Thursday, March 12, 2015

Join Our Kickstarter Campaign and Make ModMath 2.0 A Reality!

a child writing with a pencil

This post has been written by Dawn Denberg, creator of ModMath. She recently started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to add additional features to the iPad version and also create an Android version in the near future.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may recall my post last September about ModMath, a new iPad app my husband and I created to help kids with dysgraphia complete math homework without pen or paper.

We built this app out of desperation. Our son, who is dyslexic and dysgraphic, was falling behind in math because his handwriting is so terrible, even he can’t read it. And if you can’t write math problems, you can’t solve the math problems.

 So we created a free app that uses the iPad touch screen and an on-screen keypad to set up and solve math problems. Assignments are laid out on virtual graph paper that can be e-mailed to the teacher. The response to ModMath from the LD community has been overwhelming. Thousands have shared our story with their social media communities. And, to date, we’ve had more than 26,000 downloads.

We continue to receive a steady stream of letters thanking us for creating ModMath. But we receive an equal number of queries asking for additional features like a keyboard with buttons for variables, coefficients, integers, exponents and other advanced math concepts. Imagine a scientific calculator, and you’ll get the picture. However, like the original app, it won’t do the calculations for the student. It just sets up the problems and and keeps their work legible. We hope to level the playing field, not give dysgraphic kids an unfair advantage.

Also on our agenda: Once we establish the more advanced iPad version, we’ll duplicate the functionality and make it available for Android tablets as well. Other possible upgrades include the ability to save your work to Drop Box or Google docs.

We are committed to adding whatever enhancements we can afford. However, we’ve already tapped out our personal funds on the beta version. We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, where anyone moved to do so can make a donation. We set our goal at $20,000. That’s enough to cover the enhanced iPad version. But we’ll need additional funds to get that Android version built. So, feel free to overfund us. Kickstarter uses an all or nothing model, meaning if we aim to high we get nothing. So we settled on the minimum we need and hope to get much more.

video

 Give if you can. And if you can’t, just promoting our story on social media will help us reach our goal. Kids with learning disabilities have enough challenges. Please help us to help them around one of their many obstacles.


ModMath Kickstarter Campaign 

Image source: Flickr

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ripchair Provides Full Independence To Wheelchair Users So They Could Enjoy The Outdoors Again

a wheelchair user backing into Ripchair

When summer comes, the first thing we think of is the great outdoors! Some like to hike, swim, bike whereas others like to go fishing or hunting (which can be done in winters too!). However, it may not be very easy for those who are on a wheelchair. Navigating the rugged terrain in some locations may be very challenging for a wheelchair with all sorts of rocks of varying sizes, uneven terrain, hills, rivers, mud and so many other elements that can make maneuvering extremely difficult.

To overcome all these obstacles and to give wheelchair users the independence and confidence to  venture out and participate in their favorite outdoor activity and sport , Howe and Howe Tech, a small business run by two brothers out of Waterboro, ME have invented the Ripchair. Currently at version 3.0, Ripchair is an "extreme"  vehicle that has a ramp and an area big enough for a wheelchair (and its occupants) to fit in. The ramp helps the user back into the Ripchair where they get locked in and secured. Customized left or right electronic control, cup holders, lighting and other add-ons for recreational pleasure. With all the controls, accessories and add-ons, the user has full comfort and control of the vehicle that provides them great maneuverability and sturdiness. Whether it's the riverside they want to go to or on top of a mountain, Ripchair will get them there!

Ripchair specifications
Ripchair 3.0 specifications


Watch the following videos to see what all Ripchair can do and where all it can take you. 




To know more about Ripchair, visit their website. Unfortunately, there is no pricing information available anywhere on the website but the order form on the website suggests that 60% of the total price is due upfront.

Source: Legendary Speed [Thanks for sharing, Teresa!]
Image Source: TrackChairExtreme


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Calming Chair For Children On The Autism Spectrum

Joshua Jackson trying the calming chair

Quite often, children on the Autism spectrum find it extrremely hard to deal with stress and anxiety, resulting in tantrums, meltdowns and hyperactivity. It is also well known that hugging or snuggling with them (applying deep touch pressure) can calm them down, thus resulting in reduced tantrums and meltdowns.

To provide comfort to children in the form of non human touch pressure, there are solutions available in the market. However, these solutions are clunky, noisy, impractical and of course, expensive. Such "squeeze machines" or "hug machines" are 5 feet by 5 feet, weigh 300 lbs, have big industrial sized compressors, and cost several thousand dollars.

To come up with a practical and more affordable solution, Stuart Jackson, father of Joshua who is opn the Autism spectrum, challenged some engineering students to design a chair that was quiet, light and pleasing to the eye.

After a lot of brainstorming and ideas, the students came up with a design that involved a papasan chair and several other items. Inflatable air bags were put on top of the chair, topped by vinyl covers and a swimming noodle around the edges for cushion. The pressure in the air bags is regulated by a hand held remote that controls an air mattress pump. This entire arrangement is covered by a removable stretch fabric.

This chair, which has been checked for safety, weighs 30 to 40 lbs and costs less than a thousand dollars. There is a "lounger" as well that weighs 70 lbs for around the same price.

The students took it to an elementary school to test it and noticed that children, although a little uneasy in the beginning, started embracing and enjoying it as the chair inflated around them.

Now that they have the concept and substantial testing has been done, the students will interview parents of children on the Autism spectrum to gauge if there is indeed a bigger market for this chair. Once that's established, mass production of this chair will begin.

Let's wish these students the best and hope we get to see these chairs in the market soon!


[Thanks for sharing, Bridget!]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Microsoft's 3D Soundscape Technology Can Change The Way Blind People Navigate

Terry Brewell, who lost his sight 40 years ago is seen here with his walking dogand using Microsoft Soundscape Technology

The 21st century has introduced us to so many technologies, platforms and tools that help us live in a world of "constant connect and contact". Instant messaging on all devices, sending and receiving photos whenever and wherever, notifications of all sorts all the times from mobile apps and wearables - we are getting information from various sources constantly. In terms of practical uses, this is great for an able bodied person who can use these notifications for, let's say commuting from one place to another, if their wearable or phone notifies that the next bus is in 10 minutes so it's okay if they walk and don't run! However, can blind people take advantage of such mechanisms in a similar fashion? Commuting and traversing through a neighborhood or community is always stressful for blind people, however experienced they may be. First of all, they have to spend a lot of time learning routes, and even then, there are silent cyclists, smart cars, low hanging branches from trees, construction in the area amongst other things that may be overwhelming and take them by surprise. Is there a way around these obstructions that can add ease, comfort and independence to the way blind people navigate? Can we have a "constant contact and connect" system for blind people that can
make them aware of their surroundings and make daily living and moving around a breeze?

A few months ago, Microsoft, in collaboration with Guide Dogs in UK and Future Cities Catapult, an urban innovation and integration company, launched a very interesting pilot program that has potential to change the way blind people navigate.

"No. 9 bus is approaching."
"Your chiropractor is 10 meters ahead."
"Your favorite Chinese restaurant is around the corner."
"Beware: this is a main road."

Microsoft's 3D Soundscape Technology is designed to help blind people fully experience their environment without worrying about surprises and stress, and providing more independence when they are out and about. This technology consists of a location that has wifi and bluetooth powered sensors in the physical environment that will communicate with a blind person and give them verbal cues so they know where they are and what they are approaching.

There are three components to this technology:
  1. A Windows phone that will listen to external and internal sensors around the person.
  2. A pair of bone conducting headphones that sends sounds and verbal cues directly to their inner ear, leaving their ears free for environmental noise.  These headphones rest against the sides of their head.
  3. "A boosted" route: a route that has a lot of sensors in the physical environment.



As a blind person is walking through a neighborhood, they will receive all sorts of notifications and verbal cues from the sensors - turn by turn direction, nearest drug store, bus  schedule, warnings, etc. It is also capable of guiding them to the aisle that has their favorite cookies once they are inside a store. Once they are there, they can use their phone to scan the barcode on the item and find out the price! With 3D Soundscape Technology, they are practically hands-free. 

Jarnail Chudge, Microsoft employee, is seen standing at Tamerisk Avenue and holding a pair of bone conducting headphones. This is where testing for 3D Soundscape technology took place.
Jarnail Chudge, Microsoft employee, is seen standing at Tamerisk Avenue and holding a pair of bone conducting headphones. This is where testing for 3D Soundscape technology took place.
This technology can be used by itself or as a complimentary asset along with a walking dog to enhance someone's experience in their daily environment, and can bring a paradigm shift in the way blind people operate. This is still in the very initial stages of development and there are many hurdles to be overcome, but just knowing that there is someone who is giving very thoughtful consideration to the way blind people navigate is truly refreshing and exciting.

Hit the source link to read a very fascinating story on how this project came into existence and all the people involved including the designers and testers.

Source: Microsoft
[Thanks for sharing, Ken!]

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Wearable That Can Help Blind People Understand Their Surrounding

“This system could allow someone like me to focus on social interactions versus environmental aspects. It would lessen the tradeoffs I have to make whenever I’m multitasking.” - Darryl Adams, Intel employee

We saw in our last post how wearables like Reemo are taking gesturing to a totally new level. Intel, in a not so secret lab is also working on designing a wearable that will help the blind and visually impaired get a better sense of their surrounding so they could take the right actions.

This wearable, called environmental sensing system, consists of a camera and six sensors attached to
Darryl adams wearing the environmental sensing system jacket
various points of a jacket. As objects or people approach the wearer, the sensors on the shirt detect the distance and direction of said object and vibrate, thus giving the wearer a sense of their immediate environment and letting them take necessary action. Here's a simple example - a blind person with this wearable is being approached by someone from the left to greet them. With the left sensors detecting the direction and distance of the person approaching and vibrating, the wearer can immediately turn to their left and extend their hand out to greet. Similarly, in social situations, the wearer can stay engaged and focused on a conversation with someone and not worry about what's approaching them because they know that their jacket will inform them. This is especially important for people who are always in a state of mild anxiety because they are trying to figure out what's around them so they don't bump into them or fail to react to social cues.

The video below shows Intel CEO Brian Krzanich talk a bit about this wearable. In the middle of the video he also brings in Darryl Adams, an Intel employee who was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa 30 years ago and has lost almost all of his vision (he can see less than 20% of what sighted people see). Darryl explains how this wearable has helped him in day to day life and changed his life by making him more aware of his environment.



This technology will be made open source later this year and anyone can build upon it to improve the technology, the products it will be used with, and bring more comfort and convenience to visually impaired people.

Hit the source link to learn more about the prototype and what went behind the scenes to make it happen.

Source: Intel

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Reemo: Wearable That Can Automate The Entire House

photo of playtabase's cofounder al baker
Al Baker from Playtabase
In recent years, we have seen a ton of wearables that do a lot of things - track physical activities/calories burned, display email/text/phone notifications, monitor how well one sleeps at night, steps walked, workouts done, and several other activities. Typically, these wearables are worn on the hand and they don't necessarily interact with other objects in the environment - with current wearables, you cannot open or close doors, turn on or off the lights. They just interact with you (the wearer) and your phone in most cases (phone call, text, email, social media notifications).

Playtabase, a company in Minneapolis, MN co-founded by Al Baker, is working hard to take wearables to the next level - a level that will make interaction with every object in the house or office a breeze. This will be especially incredible for people with disabilities.

Reemo - What is it?

Reemo, just like several other wearables, is worn on the wrist. However, the purpose is to not just track your physical activities. Reemo works in combination with a wireless receiver and smart plug. A device or object like a coffeemaker, stereo, lock, light, door, window blinds or almost anything around the house can be connected to the receiver and operated by Reemo by simply gesturing towards it. For example, you don't have to walk up to the switch to turn it on or off or to adjust the thermostat. No need to walk up to the door to keep opening and closing it as more and more guests come in. Lights, security systems, entertainment systems, fireplace int the house - you name it, Reemo can operate it. All one has to do is wear Reemo and use one of the six gestures that can be assigned to Reemo, and Reemo performs the desired operation for them.

Reemo & Assistive Technology

Picture this - a person is in a wheelchair. They may be an amputee, have mobility issues, have had a
stroke recently and were paralyzed. Moving around in the house and operating different devices may be a struggle or in some cases not really possible. For such a person, just being in their bed or wheelchair and to be able to adjust their thermostat, start the fireplace, turn on the security system, and turn blinds up and down by just pointing and gesturing will bring great convenience. Similarly, a blind person gesturing towards their coffee machine to get a freshly brewed cup of coffee or turning on their music system without approaching it and looking for buttons will be tremendously convenient as well.

Al sees Reemo in the assistive technology/care realm as a complimentary device. Currently, there are around 10 - 11 million homes that are "smart" as compared to a total of 135 million homes in the US. He also says that homeowners and caregivers at various facilities have started looking at smart technology but they want solutions that are better than what a phone app offers to really control everything. That's where Reemo fits in nicely.

There are currently 110 developers that are developing applications for Reemo whether as an assistive technology device or something really cool because after all, Reemo is not just a technology for people with disabilities - it's a technology for anyone, including lazy people!

Listen to Al talking about Reemo and assistive technology below:



Reemo Demo

Al was kind enough to give me a demo of how Reemo works. The scenario in this video is that of a person who is going to bed and wants to turn off the light(s) and turn on the lock on the door (both at the same time). This demonstrates that with one gesture, multiple objects/devices can be operated. Al also shows how, with a different gesture, just one of the multiple objects in the setup can be operated as well.





Note: I will add captions to the video soon!

Now that you have seen the demo, watch the following video too to get an idea of what all you can use Reemo for:


Reemo For life from John Valiton on Vimeo.

Inspiration Behind Reemo

Reemo came into existence for two reasons - one, to do cool things, and two, because Playtabase's cofounder Muhammad's father suffered two strokes that left half of his body disabled. The idea was to give him a "universal remote" that he wouldn't drop and it would just consist of a wave of a hand. They wouldn't have to pay anyone so much to look after him because not only would it make him more independent but also make him feel emotionally better.  During the same time, the emergence of smart homes and wearables also encouraged Al and Muhammad to create a solution that will work on all smart watches and wouldn't be proprietary. 

Hear Al talk more about the inspiration behind Reemo:


Reemo - The Product

In the next month and a half, Reemo will be shipped to its alpha and beta users. It will be available to consumers sometime during summer of this year. The consumer kit can also be pre-ordered on Reemo's website for $249 (and $299 for a developer kit).

To know more about all the great progress Reemo's making and to get the latest news, sign up on for their mailing list.

Playtabase

Playtabase has been around for two and half years and Reemo for around two. Playtabase has aspirations to create products that are both engaging and fun to use but are also meaningful and have a lot of depth.



Website: www.getreemo.com

Monday, January 26, 2015

SnapType For Occupational Therapy Has More Updates And Features Now

picture of a child writing on paper with a pencil


This post has been written by Amberlynn Gifford - creator of the ever popular app "SnapType for Occupational Therapy".

When I created SnapType last year, I knew it would help children struggling with handwriting. However, I could never have imagined the outcry of support I received from therapists and parents. Each week I read several emails from users with stories of how SnapType has changed their lives.

"Thank you for this app! You are a blessing! I can honestly tell you that I have spent many hours crying and hurting inside while watching my son struggle to write pages of sentences and spelling words and other homework assignments. He screams out with frustration. It's been so bad that I have stopped him and honestly wrote for him, left handed to make it look more like a neater version of his because I could not take it anymore! Now, with SnapType, he completes his worksheets, show off his intelligence and feels more confident than ever. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!"

That was an email I received from a mother who felt like she was losing her son. I tear up while reading emails like this from parents and it brings me so much joy to know that these children are succeeding with the help of SnapType.

I have learned along the way that SnapType helps not only children with dysgraphia but also individuals with several other learning disabilities, low vision, low muscle tone, and Parkinson's. It is so exciting to learn that a variety of individuals can benefit from SnapType.

When I first had the idea for SnapType, I wanted to test out the idea as quickly and inexpensively as possible. So I paid a developer in India $300 to build the first version of the app. It was so basic, but it was the perfect way to quickly find out if anyone would find value in my idea. With tens of thousands of downloads, and over a hundred emails from users, it was clear that people were finding value in the app.

screenshot of app snaptype occupational therapyEvery week emails came in from users who were so happy to have found SnapType. But they were also asking for more functionality. They wanted to print and email from within the app, save documents to work on later, import documents from the image gallery and much more. The initial SnapType app lacked all of these features yet people still used the app because there was nothing else like it on the market that could help their kids and students.

I wanted to give the users what they were asking for. But being a full time occupational therapy graduate student, I couldn't afford to pay thousands of dollars to get the app made. I asked the developer in India if he would be interested in partnering with me to create a new app but without the cash, he wasn't interested. So then I reached out to a community of app developers and received interest from a few. Shortly thereafter, I started working with a developer and it was going great. Then the emails stopped. He fell off the face of the earth it seemed and I was back where I started.

Feeling defeated at the end of September, I reached out to another developer who previously expressed interest and he jumped on board right away. Instantly, we were going back and forth, exchanging ideas and building the app's fundamental layout and features. The communication was prompt and continuous as we crafted the upgrade. I say upgrade, but it's really an all new app, built from the ground up.

The developer, Brendan Kircher, has been instrumental in making SnapType a success. There were
times when I felt overwhelmed because we were moving so quickly and there were so many questions he needed me to answer. I was juggling being a full time grad student, working a part time job 25 hours a week and also spending several hours a day on SnapType. Nevertheless, I appreciated Brendan's speed and pushing because it has helped create a wonderfully powerful and intuitive tool. Without his speed, knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment this would not have been possible.

By Thanksgiving we were ready to share the app and we enlisted the help of two dozen users who were equally passionate about this project. We spent the month of December working with our team of testers to debug and refine the feature set. By early January we submitted the app to Apple and crossed our fingers that they would approve it. Two weeks later we received confirmation that it was in the app store and ready for the world!

As I write this article, SnapType version 2.0 has been public for just a few days. But already the comments are pouring in. Parents, occupational therapists, teachers and students are loving the new features!

SnapType is available for free on the App Store. We wanted to keep it free in order to help as many people as possible. Interestingly, many users asked us to charge for the app. That took me off guard, but they wanted to make sure that we receive some revenue to ensure that we continue to keep the app updated. After lengthy discussions with mentors, users and each other, we decided to keep the app free, but also offer an in-app purchase to provide advanced features for the power users. SnapType Pro enables users to work on multiple documents and also access the a whiteboard feature which turns documents into simplified black and white images, to save ink when printing. SnapType Pro is $4.99, but for a limited time, we're offering it for $2.99.

Another frequent request we receive is for an Android version. I'm happy to say that we've just started working on SnapType for Android (which by the way, requires writing the app all over again in a different programming language with it's own set of challenges). To learn more about the Android version and to stay connected for other SnapType updates, follow SnapType on Facebook or Twitter.


Amberlynn Gifford is a 2nd year OT student at Springfield College in Massachusetts. When she's not studying, which is rare, you can find her coaching gymnastics and working on all sorts of creative projects. She will graduate with her masters degree in 2016 and looks forward to working in pediatrics. Connect with Amberlynn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amberlynngifford



Image source: Carissa Rogers

Monday, January 19, 2015

Be My Eyes: App That Lets Blind People Get Answers From Sighted People

an image showing two cans - coconut milk on the left and tomatoes on the right. Blind person asks which one's the tomatoes. Sighted person's response is the right one.

We very well know that blind people are self sufficient and independent, and can go about their daily lives without much interruption. However, there are rare instances when they need assistance from someone else. 

What's the expiry date on the milk carton in my fridge? Do I have mismatched socks? Does this can have kidney beans or chick peas? Are these tomatoes or extremely ripe avocados?

It helps when someone's around but what if a blind person is by themselves?

To help blind people in such situations, a new iOS app, "Be My Eyes" lets them interact with another sighted person from anywhere in the world and ask questions similar to the ones listed above!

The concept is very simple. Blind people and sighted people register for this app. Blind people to ask questions and sighted people to answer them. Whenever a blind person has a question, they open the app and look for the first sighted person who offers to help. Sighted people, on the other hand, get notified that someone is seeking help. If someone is available to help, they accept the request. If they are not - no worries. There are tons of people out there who would grab that request. (13,000 people helpers signed up in just over a day to help 1,145 blind users). All the blind user has to do is turn on their rear camera and point it at the object they have a question about.The result: the blind user gets their question answered and everybody lives happily ever after!


It doesn't matter where they are - they  can be in one part of the world and still receive help from someone an ocean away!

The app also has a reputation system - the sighted people who are helping build a reputation based on their responses. If someone tries to be clever and gives wrong responses, they are flagged by the system and ousted within no time. So if you are trying to play a prank on a blind person - beware!

The app is free and has already received more than 2,000 requests. If you or someone you know is blind, you may want to definitely take advantage of this unique yet free app.

Download app here.
Website: Be My Eyes

Source: Engadget

Saturday, January 10, 2015

January 17 2015 Is Disability Access Day

disability access day logo
January 17 will be a great day for everyone! 

A group of disabled people and their family and friends have started a great new initiative that will hopefully become a tradition in the future! The message is very simple: Go explore! 

January 17 2015 will be the first Disabled Access Day, a day when disabled people, along with their friends and families, are being encouraged to just go out there - visit a place that they have never been to - be it a movie hall, museum, restaurant, coffee shop, near or far, just about anywhere! The idea is not just to encourage disabled people to go out but also to encourage businesses and establishments to make their premises more accessible for everyone. 

If you are a charity, organization, venue, local authority or an individual, and you want to participate, sign up on Disabled Access Day's website so they could send you resources like posters, stickers, balloons etc. so you could use them on Disabled Access Day. This event is worldwide, and so far, quite many venues in UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Turkey, Portugal  and Cyprus. If your country is not in this list, you can get involved and bring yours on the map too!

For more information, check out Disabled Access Day's website, Facebook page and Twitter.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Man Controls Both Prosthetic Limbs With Mind

Leslie picking up a ball with his mind controlled left limb.

Recently, Lesie Baugh, who lost both his arms to a freak electrical accident forty years ago, was able to move both his prosthetic limbs to perform daily tasks with just his mind! We have seen in the past one limb being moved, but moving both has never happened before.

Moving both of Leslie's limbs with just thought was a two step process:

1. A surgical procedure known as targeted muscle reinnervation is done first. This surgery reassigns nerves that once controlled the limb. This reassignment is vital for the mind to interact directly with the prosthetic limbs.

2. After the surgery, researchers worked with Leslie to identify which muscles of his contracted, and how well they interacted with each other. This is necessary to find patterns and to calibrate the limbs so they respond to the right signals.

Once the pattern recognition was done, Leslie was fitted with a custom socket that connected his limbs directly to his reinnervated nerves. Using his mind, he could do basic tasks like lifting a glass from one shelf and putting it on another, and grip a ball and move it to a different location. 

The next step is to have Leslie use his limbs in the "outside world" and see how it works for him. He desires to use it for simple things like putting change in a pop machine and getting soda out of it.

The researchers who have been helping Leslie think that this is just the beginning, and that the next 5 - 10 years will bring wonders to the world of prosthetics.

Watch the video below to see Leslie control his limb with his mind, and hit the source link for more details.


Source: Science Alert