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I recently did an interview for ABC news video. They asked me to come and talk about five new assistive technologies. I did the interview in their New York City studio, which presented somewhat of a difficult challenge as ABC News’ anchor is based in Washington, D.C. Which meant a remote feed — an earbud, which I couldn’t use in my ear because I have a cochlear implant. Fortunately we arrived at a solution to tape the earbud as close as possible to my cochlear implant. So that’s why you can see a wire, and is also why I purposely move my head slowly when demonstrating the products. The sound technician said the next time I can buy a mono adapter for the awesome NoizFree headset that I use with my cochlear implant, which would have plugged nicely into ABC’s sound system. In any event, the ABC News interview was ... keep reading »
My favorite gadgets at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association conference, which featured more than 100 vendors, include two communications products and a new PDA for the blind. I also note some worthy mentions – gadgets that I liked because of their design or originality. Here’s the list. ECO2 This eye-gaze system brings the latest in alternative input. For people who cannot use their limbs, nor speak (perhaps someone with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease – or a person who has had a stroke), Prentke-Romich’s ECO2 is a great innovation. To calibrate ECO2, I followed a bouncing ball on screen while it recorded my eye movements – this takes all of 30 seconds. The program, a combination of words, phrases and pictures, can be operated using just the eyes, allowing someone to express their thoughts (and their gratitude for this program.) ($7,795) Proloquo2go An iPhone/iTouch app for people who have trouble communicating, Assistive ... keep reading »
In a much anticipated release, at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference HumanWare and Code Factory debuted Oratio for the BlackBerry, the first-ever screen reader for the visually impaired using this smart phone. Oratio uses text-to-speech technology to convert the visual information displayed on the BlackBerry screen into audio output. Finally, visually impaired persons who don’t have an iPhone can have an accessible experience (the iPhone uses Apple’s proprietary VoiceOver screen reader.)   I wrote about this excellent, up-in-coming product in my book, though the name has been changed from Orator to Oratio to avoid any confusion with an existing product called Orator being manufactured by a telecommunications company in the USA. “Although we got accustomed to the name Orator for BlackBerry in the last few months, Oratio is less generic and provides a more personalized name and sound for the product,” says Michel Pepin, Product Manager at HumanWare. The ... keep reading »
I wonder if Intel feels sheepish right now. Here they are, thinking they’ve just launched a great new product for the blind, a mobile device that reads text aloud. Intel partnered with assistive tech pioneer HumanWare and reached out to the blind community to get their input, too. But the Intel Reader, announced yesterday, has pretty much bombed in the marketplace. At $1,500, the Reader is overpriced and doesn’t have any more bells and whistles than other devices already out there. Intel should have known this would happen — or perhaps they don’t really care. After all, if they can get schools to pay for it under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, then they’ll make money. But making products that don’t represent the needs and wants of consumers — blind or not — is anathema to what technology companies should be doing. They should be innovating along a universal design ... keep reading »
The New York Times has an excellent, if not disturbing, piece on insurance companies that refuse to reimburse people with speech disabilities for devices that help them speak. This isn’t a new topic: Insurers argue that many of today’s speech-generating devices, which cost upwards of $5,000, can perform other non-speech functions like Web browsing and e-mail — making it more of a “fun and games” device but not a “dedicated” piece of equipment that they normally cover for reimbursement. This principle has led scores of people with speech disabilities, including those with autism or neuromuscular diseases, to try to find cheaper products on the mainstream market. Many have had success with Apple’s $300 iPhone 3G, which has a downloadable app called Proloqu2go that performs text-to-speech functions. Others choose to buy the specialty speech device with all the “fun and games” removed, which meets the insurers’ requirements for reimbursement. But is it ... keep reading »
When Apple announced a host of new features for its next-generation iPhone in March, they unveiled a few surprises, but kept the best ones under wraps. Until today, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple revealed gigantic news: its new iPhone 3G S has a built-in screen reader for people with visual impairments — bringing this group one step closer to total cell-phone accessibility. The 3G S introduces VoiceOver for iPhone, Apple’s proprietary screen reader that speaks what appears on the iPhone display. VoiceOver lets visually impaired users make iPhone calls, read email, browse web pages, play music and run applications. TOUCH-SCREEN TECH. VoiceOver is already built into the Mac and iPod Shuffle, but for iPhone this screen reader is a whole new ball game. Calling it the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, VoiceOver for iPhone reads aloud what is touched on the screen. Users can then gesture with ... keep reading »
GM and Segway have teamed up to create a two-wheel vehicle called the P.U.M.A. – or the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle. The Puma is a two-wheel, self-balancing 35-mile-per-hour urban pod with a maximum range of 35 miles on a fully charged set of its lithium-ion batteries. Acccording to Register Hardware, which has only seen pictures so far, each Puma is apparently driven by two small electric motors that are inside the wheels. The car will linked into to a live digital network giving details of nearby parking spaces, charge points or coffee shops, and allowing for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Presumably, then a tweaked and enhanced urban-centric version of GM’s OnStar system. All controls are managed by a fly-by-wire system, while dashboard information will be displayed on connected devices such as the iPhone. The Puma holds potential for people who have mobility difficulties, or use a wheelchair. Potentially, these individuals could drive ... keep reading »
Today Skype launched its free iPhone application, bringing its much-anticipated Internet-based phone service to Apple’s mobile platform. Generally, this is good news, as Skype has always held appeal for people with disabilities, particularly those with physical disabilities for whom using a computer is easier –and more affordable — than a telephone for making calls. People with other types of disabilities, however, won’t fare as well with Skype on the iPhone. One issue is accessibility with screen readers on mobile devices. Skype on the desktop has been modified to work with screen readers for visually impaired persons, though there are still some hiccups, like not being able to correctly read a contact list aloud. The iPhone and other mobile devices do not yet have screen-reader capability, and in any case touch screens aren’t accessible enough to people who are blind. “The Skype iPhone version doesn’t have any of the accessibility features that the ... keep reading »
Another neat iPhone application, this time in the form of a “Talking Email Keyboard” from G.P. Imports. The software uses speech to announce each key you type on the iPhone in a clear and understandable voice, preventing the user from needing to look at the screen while typing, according to technology blog ATMac. Interestingly enough, G.P. Imports is marketing the app for sighted users who might wish to compose a message while driving! A MacWorld journalist, John Fuller, sets the record straight, saying a more efficient use for the keyboard is for the visually impaired who may have a hard time seeing the iPhone screen. This is another small step in making the iPhone — the disabled population’s best bet for a smartphone thus far — more accessible. keep reading »
Before I start blogging about the gadgets and devices that I discovered at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, I wanted to write about something I have been chewing on for the last 24 hours, which has ultimately altered the way I am going to approach my upcoming book, The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology (due out in late 2009). While there were lots of cool, new technologies exhibited at ATIA, I also had the chance to attend a half-dozen seminars that, when tied all together, painted a fantastic yet mostly under-reported picture of the future of assistive technology and the driving forces that will allow people with disabilities — whether they are born with one, have been injured during a war, or are experiencing the effects of aging — to live longer and more fruitful lives. Here are five trends that today are shaping the assistive ... keep reading »

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