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Mark Riccobono became the first legally blind man to drive a car independently when he successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the famed track at the Daytona International Speedway. Riccobono, a blind executive at The National Federation of the Blind, was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology — gloves and a seat pad that had sensors built in them to help him feel his way along the course. Riccobono not only successfully navigated the several turns of the road course but also avoided obstacles, some of which were stationary and some of which were thrown into his path at random from a van driving in front of him. Later he successfully passed the van without collision. The Daytona event was part of research project called The NFB Blind Driver Challenge, which challenged universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to build ... keep reading »
In an astonishing feat that underscores the power of technology to enable people with disabilities, software engineer Hank Torres took the stage at the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference on Friday and typed a sentence without the use of his hands in just over a minute, beating the clock to win the Guinness World Record. Torres, who is a quadriplegic and does not have the use of his hands, typed his way to triumph using Swype, a gesture-based keyboard, and Tracker Pro, a head-operated mouse that follows the movement of a reflective dot on his eyeglasses and allows him to point and click to replace a normal computer mouse. Torres used Tracker to input the word patterns on a Swype keyboard, and though it took three tries, he wowed the audience with his almost perfect rendering of a sentence about piranhas in 83.09 seconds. “Swype has opened a whole new road ... keep reading »
Five years ago, two Norwegian entrepreneurs, Svein Idso and Skjalg Aabakken, attended Rehacare in Dusseldorf — one of the largest exhibitors of assistive technologies — to look for a suitable patient lift that would work in Idso’s 10th floor apartment. Aabakken, and Isdo, who is a wheelchair user, couldn’t find what they needed. Even the best designed ceiling lifts looked like a “power tool … and why would anyone want a power tool hanging over their bed?”, asked Aabakken. So Aabakken, a product developer and designer who has created products ranging from stoves to remote controls for older people, and Idso wanted to create a brand-new lift. In Norway, the government delivers health and home care to every person who needs it. They talked to nurses, who told them the barriers they face when trying to help transfer patients from their bed to their wheelchair and vice versa. First, the big sling ... keep reading »
Don’t you hate it when you can’t hear people on the phone? Purple Communications has just launched a great solution for deaf and hard of hearing people. Purple has launched ClearCaptions, an online and real-time telephone captioning service that takes all the guesswork out of phone conversations. While still in beta, the new service utilizes a relay operator, known as a Communications Assistant, who lives behind the scenes of your call, and silently translates the conversation — in real time — onto your computer screen, smartphone, iPhone, iTouch or iPad — basically any device with an Internet connection. The person on the other end of the line never knows that you’re getting much-needed assistance, but you’ll be able to carry on a chat better than ever before. Because the calls are secure and considered confidential — the Federal Communications Commission ensures that relay calls are treated the same as regular voice calls ... keep reading »
Microsoft’s Kinect is now out in time for the holidays. Kinect has some features that make it accessible to disabled gamers and others. But is it worth it? To start, movement-based gaming systems like Kinect are not going to work very well for people who can’t move, because the nature of the games is to encourage activity, says Ablegamers founder Mark Barlet, who has written a two-part piece on its experience with the new gaming system. This relates to people who use a wheelchair and, in particular, who do not have the use of their upper bodies. If you are a C3-C4 quad, the Kinect is going to be as accessible as the Wii and Playstation Move are to you right now,” he says. One of the best additions that Kinect brings to disabled gamers is voice control, which lets users with mobility impairments speak commands without a controller. Unlike the PlayStation ... keep reading »
The National Association of the Deaf sent another letter to Netflix on Friday addressing concerns about Netflix’s new pricing plan for its Watch Instantly movies, which the deaf community says amounts to a “deaf tax.” NAD also requests, again, that Netflix caption all of its Internet movies and provide an easy way to search for movies that are already captioned. In November, Netflix announced in The Wall Street Journal that it would offer an Internet-only subscription service plan for less money than its DVD-by-mail plan. Netflix says it believes the $600 million it will save annually on mailing DVDs can instead go towards securing better content deals and go head-to-head with Hulu as well as HBO. In this move, accessibility takes a steep dive. Netflix’s DVDs have captions or subtitles prepared and supplied for them by the major studios and their distributors. Movies in Netflix’s Internet library are not captioned, with the ... keep reading »
The Federal Communications Commission appointed a mixture of media behemoths, including ABC and Comcast, and top disability advocates to serve on its new Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee (VPEAAC). The 45-member committee will guide FCC policy on captions and audio descriptions for video programming and emergency services that are delivered over the Internet. Following the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which President Obama signed on October 8, the FCC announced the creation of VPEAAC. Among the many provisions of the law, all broadcast and cable networks must, by 2012, include closed captions on over-the-Web programming for the deaf and hearing impaired, and require a small amount of audio descriptions for the blind and visually impaired. As such, programs like Dancing with the Stars and Glee must be captioned when shown over the Web. Non-commercial programming, such as YouTube videos, are exempt. The VPEAAC ... keep reading »
Open source development is changing the face of education today for students with special needs. Just ask Jim Fruchterman, founder and CEO of Bookshare, a nonprofit that converts textbooks into digital formats for people with print disabilities, including vision loss and dyslexia. Fruchterman talked about how open source technologies are helping programmers to enhance existing and emerging education tools to build more accessibility features into them. It allows organizations like Bookshare to adapt a printed textbook into an audio or Braille file “with the push of a button.” Gregg Vanderheiden, director at the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin, considers accessibility to be a right. Through his Raising the Floor initiative, Vanderheiden is pushing for access to computers and the Internet to be built-in to mainstream hardware and software so the systems will be able to adapt to users needs without extra cost to the user. He envisions, say, an ... keep reading »
Nuance Communications and WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media have teamed up on a project to develop a prototype system that will automatically evaluate the accuracy of real-time captions for live news programming, and hopefully improve on live captions for deaf and hearing-impaired viewers. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Caption Accuracy Metrics project will identify and weigh the impact of different kinds of errors in closed captions, which the organizations believe will help improve the way captions are produced and presented for the news and other live programs by real-time captioners called stenocaptioners. NCAM staff recently convened a technical review panel of major stakeholders in caption quality at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York. Representatives from broadcast and cable networks, caption agencies, deaf education experts, and the National Court Reporters Association discussed the value of the project’s work to their organizations. In addition, the FCC ... keep reading »
David Dikter is the chief executive officer of the Assistive Technology Industry Association, a post he has held for the last nine years after spending nearly two decades in Boston’s school system. At the ATIA’s conference in Chicago this week, attended by more than 1,500 people, Dikter talked with abledbody.com about new developments in assistive technology and why vendors are learning to embrace mainstream gadgets like the Droid and the iPad. Q: David, what’s new in ATIA this year? A: Definitely the mobile devices and applications, like the iPad. We’re really also getting to the point where mobile products can help people with severe disabilities, like intellectual disabilities. They’re helping people communicate tremendously. And we’re also seeing a push with learning and education tools for people on the autism spectrum. Assistive technology vendors are starting to embrace mainstream gadgets and develop apps that specifically work for people with disabilities. They’re getting creative ... keep reading »

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