Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bookshare: An Online Library Of Accessible Books

A teacher looking at a student who is using bookshare in audio format

Are you familiar with Bookshare?

Bookshare is a massive online library, and the world's largest collection of accessible titles that consists of almost 400,000 digital books meant for people around the world with print disabilities. Any person who has been confirmed by an expert that they have  low vision/ blindness, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities (full list here) qualify for Bookshare.  These books are available in various formats - text to speech, digital braille, enlarged fonts and more. 

Bookshare is made free to qualified US based students, thanks to funding by OSEP (Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education). Non students pay a nominal fee to access the titles.

Bookshare is used by hundreds of thousands of children in the US school system with print disabilities. The collection consists of a lot of manuals, how-to guides, best sellers, literature etc. that help students with disabilities educate themselves and become more career oriented. GROW (Getting Ready for the Outside World), a 10 month vocational program offered  by Riverview School in Massachussetts, has its material on bookshare that students can quickly access and read. 

Accessible books also help students with disabilities learn at their own pace and comprehend the content well, keep up with their peers, and encourage them to read more regularly and more often which results in lower dropout rates and a a continued zeal to learn.

Watch this video to learn more about Bookshare and who it is for.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Signily: An ASL Keyboard For Deaf People

a guide showing phrases in ASL on the signily keyboard

When it comes to communicating via email or text messaging, deaf people have to rely on English or other language keyboards even though sign language may be their primary language. Although deaf people read, write and lip read in their surrounding language, sign language can be independent of that. Also, there are different rules for forming well structured sentences in sign language. If native language keyboards don’t work, deaf people use videos to communicate with one another.

To provide the independence and joy of communicating in sign language over email and text, ASLized!, a non profit organization that creates educational videos in ASL, has created an ASL keyboard.  This keyboard, available on iOS and Android for 99 cents, has a QWERTY style keyboard that lists the alphabet, numbers  from 0 - 31 and various other sentences and phrases in the form of gif/emoji style icons.  A user forms their sentence by just choosing those emojis and sending them off in a message! It makes communication for them much quicker and natural. If need be, users can use a combination of ASL and words in surrounding language to communicate.Signily also has various skin tones representing different ethnicities. 

We know that day to day life can be much more fun and casual with some profanity (*wink*), and signily has some emojis for profanity in ASL! However, there is a profanity free option as well for users who like to keep their conversation clean.

Here's an example of what texting via Signily looks like:

Go to the website to learn more about Signily. They also have a great (and super quick) tutorial that shows how to use it.

Source: Tech Insider

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dot - A Braille Smart Watch For Blind People

photo of dot braille watch

By now we know that smart watches have sort of become a way of life for many people. Meant to be a companion for your smart phone, there are lots of conveniences a smart watch brings like time, email & phone notifications, steps taken, appointments, alarms, etc. But how good is a smart watch for someone who cannot see?

A startup in South Korea is developing a smart watch that has a Braille face instead of a regular screen. "Dot" does what every other smart watch does, except that it displays everything in Braille. So essentially, anything that can be read by Dot from the phone will be displayed on the watch face - from notifications to even books! Any time a notification comes in, the user will not have to whip out their phone to know what it is about - they will simply be able to read them on their watch. Dot has a 10 hour "active" battery life and a 5 days standby time. In addition, since Dot will be worn on the wrist, the company has given a lot of attention to its looks. It is not a hideous accessory with several functions built into it - it actually looks very elegant!

Braille can be very convenient to a lot of blind users, however, only around 10 percent blind people learn braille. For that reason, the watch comes with a braille learning system to make transition easy for people who don’t know Braille. Also, from a cost standpoint, Dot is priced at an affordable price of only $300. It is compatible with both iOS and Android.

Pre-orders have started and it is expected that the watch will be delivered sometime this year!

Watch this video to learn more about Dot.

Source: Inhabitat via Engadget

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Researchers Use Myo Armbands To Control Prosthetic Arm With Mind

johnny matheny, an amputee, wearing moo armbands and working with his prosthetic arm

In the past, we have seen quite a few instances where people have been able to control their prosthetics with just their thoughts. Recently, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins used the Myo armband on an amputee to help him control his prosthetic arm with his mind. The Myo armband is a $199 band that anyone can wear on their arm to control devices. When a person wearing it makes a gesture, the armband recognizes it by reading muscle activity and sends the gesture to a connected device. 

Johnny Matheny, who lost one of his arms to cancer, is the subject of this research. He wears two Myo armbands that monitor his muscle activity on his upper arm when he thinks of moving his arm in different ways (twist, grip, open, close, etc.), converts them into signals, transmits them to a computer nearby which in turn sends them to the prosthetic arm to perform the desired action. In the future, it is expected that Johnny may be able to tell how hard or soft an object is, or even the temperature of it. 

This is not a very straightforward process though. Johnny had to get surgery done first to rearrange nerves from his missing arm. After the surgery and getting the prosthetic fit, he spent thousands of hours training his mind and doing a lot of mental exercises to work with the prosthetic arm. However, his efforts have paid off so far. He says what he is a part of is like being on the first plane by Wright Brothers, but in the future, with more research and advancement, we will get to the Maserati of prosthetics.

Watch the video below to see Johnny Matheny work his prosthetic arm.

Interested in knowing more about the Myo armband? Watch this quick video.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bruce Hall: Legally Blind Photographer

man with a parrot at cyclavia

Remember Bruce Hall? The legally blind photographer who was raising money to publish  a book consisting of photographs of his twins with Autism? Well, Bruce managed to raise the amount needed to publish that book right just before the campaign ended. Also, this post is not about that campaign. It's about Bruce!

A few months ago, Bruce was invited by the city of Los Angeles to take photos at CicLAvia - an event in which city of Los Angeles closes roads to motorists for the day and lets bicyclists and pedestrians bike and walk around freely. Bruce was biked around by a professional bicyclist so he could take photos of the event and everyone participating. What's fascinating about Bruce's participation here is that he sends us all a clear message that our disabilities and challenges cannot hold us back. His enthusiasm to experience the world (even though sometimes he has to get out of his comfort zone) and capture every moment in the form of photos is not only remarkable but also inspiring, considering that he only has 5% vision in his eyes - a little bit of clear vision 3 inches from his face. Beyond that he sees no hard lines.

The photos he took at CicLAvia are downright gorgeous, and they display the joy and freedom that everyone is experiencing at this event very accurately. He is taking photos not just to see, but also to share all those moments with others.

Watch this video below to see what Bruce has to say about his legal blindness and why he uses photography, and make sure to check out his photos from CicLAvia!

Source: Whole You

Friday, January 8, 2016

AccessNow: Interactive Tool That Shows Accessible Locations For Wheelchair Users

interface of accessnow - map showing locations that are fully, partially, patio or not accessible.

A big hurdle for people in wheelchairs is that they need accessibility (ramps, automatic doors, alternative entrances) to enter buildings conveniently. They may be familiar with accessibility options at places they frequent but how about a new location they need to visit? A new restaurant or business establishment? An office location where they have a job interview? Are those locations accessible? If they can find out about accessibility options prior to reaching those locations, it can save them from going through the trouble and frustration of finding alternate entrances and workarounds to get accommodated.  

To make things much easier for people in wheelchair, and to provide them with accessibility related information offered by various establishments in cities all over the world, Maayan Ziv, who is also a wheelchair user, has created AccessNow, an interactive map tool that tells users whether  locations they are wanting to visit are accessible or not, and if they are, how accessible are they (fully, partially, patio accessible, no accessibility). Users can either zoom in on an area on a map or search for a city and look for accessible establishments and alternatives for places with no accessibility.

Accessible A green pin on our map represents an accessible location. These are places with full access. Locations might not have automatic doors, but we can get in, party, and go home with no problem. Partially Accessible A yellow pin on our map represents a location that is partially accessible. Yellow locations often have alternative entrances or limited access within the space, such as steps to the bar area. Patio Access Only An orange pin on our map represents a location that is patio accessible only. Orange locations usually offer access to an outdoor patio area on street level. Not Accessible A red pin on our map represents a location that is not accessible.
Map legend. Click to enlarge.

AccessNow is crowdsourced  in that people in the community are constantly adding newer locations to the AccessNow map and rating places. At the time of writing this post, there are already 2075 locations pinned in 101 cities from around the world.

Watch the video below to see Maayan Ziv talk more about AccessNow.

Maayan Ziv - sharing accessibility worldwide #ChangeAgent
We've teamed up with RBC to share Maayan Ziv's mission of creating an accessible world.
Posted by AccessNow on Monday, January 4, 2016

AccessNow website:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Live Time Closed Captioning System: Eye-Piece That Converts Speech To Text

People with hearing impairment often have trouble communicating with loved ones who do not understand sign language. A majority of them are indeed lip readers but only 30 to 40 percent of English can be understood by reading lips. Also, several sounds look identical, thus adding to the complexity of the entire lip reading process.

To curtain this issue and tor make communication between hearing  and hard of hearing people more fluid and free flowing, Daniil, a 17 year old high school student from New York, has invented an accessory (and system) that attached to regular glasses (or an empty frame for people who don't wear glasses), converts speech to text, and displays them on a tiny screen.

The solution consists of three parts - the first part is the accessory with a little display that attaches to glasses. The second part is a little microphone that the user will wear on their lapel. Finally, there is a pocket sized computer (powered by Raspberry Pi) that converts speech grabbed by the microphone instantly into text and displays it in the eye-piece. The conversion is so fast and real time that it allows the user to keep up with the conversation without any delays.

Watch the video below to see "Live Time Closed Captioning System" (LTCCS) in action.

This concept is still in development and Daniil plans to have a working prototype by summer 2016. It will retail for around $750.

Hit the source link to see Daniil demo LTCCS to Jimmy Fallon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sentiri: Headband To Help Blind People Navigate

a person wearing sentiri headband

In recent news, we have seen all sorts of innovation that will help blind people navigate with ease in the future. We know about beacons in the UK that will soon become a reality, and also the Sunu Band that vibrates when there is an obstacle  in a blind person's path. But is this where innovation ends or this is just the beginning?

Chaotic Moon Studios, a company based in Austin, TX, has been working on Project Sentiri for a few years now. The team working on this project is developing a head band that detects obstructions in all directions, not just straight ahead. The band has proximity (infrared depth) sensors all around it that detect objects in all directions and send haptic feedback to the user. If the headband is connected to a smart phone,  it would be able to guide a user from point A to point B that the user will enter in the phone's Google Maps app.

Watch the video below to see how Sentiri works.

Currently, there is no information on price or a release date, but it would be interesting to see what the final version if Sentiri looks like, once it see the light of day.

Source: Engadget

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sunu Band: Wearable Bracelet For Visually Impaired People

Wearable trackers/bracelets are becoming a way of life. They come in all shapes and forms (and costs) and are fairly affordable. However, how does a blind person use one? Also, can a wearable tracker be used by visually impaired people for doing something totally different - like maybe help them navigate by sensing obstructions and finding misplaced items for them?

Sunu Band is an innovative wearable that is designed specially for visually impaired people. Unlike other bracelets, Sunu has a proximity sensor that detects objects in the environment using ultrasonic technology. As a person is navigating around in their environment, Sunu emits ultrasonic waves that hit and bounce back from objects that are in the person's path, and "echo" back to Sunu, which results in a vibration. The closer the object, the more frequent vibrations are. 

photo of a person wearing sunu band on his left wristSunu has two modes - indoor and outdoor. Indoor mode, which has a range of 8 feet, is more for detecting openings and exits in buildings, aisles in a supermarket, and spaces between people among other things. The outdoor mode, with a range of 13 feet, covers a wider area and enables the wearer to detect trash cans, hanging branches from trees, lamp posts, etc.

The band also comes with an attachment -  Sunu Tag which is a beacon like device and works with the Band as well as smartphone app. The tag can be attached to any other object, be it a keychain, backpack, or anything else. The Band (or phone) vibrates when the object is nearby and an alarm on the Tag emits a sound which makes finding objects easier. If the wearer is leaving something behind, Sunu can alert them about that too. Sunu also has a haptic clock that tells time through vibrations.

Watch this video to see what all Sunu can do.

Sunu is a simple wearable but can make navigation and daily living much easier for visually impaired people. Just wearing it while being out and about can help the wearer understand their surrounding and improve awareness, avoid collisions with objects, and also find misplaced items without help from anyone else.

Sunu is not available to everyone yet. Currently they have an Indiegogo campaign going to raise money so this bracelet could become a reality and reach to many visually impaired people. The Sunu team is also doing something philanthropic - for every $99 raised, Sunu will donate a Sunu Blind to a child living in a developing country. 

To learn more about Sunu and its campaign, go to their Indiegogo page.

Indiegogo Page: Sunu

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wayfindr: A Navigation System For Blind People

a blind person holding a smartphone in one hand and cane in the other and smiling

"Wow! That was literally like someone guiding you through the journey." - Kevin

In recent years, we have successfully used technology to make our lives much more easier and convenient. It has become a way of life - it is everywhere around us and helps us simplify our schedules, commutes, lifestyles, and lives. This is especially true for people with disabiltiies.

A while ago we saw how Microsoft was conducting a pilot program in the UK to help blind people navigate through a city without getting stressed about it. Something along the lines is soon going to be a reality in London, albeit via a different company.

Bluetooth beacon affixed to a wall at the Euston station
Bluetooth beacon at the
Euston station
Wayfindr is a navigation system that allows visually impaired people to use their cell phones to get step by step direction to navigate independently through a city or a physical location without the need for asking for directions or assistance by others. The location has a bunch of beacons (think sensors) attached in every nook and corner that communicate with the blind person's phone. The moment a blind person enters that area, the beacons start sending instructions/ step by step directions on how they can get to their desired destination. These audio directions are received by an app on the phone.

Just today, Wayfindr announced that it received $1 million from, Google's philanthropic arm, to  set up beacons at London's busy Euston station, which gets around 3.4 million visitors daily. The bluetooth beacons will start providing instructions to get from point A to B within that station and also start collecting information which would be used to eventually create an open standard of guidelines that could be used by other similar systems or apps. In the future, a blind person may be anywhere in the world, they would easily use the beacons and their smartphone to navigate different parts of their local city.

a blind person holding a cane going up the escalatorA solution like Wayfindr will not only bring independence to blind people but also faciliate accessibility to their jobs, and allow them to enjoy the city they live in. What's also really great about Wayfindr is that visually impaired people wouldn't have to spend money to buy another accesory - they would just use what they already would have. A smartphone.

The grant will allow the Euston station project to acelerate over the next three years. If you are in London, keep an eye on the Euston station and watch how Wayfindr progresses over the next three years!

"That was amazing! I am not joking. I couldn't have done it myself." - Terri

Source: Wayfindr via Wired, Engadget
Image source: Wired