specific vibrations, draws the facial expression, which is felt by the blind person. For example, if someone has a neutral expression, the lining will draw a straight line in the form of vibrations, moving  from right to left of the lower back. When the person is happy or smiling, a U- shaped vibration pattern is drawn on the back.

The chair is still a proof of concept and is currently not able to detect expressions of people wearing glasses or emotions like fear and sadness. The team plans to do more studies in the future to bring in those improvements as well to the chair.

It is important to understand why social cues for blind people are important though. First of all, as listed above, it is important to know how other people are reacting to a blind person's conversation. Second of all, there have been studies showing that social health is directly linked to physical health. It has also been found through a study that people with stronger social relationships are likely to have a 50% higher chance of survival over a period of seven and a half years than compared to those with weak social relationships. Having said that though, enhancing social cues through technology is a challenge since the general trend suggests that although  newer solutions make people self sufficient and independent, they also draw a person away from a conversation and may encourage isolation. (phones and laptops for example)

Source: PBS

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Adaptoys Are Toys For People With Paralysis

a family of five playing with r/c cars. Two of the cars are being controlled via remote control by two able bodied boys. The third is being controlled by a man in a wheelchair with a headset that has a pipe. Sipping and puffing into the pipe controls the r/c car.

For many people living with paralysis, spinal cord injuries or other disabilities that don't allow a lot of body movement, a big frustration for them is that they are not able to physically participate with their able bodied family members. Imagine someone who is paralyzed from their neck down, wanting to play with their young nephews or nieces. Similarly, think of a grandmother, who is in a wheelchair, wanting to pitch ball to her granddaughter who likes to play baseball. In almost all cases, they are just spectators - they don’t get to play with their family members. Instead, they only get to watch them play with others.

Christopher & Dana Reeve foundation is wanting to change that for people with disabilities. The foundation, in collaboration with 360i and Axios, has developed a new line of toys called Adaptoys which are meant for people living with paralysis. These toys have assistive technology built into them that use voice activation, head tilts, and sip & puff technology that allow people  to control them. For example, the r/c car they have developed can be powered by wearing a headset that has a pipe attached to it. Sipping and puffing into the pipe makes the car move forward, and tilting the head to the sides makes it change directions, Similarly, another toy, that can pitch balls, can be activated by the person saying "pitch" or "pop up". The toy will then throw the ball out to the able bodied player.

The foundation is raising money to produce 100 accessible toys for those many individuals. Donations are currently being accepted at their website adaptoys.org. Once their goal is reached and the toys are produced, they would be given to select individuals through a lottery system. If the foundation is not able to reach its goal, the money collected from donations will still be used for improving the quality of lives of people with paralysis.

Watch the video below to learn more about Adaptoys and who they are for.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lego Style Braille Bricks Teach Blind Children How To Read Braille #BrailleBricksForAll

photo of braille bricks

Did you know that the number of legally blind people who can read Braille keeps going down? In the '50s, more than 50% of blind users could read Braille. Now, that number is down to less than 10%. In recent years, many blind children with visual impairment are encouraged to read books with large prints, but this technique works mainly with picture books. Kids with no vision at all are encouraged to start listening to audiobooks, thus skipping the process of teaching them to read altogether. However, the argument against audiobooks for blind children is that if audiobooks are considered so good for a blind child, why teach any child how to read? Audiobooks may be convenient, but they are by no means a replacement of reading pages of a book. 

In order to teach Braille to blind children, Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind and the Lew'Lara Advertising Agency have created a set of Lego style Braille bricks that have raised studs resembling letters of the Braille alphabet. Blind children can arrange them in certain ways to spell out words. Through Braille Bricks, not only are children learning Braille, but also fueling their creativity and imagination while connecting with their peers.

300 sets of these Braille Bricks have been created and provided to various Braille literacy programs. However, the design for these Braille Bricks have been released under the Creative Commons license so anyone could download it and create these bricks for their own use.

Watch the video below to know more about Braille Bricks.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

YouTube News Channel For The Deaf

photo of alex abenchuchan, the anchor and creator of the daily moth

Alex Abenchuchan, a resident of Austin, TX, has started a Youtube news channel for the deaf. His show, called The Daily Moth,  consists of him reading current news, including trending stories off of a makeshift teleprompter,  and signing them in ASL . He posts news Monday through Thursday, and sometimes brings in other people from the deaf community in Austin as well.

Alex started this channel because he felt like there were not many news outlets for deaf individuals. This sentiment has definitely resonated with his deaf audience, who have thanked him in many ways for starting this new news outlet. He has received so much support from the deaf community that he is planning to move his show out of his apartment into a studio and hire more deaf anchors. (he has started a GoFundMe page to seek donations to keep the show running for another year)

Deafness and ASL are taken quite seriously in the tight knight deaf community, and Alex has taken a step towards bringing down another barrier to help deaf people connect and celebrate their culture.

Here's one of the news videos from The Daily Moth.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Facebook's "Automatic Alt Text" Describes Images For Blind Users On Its Own

a person holding an iPhone with the Facebook app open. There is an image of trees displayed on the app.

Did you see the interview Mark Zuckerberg of facebook did with one of his accessibility engineers a couple of weeks ago where they talked about "Auto alt text"?

Matt King, an accessibility engineer with Facebook who also happens to be blind (and an accomplished athlete and musician), has been working on a project that takes "Alt text" for blind people to a whole new level. Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, his project can automatically describe what's in a photo. Earlier, if someone was using a screen reader, the alt text part would just say "photo" and move on to the next item. However, with automatic alt text, Facebook's new technology that has been trained using millions of examples, it is now easy for it understand what's in a picture and describe the contents of it fairly accurately.

"Image may contain: Tree, sky, outdoor"
"Image may contain: Pizza, food"
"Image may contain: Two people, smiling"

In the interview shown below, Matt explains what went into the artificial intelligence behind this technology, and also goes on to say that this is just the beginning. Automatic alt text can be applied in several other ways in the future. Imagine it on a blind person's phone. When they start the phone camera to take the photo, automatic alt text recognizes what the lens is capturing and describes the surroundings to that person.

Matt also shows an upcoming project where touching the photo describes what's right under the user's finger. ("chair 1"; "chair 6"; "umbrella 1")

Automatic alt text is already available on the iOS app and will be rolled out to the Android app soon.

Accessibility improvements have always made life easier in increments. Every decade or so, there is a game changing improvement, and automatic alt text may be that for this decade. 

Read more here.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Apple Just Introduced An "Accessibility" Section On Its Website To Sell Accessibility Accessories

photo of a braille display, switch and skoog, a musical device

If you appreciate Apple products not just because of their ease of use but also for the accessibility feature they provide, you would be happy to know that recently, Apple launched a new "Accessibility" section on its website from where you can buy accessibility related accessories meant for your iPhone, iPad and Mac computers. There are currently 15 accessories on the website that can work with Apple products - from switches to Braille Displays to tracking displays. These accessories are categorized under "Vision", "Physical & Motor Skills", and "Learning & Literacy". 

The website also features Skoogmusic Skoog 2.0 - a tactile and accessible musical instrument accessory that lets users create music by just tapping, squeezing or twisting the sides of a cube.

It is possible these products may soon be available at Apple's brick & mortar stores too where sales assistants will be able to help disabled customers pick and choose the right accessories for them.

To learn more about Apple's efforts towards accessibility in its products, and the company's vision, visit here. (http://www.apple.com/accessibility/)

Apple's accessibility products webpage.

Source: Macrumors

[Thanks for sharing, John!]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

GlassOuse: A Head And Mouth Controlled Mouse For People With Disabilities

photo of glassouse

For amputees, people with spinal cord injuries, stroke patients, and other who have bad motor skills, a mouse for computers or their finger(s) for tablets or phones  are not the most feasible ways to operate their devices. GlassOuse, a new Bluetooth operated  eye and mouth controlled device, is meant for people who cannot use tracking devices in the traditional sense. The device is worn like eye glasses and has a "button" attached to it. Moving the head moves the mouse on the screen and also allows scrolling, and biting the attached (antibacterial) button performs clicks on the screen. It is an extremely light device and weighs only 50 grams (less than 2 ounces).

A GlassOuse can work with practically any device that has Windows, Mac, Linux or Android.

The inventor of GlassOuse, Mehmet Nemo Turker, is raising money through an Indiegogo campaign, and plans to deliver them by August 2016.  A GlassOuse would cost $149 through the campaign. He also plans to donate several of them to not for profit organizations.

Watch the video below to see GlassOuse in action.

Source: Indiegogo via The Verge

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Assistive Technology With IFTTT (If This Then That) + IoT (Internet of Things): Part 1

We saw a couple of months ago how Amazon Echo, or Alexa, can be such a huge help to people with disabilities. With very simple commands, Alexa can read us a book, control lights in our house, and also order a pizza for us! However, how about we take things a step further, and make a combination of technologies and applications just do things for us without us having to perform any sort of manual interaction with any app or device?

IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, has been around for a few years now, and can do exactly what's described above. With IFTTT you can create "recipes" that look for a certain trigger and then perform a certain action. Here are some examples of IFTTT recipes that can be especially helpful for people with disabilities:

  • If I am approaching my house, turn on the living room light, and start playing music.
  • If I exit my house, turn off all lights, and set the thermostat to 68 degrees.
  • If my plants are dry and they need to be watered, send me a text notification.
  • If my client who has Alzheimer's, goes outside of a specific geographic location, send me a text message.
  • If I receive an email from my caregiver, send me a text message.
  • If I am on vacation at an exotic place, and I am taking photos there with my phone, upload them automatically to Facebook so my friends and family can see them too.
These are some very simple example of "triggers" (If I am approaching my house) that can initiate "actions" (turn on the living room light), and all of this is done behind the scenes via "recipes", which are just easy rules that are set up only once in IFTTT with very minimal clicks. These sort of recipes can be beneficial to blind and/or deaf-mute people, people in wheelchairs, people with bad motor skills and muscular dystrophy - anyone for whom interacting with a device like a phone may be an extra step that they would possibly like to avoid.

The IFTTT interface is very simple - it lets you choose from a huge list of "trigger channels" for the "THIS" part. So,  if a person in a wheelchair is creating a recipe that will turn off all lights and coffee maker when they leave their house, they will choose the trigger channel "location" and then choose separate "action channels" - "turn off light" and "turn off coffeemaker" for the "THAT" part.

You can watch this video below to see how IFTTT recipes are created for five different  scenarios.

  • When a patient walks out of a specific geographic location, send the caregiver a text notification with the patient's location.
  • A blind photographer is at a touristy location and is taking photos with their iPhone. Upload that person's photos automatically to a Facebook album so they are shared with friends, family, and fans.
  • Send text notification when you receive an email  from your caregiver.
  • When you ask Amazon Echo "Alexa" what's on your To-Do List, it automatically creates a reminder on your phone for those items so you have access to those items when you are out and about running chores.
  • Get notified when season changes on Mars!

As you can see, these recipes are extremely easy to create, yet so powerful and effective. For people with disabilities, a combination of these apps and technologies through IFTTT recipes can be extremely beneficial, and enable them to overcome barriers to every day living by automating (almost) everything around them and bringing comfort and convenience.

IFTTT website: https://ifttt.com/

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thai University Develops Touchable Ink For The Blind

map of  italy printed with touchable ink. Shows raised image of italy with some cities printed in text and braille.

Thailand's Thammasat University, in collaboration with Samsung, has created a new ink that rises up when heated, thus giving it an embossed effect, just like what you would expect from a Braille embosser. What's revolutionary about this ink is that it can be used with regular printers on regular paper, thus eliminating the need for expensive Braille embossers that emboss on special Braille paper. What's more interesting about it is that it would also be able to print non-braille objects as well. For example, a picture of a map could be printed with this ink on regular paper along with locations within the map printed in Braille (as seen in the image above). A combination of raised text and images will open new avenues for consuming  text based material for blind people.

This ink will not only make the entire braille printing process much cheaper, but will also enable braille printing to be available to practically anyone who has a printer. No more need for Braille embossers that can cost anywhere from $2,000 - $4,000. It is estimated that the current cost of Braille printing is $1.1 per A4 size page. Touchable Ink will reduce that cost to a mere 3 cents per page [1]

This is what a braille document printed in Touchable Ink looks like.

Source: Tech In Asia
[1] CNET