Thursday, June 30, 2016

Prosthetic Arm For Children Made Out Of Legos

a child using a lego prosthetic hand

We have seen many types of prosthetic arm, especially for kids, that can be easily printed on a 3D printer for as low as $50. Low cost and easy access make sure that a child can get a new prosthetic arm as they outgrow it. What can be more fun for those kids is if they could have an arm they could have fun building with - something that will get their creative juices flowing, and also create great camaraderie with friends and family.

Carlos Arturo Torres has designed the IKO Creative Prosthetic System - a prosthetic arm that can be built and endlessly customized with Lego blocks so kids could get practically whatever they want for a limb - a claw, spaceship, swim fin, telescope, video game controller - the list goes on.

IKO consists of a base which connects to the upper arm, has a battery, processor and sensors which
a child using a lego prosthetic hand
detect muscle movements and send them to the other end of the arm which can be a Mindstorm driven robot or a hand. There is a separate charging station to charge the base battery.

The idea behind IKO is not just to give a cool prosthetic limb to kids but also to foster creativity and social interaction. Lego building blocks are well known for initiating collaboration amongst people in a group, and the same principle is being applied here. IKO is meant for kids in the age range of 3 - 12, which is an important phase for them to develop self esteem and confidence, and that's where IKO can give them a boost, making their disability feel less of a limitation.

IKO won the Netxplo Change Award this year. This award is given by Netexplo Observatory - independent observatory that studies the impact of digital tech on society and business. IKO is expected to be available sometime early 2017.

Watch the video below to learn more about IKO and how it can be used by kids with disabilities.

Friday, June 24, 2016

See a Flash, Dash Inside!: New Slogan From NOAA For Deaf People

photo of a softball field with lightning in the background

Traditionally, National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration's  motto, "When Thunder  Roars, Go Indoors" has helped understand the importance of seeking shelter during a thunderstorm. However, it does not resonate very well with deaf people who cannot hear a roaring thunder. In order to convey the same message to the deaf community, and make them aware of the importance of seeking shelter during a thunderstorm, NOAA has come up with a new slogan that would put emphasis on sight instead of sound. To promote the new slogan "See a Flash, Dash Inside!"  NOAA has released a new video in which a deaf services specialist signs very important information about lightning and thunderstorms, and what kind of shelter to look for during thunderstorms.

Check out the PSA video below.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Amazon's New Kindle Now Provides Accessibility (Text To Speech) For Blind

photo of two amazon kindles. one is white and the other is black.

We already know that our dear friend Alexa (Amazon Echo) can read us Kindle books, which is great for blind people. But what if someone doesn't have an Amazon Echo? Is there any other way to listen to Kindle books in audio format?

Yes, now there is. The new Amazon Kindle, which was announced yesterday, would have Bluetooth built in that will allow an easy connection to a Bluetooth speaker, and thus enable reading of Kindle books out loud. It also has VoiceView technology which reads menu and navigation items as well. Amazon also introduced a new adapter last month for no extra cost that turns on VoiceView as soon as the adapter is plugged into Kindle's USB port.

The National Federation of Blind works with Amazon regularly to improve accessibility in Kindle. 

The new Kindle, which will be available starting July 7, will be priced at $80 (with ads) and $100 (without ads).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sensor Friendly Movie Theater for Audience With Autism

photo of a movie being shown at a movie theater. There are empty seats everywhere.

NCG Gallatin Cinema, a special needs certified movie theater in Gallatin, TN,  shows movies that are sensor friendly for children and adults with Autism. The showings, which are done once a month,  have sounds down by 50 percent and the lights not dimmed all the way. Loud sound effects, and even a slight flicker, can be pretty intense for those on the Autism spectrum.

Talking and running around in the theater is allowed!

The theater creates a judgement friendly environment where everyone will understand why someone is being loud, talking or standing up during the movie, and answering questions asked by actors on the screen. This environment helps everyone be comfortable in a movie setting, and allows little children to make memories, and also new friends!

The theater is not just for people with Autism - it is available to anyone with special needs. The next sensor friendly movie being shown at NCG Gallatin is "Life of Pets" on July 9.

Source: WKRN (1), WKRN (2)
Image Source: Sarah Ackerman (Flickr)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Live Braille: Lightest Travel Aid For Visually Impaired And Possibly A Cane Replacement

a person displaying live braille on their hand

We have heard about  many 3D printed assistive technology solutions in the recent past, and  Live Braille is the latest addition to that set of solutions. Developed by an Indian startup, Live Braille is worn like a ring on a finger. Once worn by a visually impaired person,  Live Braille detects objects and hurdles around them and provides haptic and audio feedback, indicating where and how far the objects are. 

The Mini version of Live Braille weighs only 29 grams (1 ounce), and is so light that it is barely felt on the wearer's hand.   Charged via USB, it can last for up to 6 hours of continuous use. There is also a Mine E version that comes in three different variations. Mini E has internal storage that can hold audio books and files, and also has an in built FM radio. Mini E can also detect obstacles within 4.5 meters long range whereas the Mini goes up to 3.5 meters. Both versions of Live Braille start shipping worldwide starting July 1. Prices range from $299 - $699.

Check out the video below to hear more about what  Live Braille does and how it does it, straight from the inventor of the product Abhinav Verma. This video also features a 7th grader who is blind, and has been using Live Braille for one year. The interview with him is in Hindi, but basically the kid seems to suggest that he likes Live Braille for the most part. He explains a little bit about how the haptic feedback works - the vibrations are slower when the object is farther but gets faster as the object gets closer.

[Thanks for sharing, Savitha!]


Source, Image Source: Digit

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Apple's New Features For People With Disabilities

photo of a macbook

Just yesterday, Apple announced several new features that will bring in lots of additional functionality and convenience across all products in this coming fall. However, what are some of the features that can be used by people with disabilities?

It seems like a lot of new features will enable people who have visual impairment, impaired motor skills, muscular dystrophies/atrophy, and other similar disabilities to interact with the devices just with their voice and get desired results very quickly and efficiently. Using the new features with an additional eye tracking device for those who need it can definitely enhance their experience as well.


iOS for iPhone and iPad get the most features in the upcoming release. By just talking to Siri, a user would be order a ride, send money to someone, order food, and do similar activities.

iphoen screen showing image of someone composing an email. It displayes " john's number is" and also john's phone number pulled from the address book as an option.Contextual prediction is being introduced which means that iOS will predict what a person is trying to type by making suggestions in various contexts. For example, if someone is typing "I am available today at", the free time on their calendar will pop up as an option. Similarly, when typing "John's phone number is", John's phone number will be pulled from the address book and displayed as an option.

Search has been enhanced to use  artificial intelligence. iOS can detect objects in photos, and a user can now search for just the photos that were taken at the beach, for example.

Apple Pay is coming to various shopping websites so no need to type in a credit card number and other information every time a user goes to a shopping website. Purchases can now be made with just a click of a button in a secure manner.


In the upcoming release, apps will load much faster. A user would also be able to add minutes to a parking meter, order their food, and make other similar purchases using Apple Pay on their watch. 

The fitness aspect of the watch has included a wider audience now - wheelchair users! Wheelchair users will be able to track their physical activity through various pushing techniques for various speeds and terrains. Wheelchair specific workouts have now been included, and notifications will be sent every hour for "time to roll" when a person has been sitting and not moving for a long time, to encourage them to be active.

Pressing the side button initiates a call with local emergency services anywhere in the world. It can also be used to send a quick text to a user's emergency contacts.

photo of apple watch with the notification "time to roll" displayed for wheelchair users.
Wearing an Apple Watch will also work as an authentication mechanism for a user's Mac. When a user wearing an Apple Watch approaches their Mac, the Mac senses their presence and logs them in automatically. No need to type the password for  unlocking the computer.

The new "Home" app will also let users control connected (Internet of Things) devices around the house using their phone, tablet, watch or TV. Location based automation can also be set up using the Home app - if a user is approaching the house, turn on the lights, pull up the blinds, and set the thermostat to 68 degrees.

MacOS (formerly OS X)

Siri is now coming to Mac. Siri can locate files for a user ("Show the pdfs in my Downloads folder", "Show my photos from yesterday"), add and modify events ("Add Laura to my 10 AM meeting"), search for images from the internet ("Show me images of Lake Tahoe"), play music, check weather, and do lots of other things.

These are some of the features that people with disabilities can use that will make things easier for them. We should hopefully see a full list of accessibility features from Apple in the near future.

Source: Apple
Image Sources: Apple

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Various Accessibility Features In Apple Products

a blind woman navigating an iPhone with her right hand

Apple is well known for its accessibility features in all its products. Are you interested in knowing what accessibility features are available in Apple products? lists accessibility features  for various categories like vision, hearing, physical & motor skills, and learning & literacy. There are also four broader categories for the products - OSX for computers, iOS for phone and tablet, watchOS for Apple Watch, and tvOS for Apple TV. Clicking on each category shows accessibility features for that specific OS. 

For example, for computers, a deaf person can set up Screen Flash which is kind of a visual beep. Whenever an app requires the user's attention, it makes the screen flash instead of making a sound. For speech to text, there are more than 50 commands available that makes formatting via dictation easier. Automator can also be used by a user to create their own custom commands.

On the iPhone, for people with not very good motor skills, making touch gestures, especially with multiple fingers may not be convenient. AssistiveTouch lets users create their own gestures to suit their own physical needs. iOS also has Switch Control built into it so that users can navigate screens using bluetooth enabled switches. Apple has also worked with hearing aid manufacturers who have developed hearing aids that can be easily controlled by the iPhone.

The Apple Watch also has several accessibility features. People who are deaf in one ear may miss some audio while using headsets because headsets, which are in stereo, have distinct left and right channels. Apple Watch (and also other Apple products) can switch audio to mono so that audio channels are played in both ears. Apple Watch also magnifies the display for people with vision impairment.

Last, but not the least, the Apple TV! Besides some common accessibility features like changing color, contrast, text size, etc., Apple TV allows the use of Siri for dictation purposes for people who cannot use the remote, keyboard, or phone for inputting commands. Apple TV also makes it easy for blind people to watch movies. Movies with audio descriptions are labeled "AD" and can be easily streamed and watched.

Check out the Accessibility page for all Apple accessibility features.

PS: There are several popular accessibility features like VoiceOver are available across all devices!

15 Year Old Deaf Boy Wins Theatre Competition

photo of ciaran o'brien

"My sign name is Ciaran because I laugh a lot."

Ciaran O'Brien is a 15 year old deaf boy who always has a smile on his face. Ciaran is also big into acting, and pays attention to character development - how his character might walk, behave, and move. Through sign language, amazing facial expressions and body movement, he conveys dialogues to his audience. Recently, his mother filmed him on her phone camera and sent the video to a school competition that he ended up winning! (he performed a piece from Macbeth) Winning the competition secured him a place on a prestigious acting workshop.

Ciaran's win should encourage the next generation of young actors with disabilities to participate in mainstream mediums of art.

Source: BBC

Monday, June 6, 2016

Together Life Skills Centre: Helping Kids With Autism Transition Into Adulthood

a group of children inside a kitchen listening to baking instructions from an adult mentor.

Sangeetha and V Chakrapani, a couple from Mumbai, India, never thought that innocuous questions from their children would one day prompt them to open a Centre for Autistic children.

Sangeetha and V Chakrapani are parents to four children (one boy and three girls), two of whom are Autistic. The four children share a great bond together, however, the two siblings that don't have Autism show utmost care and care for their Autistic siblings (both girls), and one day asked their parents what would happen once they finish high school and move elsewhere for higher education? Would the two sisters with Autism live by themselves?

That innocent question made the parents think real hard. Typically, kids with Autism live with their parents, but as they parents get older, the kids, who grow up to become adults, are either looked after by their relatives or are moved in to facilities that have caregivers to take care of them. In order to make their (and other) children self sufficient and independent, and to alleviate their dependence on others as they grow up, the couple opened "Together Life Skills Centre" in Mumbai.

The Centre works with a lot of mentors, special educators and various volunteers to help kids with Autism transition into adulthood with confidence. The kids are taught to plan and participate in meal preparations, do chores, utilize leisure time in a meaningful  way, as well as learn various vocations. There is also emphasis on communication for co-existence and thus getting along well with people in their surroundings. Every student is expected to carry a cell phone, and those who cannot communicate verbally, are taught to use video calling. Puratos India, a company that specializes in bakery, patisserie, and chocolate products, has also opened its state of the art kitchen to the kids at the Center where they could learn and work as a team with other adult mentors. This kitchen also gives them a professional environment to work in as well as learn meaningful baking practices. 

The Center is meant for kids and young adults from the age of 12 to 20 who have Autism or intellectual disabilities and are able to use the washroom. To learn more about Together Life Skills Centre  and/or to volunteer there, visit their website.

Legally Blind Man Regains Vision After Stem Cell Treatment

photo of doug oliver

Doug Oliver of Nashville, TN, who was legally blind last year, can now not only see, but can also drive a car after a stem cell treatment helped him regain his vision he had lost because of a hereditary condition.

Doug had full vision that he lost over a decade because of his condition and went from fully seeing everything to legally blind. He went to a specialist to learn about his options to gain his sight back but he was told there was no cure or treatment because of how rare his condition was. However, he found out about a clinical trial through National Institutes of Health last year that could treat his condition and get his sight back. Doug raised $20,000 and got the treatment last August. Within a few days, he started getting his vision back. In December of last year, he got his driving license back!

Since then, Doug has worked with US Senate Health Committee Chair craft legislation that will speed up research and improve access to treatments for chronic diseases. You can read more about what the legislation will do in the source article or watch the video below.

Source: WCMH-TV Columbus
Image Source: GoFundMe