Sunday, May 17, 2015

Assistive Technology and Apple’s Latest Innovations

Emma strikes again! In this article, she writes about Homekit, Apple's new framework for connecting devices inside a house, and how it can bring relief to people with disabilities. She also enlightens us about several other smart devices that can bring a lot of ease and comfort in our day to day lives.

For those living with disability or whose health isn’t what it once was when they were younger, daily tasks can become daunting and tedious. However, with recent developments in technology, it seems that these issues have the potential to be relieved. Following recent attempts by Google, tech heavyweight Apple is now working on creating devices, apps, and related technologies that integrate your home, smartphone, Apple watch, and your computer together so that you can monitor your health and take care of your well being with ease.

apple homekit logoThe Homekit, designed by Apple, is a control interface that lets you activate and monitor enabled appliances from your iPhone or iPad anywhere in your house. Because Homekit is programmable, appliances can act based on your specifications, such as cleaning your house with a vacuum robot while you are away, heating up a meal in your smart oven, toggling air conditioning energy rates automatically, or arming and disarming your security system. All of this and more is possible when your home is under your control and for many people this can free them from a wide range of limitations.

The Homekit and Siri might enable you to control your house with voice activated commands but it is hard to think of them as replacements for trained companion animals or caretakers. However, these devices have great potential in assisting caretakers and experts to help you and your loved ones more effectively. Consider how much insurance and convenience a mobile phone provides by simply being able to text the pharmacy, update reminders to caretakers with status or instructions, or contact your doctor while you are in the middle of some other remote activity. 

photo of wireless smart bottle pillNow consider how many more accidents or mishaps can be prevented with a computer integrated into your home. If you are a diabetic or have a heart condition, smart pill bottles could remind you to take your medication and keep you on a schedule. Or, with Dexcom, you can keep track of your blood glucose levels throughout the day. Dexcom even integrates with the iPhone and Apple Watch, making the watch all the more convenient. In addition, a caregiver with access to all the information provided to a smart home can easily and immediately tell if there is a problem. In other words, Homekit integration isn't just for the disabled but for their assistants as well.

Effectively, any aspect of your well-being and home environment can be analyzed so that you are empowered to make informed decisions and help those in assisted living situations. Moreover, such technologies bring us closer than ever to the reality of robotically assisted living and automated peace of mind.

This blog post was written by Emma Bailey. Emma is  a blogger in the greater Chicago area with a keen interest in technology, astronomy, and anthropology.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lightest and Least Expensive Electric Wheelchair For Children

Tanner Jensen in his wheelchair made out of PVC pipes by undergraduate students at Briigham Young University

Tanner Jensen and Skyler Jensen, aged 3 years and 20 months, are two brothers who like to play with each other and do silly things, just like other kids their age. However, because of a rare genetic condition they both have (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), they find it hard to crawl, walk, or control their body movements. 

The boys do have manual chairs but maneuvering in them is not easy. Also, since their condition affects their muscles, they get tired very quickly. They could get electric chairs but the biggest hurdle in getting them is that they are extremely expensive (approximately $15,000), and the Jensen family needs two of these. Since those chairs are big and bulky, they need special lifts that can be attached to vehicles so they could be transported. This lift obviously adds extra cost to the entire setup.

Student team member working on the wheelchair
This is where a group of undergraduates came into the picture. As a part of their capstone project, students from Brigham Young University designed an open source electric chair for the Jensen Boys that is made out of PVC pipes. What that really means is that the chair can be easily assembled by anyone, is extremely light, weighing just over 20 pounds, and is strong enough for a child up to 50 pounds in weight (think a 6 year old child). Since it is made up of removable parts, it can be easily modified and readjusted to accommodate the boys' growth. It is controlled by a joystick that is mounted on its arm rest. It is so light and compact that it can fit in the back of a sedan trunk.

This chair cost the team less than $495 to make!

This chair can bring huge benefit to the Jensen boys - they can now play around and explore their surroundings by going long distances  and up and down slopes without getting tired.

Watch the following video to see how the students worked with the Jensen family, and the work and thought process that went into making it a reality.

The team is planning to make this wheelchair's parts available to anyone around the world. The members will be posting updates to the "Open Wheelchair" project on its website.

Source: Brigham Young University via Gizmodo

Open Wheelchair Foundation Website

Read about Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Monday, May 4, 2015

Playing Chess Using Eye Tracking Device

There are events that happen in our lives that take us by complete surprise. Some of those events put us in a difficult spot, but with a little creativity, we can overcome those hurdles and carry on with our daily lives.

photo of ben wydeBen Wyde, a competitive chess player from Seattle, believes he had a reaction to an antibiotic in late 2012 which now makes it difficult for him to type and sit or stand for more than a few minutes. For someone who likes to challenge his mind and have fun at the same time, playing chess was becoming a challenge due to health issues. That's when he decided to become creative and find a solution that will let him continue to play chess without causing any hindrances.

He started with Dragon speech recognition on his computer and used voice commands to move pieces around on the board. However, very soon, he realized that using voice recognition was slow and tiring, and definitely not suitable for speed chess. He started exploring his options further and came up with a very innovative yet inexpensive solution. Also, instead of voice, he would use his eyes to play chess.

A combination of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet, a surface stand, and an eye tracking device was what he decided to go with.

First of all, he started looking for eye tracking solutions that were not only inexpensive but also easy to use. He decided to get the Eye Tribe Tracker for $99 because it came with a straightforward and easy to setup and use software. The next decision he had to make was to decide what kind of computer to use with the eye tracker. If you read Ben's article on his website, he explains all the factors he had to consider in order to decide on which computer to use, but the gist really is that the Eye Tribe tracker needs a USB 3.0 port, and at the time of his purchase, Surface Pro 3 was the best tablet that came with one (there were Android tablets too that came with a USB 3.0 port but the Eye Tribe tracker only works with Windows and Mac OS). Last, but not the least, he bought a tablet stand for less than $200 on which he would rest his Surface.

The setup - for now, he has the Eye Tribe tracker tied to the Surface with strings (but thinks that they should be velcroed for a more permanent solution), and the tablet rests on the tablet stand. And that's it! He fires up his chess program whenever he wants to play, and uses his eyes + the Eye Tribe tracker to make movements on the chess board. Using his setup, he plays chess frequently on the Internet Chess Club (but also recommends Because he is looking at the tablet screen all day, he also uses f.lux, a free application for Windows, Mac and Linux that reduces brightness on the screen and makes it easier on his eyes. Now that he is getting used to playing chess with his eye tracking device, he is looking forward to playing more games in the future.

Ben's entire setup cost him less than $1,500.

Eye tracking can not only be used to play games but also to interact with on screen keyboards (Click2Speak), read books, and interact with the environment and web. It can be quite beneficial for people with ALS.

To read more about Ben and his setup, visit his website here.

Website: Ben Wyde

Sunday, April 19, 2015

VisiTalks: A Great Tool For Communication Between Deaf And Hearing People

diagram shows how regular speech from hearing person is converted to signs for the deaf person and vice versa

There are great inventions being made to enhance daily lives for deaf people - from an app that brings "alerts" to their phones to a VEST that they can wear to hear environmental sounds. All in all, a lot of technological innovations are being made to enhance a deaf person's life, but where are we when it comes to interactions with a deaf and non deaf people? We have seen MotionSavvy's UNI break social barriers by providing face to face, seamless interaction between a deaf and hearing person using their mobile devices, but are there others out there who are wanting to break these barriers further and keep enhancing experiences for everyone?

image shows placement of motion detecting sensors on the gloveIgor and Vlad Dudnyk, students at  IBM International University College  and founders of VisiTalks, are setting out to do just that. Through their software and hardware combination, they have developed a mechanism for deaf people to interact with other hearing people using video calling via their computers. The idea is very simple - A deaf user will wear a special glove with sensors (18 sensors for accurate tracking) that will interact with a computer with the VisiTalks software installed and calibrated with the glove. When a deaf user is communicating with another hearing person who doesn't know sign language, their signs will get get converted to regular speech for the other person, and when the other person speaks into their mic, that speech is grabbed by the VisiTalks software and converted to signs. The hearing doesn't even need any special setup on their computer.


The software setup allows the deaf person to set a language for themselves (ASL/BSL etc.) and voice (male/female), accents (American, British etc.) for their hearing counterparts.

This is a very positive step towards making communication much easier between deaf and hearing people, and to end any level of apprehension either party may have towards initiating conversation. VisiTalks is a non commercial project which means that it will be free for everyone. However, development of this concept is not cheap, and since both Igor and Vlad are still students, they don't have the necessary funding required to bring this project to the masses. That is why they are seeking donations from everyone. They have setup a Indiegogo funding page and have roughly another 48 days to meet their goal of $42,500. 

If you or your institution thinks that this will be a great resource for deaf people (which it really is), go to their funding page and donate. It is always great to see students taking initiative to change the way we live our lives. We hope to see VisiTalks soon as a product available to everyone!

Indiegogo page
Website: VisiTalks

Sunday, April 12, 2015

INFOGRAPHIC: Best Mobile Apps for Sensory Impairments

Our friend Michael from Home Healthcare Adaptations has done it again! This time, he has created an infographic that explains what sensory impairment is, tells us the difference between vision and hearing impairment, and lists some really great apps for both types of impairment and explains how they work. Look at the infographic below for more details (click twice to enlarge). The apps listed are either free or very nominally priced. 

infographic for best mobile apps for sensory impairment

Best Mobile Apps for Sensory Impairment

What is sensory impairment?

Sensory impairment or disability, is when one of your senses; sight, hearing, smell, touch or taste, is no longer functioning normally. 

A person does not have full loss of a sense to be sensory impaired.

95% of the information about the world around us comes from our vision and our hearing.

Vision Impairment vs. Hearing Impairment

285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide. 

39 million people are completely blind. 

More than 4 in 5 people living with blindness are aged 50+.

360 million people have moderate to profound hearing loss.

Current production of hearing aids meets less than 10% of global need.

Approximately 1 in 3 people aged 65+ are affected by disabling hearing loss.

Mobile Apps for Vision Impairment

App: Tap Tap See

What it does: Uses the device's camera and VoiceOver functions to photograph objects and identify them out loud for the user.

Features: Double tapping the screen enables the user to photograph any 2D or 3D object at any angle and define the object within seconds.

The device's VoiceOver function audibly identifies the object to the user.

Includes the ability to repeat the last image's identification and save the image to the camera roll with the attached tag.

Allows the upload of identified images from the camera roll and can share identification via twitter, facebook, text or email.

Platforms: iOS and Android

Cost: New users are provided with 100 trial pictures to start. 4 subscription plans are available starting from $4.99+.

App: Be My Eyes

What it does: It connects blind people with volunteer helpers globally via live video chat.

A blind person requests assistance via the app.

The volunteer receives a notification for help and a live video connection is established.


Utilises the iPhone VoiceOver technology which enables synthetic speech and a touch based interface.

At the end of each session there is a 'rate it' or 'report misuse' option both for the helper and the user.

Platforms: iOS. Android version in production.

Cost: Free, but a  subscription may be put in place from September 2015.

App: Color ID

What it does: The camera on on iPhone or iPod touch speaks the names of colours in real time.


Augmented Reality technology app to discover the names of colours around you.

A toggle button at the top left corner enables the user to move from simple colours to exotic colours.

Platforms: iOS

Cost: Free.

Best of the Rest:

1. Ariadne GPS
2. Voice Brief
3. Talking Calculator

Mobile Apps for Hearing Impairment

App: ASL Dictionary

What it does:

Video instruction of over 5,000+ words signed by a professional ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter.

It offers deaf and hard of hearing people a portable and convenient way of learning and using sign language in their daily lives.


A searchable dictionary divided into 7 categories each with its own list of alphabetical entries.

An Onscreen keyboard allows users to search words and numbers.

A video comes with each video demonstrating a word, phrase, number, or symbol.

Teaches users how to translate common English phrases into ASL.

Includes 765 multiple meaning words, 473 idioms and the ASL numerical system to represent money, time, date and years.


iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook and Windows Mobile.

Cost: Ranging from $4.99 to $7.99, platform dependent.

App: Tap Tap

What it does:

Helps deaf and hearing impaired people respond to their audio environment.


When it detects noise, the app will vibrate and flash to alert the user.

Adjusts sensitivity for noisier environments.

Platforms: iOS

Cost: $2.99

App: Netflix

What it does: Plays unlimited movies and TV shows.


80% of the movies and TV shows it offers have closed caption subtitles for those deaf or hard of hearing.

Closed caption subtitles mean that the subtitles spell out the dialogue and the sound, for example to alert the viewer that a song is playing or a door is shutting.

Platforms: iOS, Android and Windows.

Cost: The app is free once signed up to a paid monthly subscription from $8.99.

Has a 1 month free trial option.

Best of the Rest:

1. LouderTV
2. Play It Down
3. Dragon Dictation


2. http://www/

Source: Michael Leavy

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

MN Hands & Voices: Support Organization For Parents With Deaf Children

I recently had the privilege of chatting with Candace Lindow-Davies, who manages a program called MN Hands & Voices in Minneapolis, MN, which is a parent to parent support organization and is meant for parents who recently find out that their new born baby is deaf or hard of hearing. 

MN Hands & Voices is a local chapter of Hands & Voices which is in almost every state in the US and is expanding internationally too. 

The program’s staff members consist of  deaf parents as well and they primarily provide a unique parent perspective which is comforting to new parents to deaf children. They provide a sense of hope, and just reassure that everything’s going to be fine so that parents don't feel isolated, and understand that lots of people are successful in raising children with hearing loss. But there’s a lot more to it than just that. This is a very interesting conversation, and Candace provides a lot of insights with reference to raising children with deafness. Kiddos grow up to be successful individuals and they have  great careers, great marriages, great children!

MN Hands & Voices provides a sense of hope and community to parents, and successfully conveys the message that they are not alone. For parents, it is always comforting to talk to someone else who has done it before. This also helps establish trust and immediate credibility to the support system.

Candace talks about a lot of things, including what MN Hands & Voices does, how they reach out to parents with new borns who are deaf, how this entire process works, how a staff member is aligned to a parent, events for parents amongst other things.

MN Hands & Voices' website has a ton of resources of parents. "First Stop" and "Resources & Information" are great starting points.

Note: I will be adding a transcript to this conversation soon.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Grasping For Grades: A Mom's Quest To Promote Self Advocacy in IEP

If you work with students with disabilities at a school or are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably very familiar with IEP or Individualized Education Program. In the school system, IEP is meant to help children with special needs achieve their academic goals using several mechanisms which may include  modified classroom instruction, homework assignments, physical occupation and speech therapy, psychological counseling and many more. Through IEP, the student's academic goals and current & future accommodations are reviewed. The objective of IEP is to come up with an official document that outlines the plan to help the student perform in a "normal school culture".

In theory it sounds great. However, the truth is that IEP is a very complex process that requires a ton of documentation that is lengthy and complex, which can be intimidating, confusing and frustrating to a parent. The meetings are not regular, and they are mostly  between the parent(s) and school staff, and not necessarily the student. The guidelines around the process of coming up with a plan are rigid and archaic. At the end of it all, someone from the school staff is determining what a student requires without really getting input from the students themselves.
photo of holly with her son nathan
Holly Lane, mother of 15 year old Nathan, is on a quest to change the archaic system and bring more
flexibility and self advocacy into IEP. Nathan has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and has been a part of IEP since he was 5. Holly has been actively involved in all the meetings right from the beginning and has faced the frustration of dealing with cumbersome documentation and one sided interactions. Research has shown that students who participate in their own IEPs experience greater academic success and satisfaction [1]  and she strongly feels that student self advocacy is essential to IEP centered academic achievement [2]. She really wants administrative officials to get that message so everyone  involved (including the student) could quickly and efficiently come up with a success plan.

As a part of her capstone project for her bachelor's degree, Holly is conducting a research around the question: “How might students use technology to self-advocate during the IEP development process?”. She wants to gather as much data as possible from parents and teachers in order to propose a mechanism that will have students with disabilities involved in the development of their IEPs. If you have opinions about IEP and want to contribute to Holly's project, please go to the following link to submit your responses.

Holly is beginning to take small steps that will eventually let her and others involved in IEP take a bigger leap in making changes to the program. To begin with,  she will be sharing results of this survey with her capstone advisor and entire department. She will also be attempting to publish her research in a peer reviewed journal. Needless to say, all of her findings will be published on Holly and Nathan's website where you will find more information about Nathan, IEP and of course, the survey to Holly's capstone research.

Holly has also made a short documentary that shows Nathan and her struggles as they go through their daily lives that's dictated by a not so efficient IEP designed for them.  Holly and Nathan document the shortcomings of IEP very well and provide food for thought on redesigning IEP and considering different perspectives while coming up with a plan. This documentary is a work in progress and there is more to come in the near future.

If you don't want to/ can't fill the survey, go to just to read and watch Nathan and Holly's story.

[1] Mason, C. Y., McGahee-Kovac, M., & Johnson, L. (2004). How to help students lead their IEP meetings. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 36(3), 18-25.

[2] Hart, J.E., & Brehm, J. (2013). Promoting self-determination: A model for training elementary students to self-advocate for IEP accommodations. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(5), 40-48.

Citation Source: Holly Lane

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Home Automation: The New Path to Freedom and Independence for those with Disabilities

For those living with any kind of disability, some of the most mundane, everyday tasks can become extremely difficult. Everyday living can often be the hardest to deal with for those faced with physical and mental challenges—even their home wouldn’t be a reprieve from these struggles. Until now. We all know about smartphone apps that can help those with disabilities, but what about smart homes?

With the advent of home automation and the rapidly growing advancements in technology, those with disabilities are able to experience some relief from the challenges they face at home. Let’s explore some important advances in home automation for people living with disabilities.

The Basics

The most simplistic home automation systems are still pretty staggering when you think about the fact that only a few years ago, they were the creations of sci-fi films. Most home security companies offer home automation services that allow users to control aspects of their home (like lighting, locks, and temperature) from a central panel or remotely via a computer or smartphone. This means that the user can, for example, have the system automatically unlock the doors everyday at 5:30 PM when they get home from work or turn the lights on at 7 AM when it’s time to wake up. They can even simply lock up and turn off the lights with their phone—from the comfort of their own bed. This is perfect for those who are forgetful or physically limited and unable to constantly get up and down to turn lights on and off.

The Next Steps

Belkin WeMo switch
Belkin WeMo switch
One of the easiest ways to automate literally any electrical item in your home is with the Belkin WeMo Switch. Simply plug the appliance into the switch, which in turn, plugs into the wall. From there, you can use the company’s app to control all the devices connected to switches in your home. Being able to remotely monitor and automate all the appliances in a house means those with disabilities and their loved ones will no longer have to worry about the stove or a curling iron being left on, which could potentially be fatal. It offers freedom for those with disabilities and peace of mind for their loved ones who are able to digitally “check in” on them.


iRobot from Roomba
iRobot from Roomba
Cleaning can be physically impossible or even dangerous for the disabled. Anyone with a disability may find it hard to reach the gutters, mop the floors, and clean their yards, among other chores. Robots can perform a wide range of tasks that maintain a home—the most famous of which, the iRobot from Roomba, does all the sweeping and vacuuming on its own without any intervention from its owner. One of the most dangerous activities a homeowner can do is clean their gutters. How many times have we heard horror stories about someone falling off the ladder and breaking a bone or worse? The Looj 330 takes that completely out of the equation with its gutter cleaning robot. This area is ever-expanding and recently saw the addition of some window washing robots as well.
Looj 330
Looj 330

As you can see, with the right combination of products, the possibilities are endless when it comes to home automation. They offer people living with disabilities a degree of freedom and independence that simply wasn’t available to them before and gives their loved ones and caretakers peace of mind.

This blog post was written by Emma Bailey. Emma is a blogger in the greater Chicago area with a keen interest in technology, astronomy, and anthropology.

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.


 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