Friday, August 22, 2014

Story of Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities and Finding his Greatness – Introducing Dr. Christopher M. Lee.

This great humanitarian story was written by Debra Ruh of Ruh Global Communications LLC. Debra is a seasoned entrepreneur that focuses on Global Disability Inclusion, ICT Accessibility, EmployAbility, Marketing and Communications Strategies and Digital Media. She has provided global leadership to governments, corporations, NGOs and DPO’s (Disability Persons Organizations) all over the world supporting research, outreach, marketing strategies, policy and standards initiatives with public- and private-sector. Please go here to read her full bio.

“Leaders Making a Difference in the World”
Story of Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities and Finding his Greatness – Introducing Dr. Christopher M. Lee.

I believe that the best way to further inclusion of persons with disabilities is to tell the stories of the organizations and leaders that are making a difference.  Progress is being made all over the world and I want to highlight efforts coming out of Atlanta, Georgia.  I have had the pleasure to collaborate with Dr. Christopher Lee and his team at AMAC Accessibility Solutions and Research Center (AMAC).  AMAC is part of the Georgia Institute of Technology located in the College of Architecture.

Dr. Christopher Lee has been an advocate and pioneer in promoting social entrepreneurship to benefit humankind and further strive for sustainable social change in the field of disabilities.

Why does Dr. Lee care about the community of persons with disabilities?  He is part of the community and was diagnosed with a cognitive deficit disorder in the second grade.  He was placed in special education and speech classes.

Dr. Lee describes his dyslexia in this way: “Nothing I hear seems to stick with me and nothing I say
photo of dr. christopher lee
seems to come out right.  It is as though I am in a world where the air is packed with floating symbols.  I watch as everyone swallows the symbols, digesting them to produce something that everyone else understands, but I can only swallow bits and pieces.  Choking, I remain hungry in my struggle to find a way to communicate and comprehend effectively.”

He recalls being a student and standing in front of the classroom, he did his best to recall the ways to spell, to read and to say the right words and phrases.  He understood that he needed to recall and use the words and phrases in the correct order to be able to connect and communicate with his peers and teachers.

He spent hours organizing his thoughts and preparing for presentations in front of his classmates.  He tried to find ways to help him get his thoughts across to his peers and teachers.  The efforts left him feeling very alone and frustrated, and in his mind and heart he longed to decipher the code of language.

 “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” Albert Einstein

Dr. Lee has built a lot of character and drive to make the world a better place for individuals with learning disabilities and other disabilities.  He admits to being a perfectionist and he worked very hard to fit in and succeed in a world that is not set up for his “twisted perception of language.”

He was determined to go to college and scored low scores on his SAT due to his severe visual and audio process disorders.  He had to work his way through developmental studies before he was mainstreamed at the University of Georgia (UGA).

 “With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.” Wayne W. Dyer

He notes that his story is not unique from the high percentage of people in the United States and all over the world who are also dealing with learning disabilities.  This story is experienced by parents and teachers globally.  Many “experts” expected him to fail, but he worked hard and decided to become a success story and a beacon of hope for others with learning disabilities.

His motivation to become a collegiate swimmer athlete at UGA drove him hard to create his own academic action plan which included strategies, tools like assistive technology, and most importantly, a strong tutoring and mentoring network.

He also developed a communication strategy that included the use of role-playing activities where he perfected how to disclose his learning disabilities.  He became an expert in and promoting his strengths and managing his weaknesses.

Today he holds multiple college degrees including a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Speech Communication from University of Georgia.  He also earned a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Social Psychology from Union Institute and University.

His work has centered on the innovation of new models and techniques to support accessible electronic information in corporate, governmental and nonprofit entities. Dr. Lee is an internationally recognized advocate, author, speaker, principal investigator and leader in the fields of learning disabilities and assistive technology.

In 1992, at age twenty-three Christopher wrote his first book, Faking It: A Look into the Mind of a Creative Learning.  This book can be purchased on Amazon by following this link:

In 2003, he was highlighted in Microsoft “Accessible Technology for Everyone”, a Microsoft video and publication.

In 2007, he was featured in the PBS series “A Chance to Read”, hosted by Molly Ringwald, which highlights new strategies driven by emerging research that shows what's happening across the country to help children with disabilities find success. 

Today Dr. Christopher Lee is the Founder, Director and Department Head of the AMAC Accessibility Solutions and Research Center (AMAC), located in the College of Architecture of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.  AMAC is committed to promoting technological innovation and developing effective user-centered products and services for individuals with disabilities.

AMAC's mission is to address unmet accessibility needs in government, non-profits, and corporations by providing products that benefit those with physical or cognitive impairments.  AMAC has pioneered a cost-effective, replicable, scalable, full service center for alternative, digital and captioned media for college students with disabilities, along with the downloadable assistive technology software.  AMAC receives baseline operational funds from the University System of Georgia (USG).

AMAC services and costs vary depending on the annual membership status of its 2,287 participating institutions. AMAC offers a variety of services to meet the individual needs of students with print-related disabilities and post-secondary institutions.

Christopher has been recognized for his advocacy and leadership many times and most recently was awarded a “Campus Technology Innovators Award for 2014”.  AMAC was also awarded a coveted “Zero Project Award 2013” from The World Future Council and the European Foundation Centre.

To learn more about Dr. Christopher Lee’s work, please visit AMAC at

To learn more about Ruh Global Communications, please visit

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Blind Legend: Video Game For Blind People

poster of A Blind Legend showing a knight with a horse walking towards a mountain. Right below is shown a man wearing headphones and playing this game on his mobile device.

In A Blind Legend, your eyes will be of no help
So close them, sharpen your hearing and your blade…
and embark on an epic, perilous rite of passage.

For the sighted, playing a video game without any video may not make sense at all. But for the blind, it may be the next best thing since sliced bread.

The concept of "video-less" games is being adopted by more and more game developers who want to make video games accessible so that blind people could play them without any trouble. One of the games that will be coming out soon (early 2015) is "A Blind Legend" developed by Dowino studios in France after successfully completing a recent crowdfunding campaign. This is a game in which you play Edward Blake, a knight who has no eyes  and is on a mission to rescue his kidnapped wife. He is accompanied by his daughter Louise, who gives him directions and helps him navigate the environment and  fight Thork's army. There are forests, mountains, dungeons, a furious sea, lots of other obstacles and combat against numerous enemies!

Image shows various gestures used in this game.
Click to enlarge
This game does not have a video but rather a realistic, 3D sound environment which is most effective when heard using headphones. The sounds coming from different directions help you navigate and take appropriate action. A Blind Legend is very intuitive, and since it is a mobile game, there are various simple gestures that define different actions.

Dowino is aiming to offer non sighted gamers a video game that will give them a rich storyline and an immersive experience, not just a "game" that does things using audio. Once released, this game will be available free of cost for iOS and Android. A demo of the game is available on Dowino's website in English and French for both Windows and Mac. It can be downloaded from here.

To get a feel of what the sound is like, put on your headsets and listen to this clip. 

More from the developers here:

To read more about this A Blind Legend and other similar games, and to know what binaural technology is (that's used in this game), hit the source link.

Source: BBC
Websites: A Blind Legend, Dowino
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Talkitt - App/ Software That Lets People With Speech Impairment Communicate In Any Language Using Their Voice

image showing talkitt for different devices - computer, tablet, smartphone, wearable devices like google glass and smart watch.

image showing various medical conditions that can cause speech impairment - ALS, cerebral palsy, stroke, brain damagem parkinson, alzheimer, autism, hearing disabilitiesIn many cases, disabled users with speech disorders find it extremely difficult to communicate, primarily because people around them have difficulty understanding their speech. Speech disabilities can be caused by a variety of conditions including Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Brain Damage, Parkinson's and many more. It is a struggle not just for those who have speech disorders but also for their caregivers and loved ones. In the recent past, various companies have come up with text to speech apps and software that let users either type or choose words that are spoken by the app, and thus help the users communicate. However, the one aspect that these apps sideline is the fact that the users are very much capable of speech and would ideally like to use their natural mode of communication.

a lady with speech impairment ordering coffee at a coffee shop using talkitt on a tablet.
Talkitt, a new "speech to speech" app in the works, plans to give disabled users more freedom and expression in the most natural way possible - it helps them communicate by just using their voice. Talkitt has the ability to recognize the user's vocal patterns and translate them into words that are more understandable. As you will see in the video below, it does a very good job of translating unintelligible pronunciation into perfect sentences with utmost accuracy. This also means that Talkitt works very well with any spectrum of speech severity - from mild to extreme.The best part about this app is that it is not just limited to English - it can translate any language the user is speaking! 

The accuracy of this app will let users gain more confidence, and encourage them more to use their speech to communicate, not to mention that it will make communicating easier and convenient for their family, friends, and caregivers as well.

Very soon, Talkitt will be available on all smartphones and tablets. The next phase will see it run on computers and wearable devices, giving much more flexibility to users wherever they are. Once Talkitt is available, there will be a monthly subscription charge of $19.99 per month.

Currently, it is being tested by various partners and hospitals in Israel and Europe, and there is also a Indiegogo funding campaign going through which the team behind Talkitt is raising money to get it out to the masses quick (as soon as Q1 of 2015). Visit the Indiegogo page if you want to contribute to this campaign.

Definitely watch the video below to see the inspiration behind this app and what the team is doing to make this app a reality.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Blind Photographer: What Does He See?

There is no stopping a passionate person irrespective of whether they have a disability or not.

Brenden Borrellini was born with complete deafness and a sight impairment that gradually got worse, and developed into complete blindness by the age of 7. Growing up for him was frustrating, and he depended a lot on his family and teachers which slowly helped him understand the world around him. Thanks to his zeal to learn and inquisitiveness, he learned finger spelling and other skills to improve his communication.

One day he picked up a camera and started clicking pictures. Initially it was all a joke about a blind person taking photos, but soon enough, with assistance from others, his curiosity towards the camera and photography became a full fledged hobby. To make things easier for him, he is explained objectives in detail as to what photos he should be taking. He is explained the surroundings in great detail, and then given technical feedback as well after the photos are taken. He can feel the controls on the back of the camera, and he can sense the lens moving when he is focussing, but he still needs some help from the subject to get a good picture.

Clicking photographs is fine, but what does Brenden really see?

This is where creativity plays a great role. Brenden's two dimensional photos are converted to three dimensional prints so he is able to interpret the various textures and recognize various elements of the image.

Watch this short movie about Brenden to understand the process he goes through to take and "see" photos, and the wonderful support system he has. Creativity and willingness to pursue a hobby knows no bounds, and Brendan's story is an exemplary example of that.

Source: The blind photographer from ABC Open Tropical North on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Google Glass For Prosthetics And Blind Athletes

Google Glass, 3D printing, Prosthetics! We have heard so much about these in the recent past, and we will keep hearing about them since things are progressing so well in each of these avenues! Today, we have two different stories related to Google Glass - one, that will help people get cheaper prosthetics, and two, a blind paralympian using Google Glass to show kids his point of view and boost their confidence.

Prosthetics With Google Glass

Researcher scanning lower leg of test subject with google glass

Traditionally, getting prosthetics requires traveling to a clinic where a huge measuring machine with a robotic arm determines the specifications for the needed leg brace or prosthetics. Of course, this process is not inexpensive since the machine itself costs tense of thousands of dollars, and typically, the clinic would like to pass on costs to clients.

researchers looking at 3d printing information for leg brace on a computer
This will soon hopefully change. A research team at University of Delaware is exploring more affordable and convenient ways to do the exact same thing, but without the additional exorbitant costs of getting prosthetics from a traditional clinic.

The team is using Google Glass to capture all the information of the foot and lower leg in videos. These videos are then stitched together to get a 3D model of the cast and then instantly transformed into a template for a 3D printer. This method will first of all, cut down costs for the patients and second of all, make it convenient to go through this process at home without even going to the clinic to get the measurements taken. The patient can print the leg brace at home if they have a 3D printer or send it to a 3D printing lab or studio.

The team will soon be applying for funding to expand into prosthetic manufacturing as well.

A combination of technology like Google Glass and 3D printing helps bring manufacturing to everyday consumers who are not engineers or manufacturers.

Google Glass And A Blind Paralympian

Disability advocates are always looking for different ways to showcase abilities, and not disabilities of disabled people. Google Glass will be used for just that purpose.

Lex Gilette is a blind paralympian who began to lose his sight when he was seven years old. He has won three silver medals and holds the world record for long jump for F11 classified athletes. Being blind, he has to depend on someone to direct him down the runway and make calls for him on the fly.

"No need for sight when you have a vision."

Lex's plan is to wear Google Glass and show his perspective to high school kids so they could see what all it entails, and how a blind paralympian does it. The idea is to show kids that everything is possible, and how being not able bodied does not cause hindrance to your goals. Through Google Glass, Lex aims to make high school kids more confident.

Hit the source links to read more about both the stories.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Parrot Speak To Call: Hands Free Phone Software

Parraot speak to call logo

As we saw in the last post, spinal cord injuries or paralysis can render arms unusable. Anyone with not so good motor skills also have difficulty using their fingers and hands to perform daily operations, thus making them depend on others around them to get things done. One of those things can be getting help to make and receive phone calls - a process that seems fairly simple, but without the use of arms, can be quite a bit of a challenge. It is quite possible that someone may not be around all the time, and waiting for a friend or caregiver to come check in on them may be the only option for quite many people.

To alleviate this problem, Parrot "Speak to Call" provides a very convenient solution. A software that runs on Windows PC along with Dragon Naturally Speaking and Microsoft Speech (comes with Windows), Parrot helps make and receive phone calls by just using speech. The interface is very simple and minimal with just the essential options displayed. The software comes with a few "lists" of its own (Family, Friends, Professionals & Businesses and Work), to which you can add contact information and their phone numbers. Of course, it gives you the ability to add more lists too if the four it comes with are not enough. With just one word commands, Parrot can make making and receiving phone calls a breeze. Check out the quick videos below to see Parrot "Speak to Call" in action.

Set up is very simple (make sure you know how to enable your speech recognition software). The best part is that you don't require a phone line or need to hook it up to your existing phone line. It works on its own and does not depend on any other hardware accessories (except the USB headset you will be using to make calls) which typically complicate set up and use, and make things difficult to fix if they break. When you sign up, they give you a phone number as well.

A very good solution for people who don't have good motor skills or cannot use their arms because of paralysis or other spinal cord injuries. This software can also be used by bedridden people or  those who cannot move a lot because of sickness or old age to call their caregiver to let them know if they need anything.

Signing up requires a one time fee of $99 and a monthly $39 fee for unlimited calling within USA and Canada (month to month; no contract). $10 from each sale also goes to charity!

Go to Parrot's website to learn more about this product.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Neurobridge: Technology That Helps Paralyzed People Move Limbs With Their Thought

Ivan using Neurobridge technology to move his arm with his thought

Spinal cord injuries/ paralysis are fatal because they cut off communication between the brain and limbs - damaged nerves are unable to transfer signals from the brain to limbs, thus rendering them unusable. However, just recently, a team of scientists from Ohio State University and Battelle partnered together to use a breakthrough technology called Neurobridge (created by Battelle) that helps quadriplegics move their limbs with just their thought!

Ivan seen using Neurobridge technologyAs mentioned earlier, nerves are crucial for limb movement, and fatal accidents that cause injuries to the
spine and damage nerves drastically impact limb movement. This is where Neurobridge comes to rescue. A little chip (smaller than a pea) is implanted in the part of the brain that controls arm and hand movements. This chip reads and interprets brain signals, sends them to a computer that recodes and sends them to a sleeve that the patient is wearing, and simulates the proper muscles, thus allowing them to move the desired limb. It takes a total of one tenth of a second from thought to limb movement. So essentially, it totally bypasses the (damaged) nerves responsible for transmitting signals from the brain to the limb and sends them directly to the muscles instead.

Watch this video to see Ivan Burkhart, a 23 year old quadriplegic who was paralyzed after a diving accident move his arm by using Neurobridge.

This is still a clinical study (FDA approved) that is working with five patients. Currently, the study is focussing on arms and hands, but the possibilities in the future are endless. To begin with, brushing their teeth, flossing, using their own hands to eat with a spoon or fork etc. can be a huge boost to a paralyzed person's morale and confidence.

What the scientists have achieved so far is a big step forward, and they are only going to continue to make such advancements in the future. 

Watch the video to learn more about paralysis and how this technology works. Hit the source links for more details.