Monday, September 15, 2014

TALK: AAC Device That Converts Breathing to Voice

Sixteen year olds are always busy making great inventions, right? 

photo of Arsh DilbagiArsh Dilbagi from India is a finalist in the Google Science Fair 2014 with a device that is possibly going to change the lives of many people with developmental disabilities.

Arsh's invention, called TALK, is a new AAC device that let's a person with speech impairment and/or developmental disability to talk by using just their breath. The device has a sensor that is placed right below the nose or mouth, depending on the user. The user then breathes on the sensor in two types of bursts - a short burst for a dot and a longer burst for a dash. Yes, you guessed it right - this device is based on the Morse Code. These dots and dashes are then processed and converted into phrases and sentences by the internal processor and then sent to another processor that outputs the sentences into voice. 

TALK has two modes - one for communicating which is in English, and the other to gives specific commands which can be outputted in nine different languages and accents according to gender and age group. Arsh suggests that the price of TALK is only approximately $80 whereas other AAC devices that are generally used by people with motor-neuro disabilities can cost upward of $7,000. One significant advantage of this device is that since it is so small (the size of a cell phone), it can be carried by people with them all the time. They will also not be bound to a wheelchair to be able to use it. Another advantage is that people will not be twitching their muscles all the time thus causing muscle strains etc.

image showing how to use TALK
Click to enlarge
On a single charge, TALK can run for more than two days and is quite comfortable to wear.

Visit Arsh's Google Science Fair 2014 page to learn more about him and his project in greater detail. Don't forget to watch the videos below to get an understanding of what TALK does.







Source: Times of India
Image Sources: Google Science Fair 2014, NDTV

[Thank you for sharing, Savitha and Abhinav!]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ModMath: Math App For Dysgraphic Children



This is another great story of how a parent decided to find a solution for her kid's disability by creating an app for him and several others who have dysgraphia and help them solve math problems on their iPads! This blog post was written by Dawn Denberg, the inventor of ModMath - an app designed specifically for people with dysgraphia.

One evening, after another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband, stupefied that I couldn’t find anything to help our son.

When people ask me about the biggest stumbling block for my son, Henry, who has dyslexia and ADHD, I tell them that it is his handwriting. If they’re in the know about learning disabilities, I’ll use dysgraphia, the clinical term for horrific handwriting.

Speech-to-text programs, like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, are a godsend for kids like Henry. My son uses it for almost every subject. It’s useless, however, for mathematics.

This is a big problem because Henry’s handwriting is so bad that often he can’t read it. Because of his working-memory challenges, by the time he gets to step two of any equation, he’s not sure if the number he wrote down was a 4 or a 9. As for creating number columns neat enough to effectively add, subtract, multiply, or divide multi-digit equations, forget it. A 5 from the 10s column, for example, will migrate to the space below a 7 from the 100s column. The final calculations are wildly off base.

Our only option was for Henry to dictate to me how to work through each problem. I wrote down what he said. This was not a workable long-term solution, unless he wanted me to be his college roommate some day. Every so often, I’d force him to work independently. This resulted in frustration, tears, and disappointment.

We tried lots of interventions, everything from pencil huggers to alternative grip pens, and special paper with raised lines to keep his writing more uniform. Years of occupational therapy went nowhere, as did more controversial interventions like vision therapy. Through it all, I searched for an assistive technology to solve this problem. I queried teachers, learning specialists, and other parents in the LD community. I scoured the Internet for leads, but I found nothing.

One evening, after Henry had gotten through another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband, stupefied that I couldn’t find anything to help our son. I wasn’t looking for a solution, just a sympathetic ear. My husband, though, doesn’t like talking about problems without talking about solutions. Sometimes, I feel like bitching, and sometimes he’s willing to listen. But sometimes we both end up irked by our personality differences. In this case, however, his pragmatism was a stroke of genius. “Why don’t we make one?” he suggested.

So began our journey to create a math app that could help not just our son but any child who struggles with dysgraphia. It’s called ModMath, and it works on an iPad. (You can download it on itunes.apple.com or on modmath.com). It eliminates the need for students to write out math equations longhand. Think Excel, but without a calculator. Kids use the touch screen and on-screen keypad to set up and solve problems. Henry can now work through complicated math concepts — multiplying multi-digit numbers, doing long division, and regrouping and adding fractions with different denominators. The app lays out assignments on virtual graph paper that can be printed out or e-mailed to the teacher. When a child does make a calculation error, his teachers see where he went wrong and offer guidance because the calculations are “written” clearly in front of them.

Don’t be too impressed with our ingenuity. We didn’t write a single line of code. My husband is a creative director and co-owner of a boutique ad agency. He regularly contracts with software developers to create content for clients. So we knew where to go to get the job done.

Friends and colleagues were incredulous that we decided not to charge for the product. “Anyone who has an iPad can afford an app that costs a couple bucks” was a refrain we heard a lot. We don’t disagree with that logic, but our goal is to get ModMath into the hands of as many LD kids as possible. If we don’t charge, the media is more willing to give us free publicity. This increases our opportunity to reach the children and families who need it most.

We hope to create a ModMath 2.0 with additional features. However, we’ve already over-invested in our first app. Download the app and let us know how it has helped your child. We’d love to hear from you at contact@modmath.com.

photo of dawn denberg
Dawn Margolis Denberg is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. Her 12-year-old son Henry, who has ADHD and dyslexia, inspires her daily with his ingenuity, creativity, and zest for life. She will be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to fund an update to ModMath which will allow students to work out algebraic equations. She hopes to build an Android version with similar capabilities.

This blog post originally appeared on ADDitudemag.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spell Master: App That Improves Spelling Skills For Blind Children

Spell Master main screen

What's great about technology, especially in this decade is that everyone has access to a plethora of information and resources that can help them easily find and/or create exactly what they are looking for. This is a huge blessing when it comes to assistive technology because more and more parents are taking things in their own hands using technology to come up with accessibility solutions for their kids instead of waiting for a developer to create something and mass market! Spell Master, an app created by Ruchi Patil, is a great example of that.

Ruchi Patil is a mother of a 10 year kid who is blind. He is a voracious reader and an exceptional
Spell Master menu JAWS user. But because he couldn't practice how to spell words using a computer, his spellings were a little weak. To take care of this problem, Ruchi went on to create an iPad app that lets him practice spellings on the go! She emails him a list of words that she wants him to practice and he emails her the results right away straight from Spell Master. Since it is on the iPad, it is more like a game which helps in garnering more of kids' interest and attention. Ruchi's son also attaches an external keyboard to his iPad to type into it. Spell Master also allows kids to test their spellings in various other languages besides English. Sample tests for French, Spanish, and Hindi are included in the app.

It's a simple yet great concept for teaching visually impaired children at a very young age to spell words right. Spell Master is available on the app store for $4.99 and requires iOS 7.0 or later.

The app in itself is amazing, but it is  also a great step towards encouraging parents to develop apps for their kids and loved ones to fulfill their needs!

iTune Store Link: Spell Master

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Assistive Technology Blog Minisode: Signs Restaurant in Toronto, Canada


I am starting a new series called "minisodes" which will showcase some fun, interesting, exciting facts and tidbits about assistive technology, accessibility, and accommodations in the form of short youtube videos. Feedback will be greatly appreciated!




Did you know that a new restaurant has opened in Toronto Canada where you order using the American Sign Language?  And why is it that, you may ask?

It's because almost all of the waiters at this restaurant are deaf.

The inspiration behind this restaurant is the owner's struggle to communicate with a deaf customer at his previous job.

The restaurant gives you a crash course in sign language right from the get go - As soon as you enter, you see a wall that has big pictures that show handshapes to help you fingerspell. There's also a cheat sheet on the table that serves the same purpose. Of course, the restaurant is encouraging you to use sign language as much as possible, primarily to make things easy for the wait staff and also to adopt sign language as another language for day to day conversation, but if you are not comfortable with it, you can still point to items on the menu and order.

This unique restaurant is a great example of how someone’s disability does not and will not stop them from performing a regular job - all they need is an employer who is willing to provide them the right accommodations and also create an environment where their disability is overshadowed by their skill set and zeal to be outstanding at their job.

Do check out this restaurant though - signrestaurant.ca. It is a fairly new restaurant but already has amazing ratings on Yelp, Urban Spoon and the likes.

Click the subscribe button to watch forthcoming minisodes on Youtube.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Assistive Technology Gadgets That Could Change Your Life [Infographic]

Are you or someone you know an Occupational Therapist and/or take care of someone with special needs? Michael Leavy at Home Healthcare Adaptations, a family run company has created this helpful infographic that shows some really useful assistive technology devices that can make life convenient for a lot of people. 

An electric car that people in wheelchairs maneuver  without getting off and folding the wheelchair separately? A gadget that translates head movements into computer mouse movements? Alarm clocks for the deaf? Bookmark this handy infographic for quick reference to some really cool assistive technology gadgets. (click to enlarge)

infographic titled assistive technology gadgets that could change your life
Click to enlarge

Source: Michael Leavy

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:  http://ow.ly/Avs8V

In 2003, he was highlighted in Microsoft “Accessible Technology for Everyone”, a Microsoft video and publication.  http://www.microsoft.com/enable/

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 http://www.amacusg.org/.

To learn more about Ruh Global Communications, please visit www.RuhGlobal.com.

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