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At the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference in Chicago this week, tablets and applications are taking the industry by storm. The iPad, iPhone and iTouch, for example, are three mainstream technologies that have access already built in. The bonus? Assistive technology vendors can now develop new specialized apps for people with disabilities that work seamlessly with these hot-off-the-shelf gadgets. As more consumer products make headway in the assistive technology space, “buy-in” is on the rise — and is changing the field of rehabilitation, says Laura Plummer, a rehabilitation technologist and sensory specialist at Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Plummer says there’s a new way to weigh whether someone will fully use and interact with a device, or leave it in the desk drawer. It’s called the Acceptability Factor, and follows other, older criteria, like the Bootstrap Factor (“Well, might as well make do with this thing”), the Carrot ... keep reading »
OK, admit it.  The iPad is the new gadget for the technologically savvy, as well as the merely technologically competent.  Perhaps one of the best features of the iPad is not the device itself, but the plethora of apps that span every interest from Netflix film buffs to Bloomberg news junkies to fantasy football fans.  Now, those with autism, a complex developmental disability that affects social interaction and communication skills, can bask in the mesmerizing glow of the iPad. Proloquo2Go, an iPad and iTouch app that allows users to touch icons that correspond with “spoken” words or phrases, is an excellent tool for those on the non-verbal end of the spectrum and one that has been mentioned previously in abledbody’s text-to-speech coverage.  With thousands of pictures, a default vocabulary of over 7,000 items and a price tag of $189, the Proloquo2Go is far more comprehensive than your average emoticon.  AssistiveWare, which ... keep reading »
The dramatic increase in the usage of GPS navigation devices among automobile drivers in the U.S. has been nothing short of amazing. Only a few years ago, drivers often pulled over on the roadside, asked passersby for directions, consulted faded and dog-eared AAA maps, and sometimes squinted at hard-to-read signs at night. Today, a driver equipped with a GPS device can navigate the narrow, complex and tortuous streets of downtown Boston without getting lost — a feat that would otherwise be unimaginable for non-Bostonians. For deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers, the GPS devices have also been helpful, bailing them out of situations where they would otherwise get lost and have difficulty talking to someone for directions, or calling someone for assistance (as phones present a challenge for people who are deaf). However, there is one aspect of the GPS devices that presents a distraction for deaf drivers. While ... keep reading »
Penny Reeder, the former editor of “The Braille Forum,” the monthly magazine of the American Council of the Blind, now writes for the abledbody blog. As a consumer and advocate who is blind, Reeder shared her thoughts about the 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act that President Obama will sign into law today at 2 p.m. ET the White House, and can be watched live. Q: Penny, the new law is going to help make mobile devices more accessible for people who are blind and visually impaired, but as you mentioned in your article, you still think the Federal Communications Commission needs to hear from the blind community. What are the issues at hand? A: We still don’t have options for accessible smartphones outside of the iPhone. I’m a Verizon customer, and I cant find a smartphone that’s accessible to me unless I pay hundreds of dollars for a screen reader ... keep reading »
I am in the market for an accessible smartphone. I’m blind, and have been a shopper in this marketplace for a number of years now. Still, as a Verizon customer I find the experience endlessly frustrating. It’s not for lack of trying. After subscribing to several e-mail discussion lists, talking to friends and trying out their phones, and making more trips than I’d like to think about to my local Verizon store, I still don’t have an accessible smartphone – and the iPhone isn’t on the Verizon network yet. Here’s what I want: I want a smartphone with buttons that I can readily distinguish that allows me to go online; browse the internet for working, reading, listening to music, and connecting with family and friends; and survive as a person who is blind in the increasingly complex milieu that we call “life.” There’s more. I want to be able to read my ... keep reading »
After passing in the Senate last week, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which will improve access to mobile content for the deaf and blind communities, will soon become law. This means deaf consumers can now watch closed-captioned shows and movies on the Web on their PC or mobile devices. Before, closed-captions were only available on TVs. Blind consumers will also benefit from limited hours of video-description services on the Web, and the law will require touch-screen smartphones that have Web features to be made accessible to them. Where do people with disabilities go from here, in this brave new world? Clearly, this law is an important step toward enabling deaf and blind people to view and understand mobile content on a par with non-disabled consumers. For example, a deaf business executive traveling to the other side of the country can now open up her laptop in the comfort ... keep reading »
As someone who is blind, I can’t tell you how many times I have reached into the freezer for a box of frozen something-or-other only to realize that I couldn’t prepare the food without first reading the directions, which I cannot see. When that happens, I have a few options: I can ask a neighbor or friend; I can take a guess (or a gamble); or I can wait for someone to come home and read the instructions to me. The complete lack of access to printed information on packages and product inserts is troublesome for those of us who are visually impaired and still want to prepare great meals, keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy, maintain clean houses, and independently accomplish the day-to-day tasks that are simply a “part of normal life” for most people. It can be even more problematic — or downright dangerous — ... keep reading »
Intel and General Electric are creating a new company that will provide medical care and assistive technologies to the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, according to BusinessWeek. Intel and GE hope to bring more health care devices into homes, which they say will help lower health care costs and increase the quality of life for those living with disability, chronic illnesses like diabetes and age-related diseases such as Alzheimers. “Chronic conditions account for more than 75 percent of health care spending in the U.S.,” says Omar Ishrak, senior vice president of GE and president and CEO of GE Healthcare Systems. Intel has been making its foray into the heath devices field, and in November 2009 launched the Intel Reader, an device that combines a high-resolution camera and optical character recognition to take a picture of a book – and read it aloud — to people with vision impairments and learning disorders. ... keep reading »
Amid all the Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary celebrations last week, it’s worth noting that the U.S. House passed a bill that’s crucial to the deaf and hard of hearing population. H.R. 3101 would extend protections from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — the law that made closed captioning on T.V. mandatory — to the Internet. H.R. 3101 requires, with few exceptions, any T.V., cable or satellite program that airs with closed-captions to be also captioned on the Web. It encompasses websites like Hulu.com (owned by NBC) and ABC.com. Captions must be displayed on all devices that show television programs, regardless of size, which includes smart phones like the iPhone. Unfortunately, H.R. 3101, which is also known as also known as the 21st Century Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act, has been watered down from its original version. No longer will web-exclusive programming be required to have captions. Exempt from the bill are ... keep reading »
A New Zealand company has invented a pair of bionic legs that allows a paraplegic to walk again. Rex, the Robotic Exoskeleton, is the brainchild of Auckland inventors Richard Little and Robert Irving, both who have mothers who use wheelchairs. Irving also found out seven years ago that he has Multiple Sclerosis, a nerve disease that can cause partial or complete loss of the muscles. In the five-minute video, we see Hayden Allen, who lost use of his legs due to a spinal cord, transfer himself from his manual wheelchair into the Rex suit. We watch Allen stand, walk and even climb steps, though Allen looks perfectly happy just standing still after five years of mostly sitting in a chair. “I’ll never forget what it was like to see my feet walking under me the first time I used Rex,” Hayden says in the video. “People say to me, ‘look up when ... keep reading »

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