News

Maine DOE Publishes – Returning to School Tool-Kit

EducationThe Maine Department of Education has released a new web resource, COVID-19 Returning to School Tool-Kit which details the latest information and guidance about COVID-19. The resource was designed for district and school staff and educators as they begin to welcome employees and students back to school and into learning communities for the 2020/2021 school year and during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Tool-Kit includes Health & Safety Resources/Guidance for Schools, guidance on Masks, Distancing, and Hand Hygiene, as well as Training & Professional Development materials.

Use this link to view the COVID-19 Returning to School Tool-Kit… 

UMaine assistive technology spinout UNAR Labs receives grant

From the University of Maine News

UNAR Labs receives $300,000 NIH Small Business Innovation Research award

UNAR Labs devices and mediaORONO, MAINE, August 12, 2020 – UNAR Labs, a University of Maine spinout company that develops assistive technology for blind and visually impaired (BVI) users, has been awarded $300,000 under the National Institute of Health’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program to further prove its concept. With the award, the company plans to prototype an information access system that would help educational institutions develop accessible learning materials more efficiently.

The company’s mission is to make the visual graphic information that has become such a big part of modern daily life more accessible to BVI users on the digital devices they already have, including smartphones and tablets.

“More than 60 to 70 percent of digital content is completely inaccessible to visually impaired users — think of maps, images, photos, Facebook, Twitter,” says Hari Palani, co-founder and CEO of UNAR Labs. “We want to provide a bridge and enable BVI users with access to all this information.”

UNAR Labs’ core technology is a software platform called Midlina that translates visual graphical information into an accessible multisensory graphic that BVI users can touch, feel and hear using the haptic, vibration and audio features built in to digital smart devices (phones/tablets).

The SBIR award will allow Portland-based UNAR Labs to focus on improving the process to translate textbooks and other educational materials – including the graphical components — into a multisensory format that makes them fully accessible for BVI students. Using existing methods, this process can take two weeks to two months (depending on the complexity of the material), involves significant manual labor, and can cost many thousands of dollars, according to Palani. The company is developing a software system that aims to cut this time down to hours and reduce the manual labor that makes it so expensive.

“Translating visual information into equivalent non-visual information is not a trivial task, so we have a long research agenda to achieve this technical feat,” says Palani, who came to UMaine in 2011 to conduct graduate research on accessible technology with professor of spatial informatics Nicholas Giudice, co-founder of UNAR Labs.

The two began to explore commercialization of their research after connecting with the team at UMaine’s Foster Center for Innovation in 2017. Their path to commercialization has been deliberate. In 2017, UNAR Labs became the first team from Maine to be invited to participate in the National I-Corps program. After completing I-Corps, where Palani and Giudice conducted extensive customer discovery research, they joined the MIRTA accelerator at UMaine in 2019, built a prototype, and began to prove the feasibility of their technology. A $225,000 National Science Foundation Phase I SBIR award in 2019 helped fund this work, along with a $100,000 commercialization support grant from the Maine Technology Institute. UNAR Labs is participating in the 2020 Top Gun program, a statewide accelerator that targets startups with high growth potential.

Giudice, who is visually impaired, believes that UNAR Labs has a distinct edge in advancing this technology.

“Lots of companies are interested in this type of technology, and for good reasons, but they’re often coming at it from a technical standpoint and not thinking about it from the human side — the perceptual, cognitive aspects of it,” says Giudice. “We’re working in a field that we both have had a lot of experience in, personal and professional. This company is built out of a lot of Hari’s dissertation work and my experience as a blind scientist who has dealt with trying to find solutions to this for the last 20 years and understands what works, what doesn’t and the real challenges.”

That’s a key reason why UNAR Labs is building solutions for use in commercially available hardware (e.g., smartphones). A dedicated device with a braille display to show graphics can cost upwards of $15,000, Giudice says. For institutions, the process of producing accessible versions of textbooks involving graphic information is in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 and involves a complex, multi-step production process that requires an experienced transcriber to convert the materials to a tactile format and a second person to check that they are accurate before printing on a tactile embosser. UNAR Labs’ software would automate this process and eliminate those manual steps, setting it up so that educational institutions (or commercial production facilities) could quickly and easily prepare accessible material from standard visual materials for printing and delivery.

The company’s long-term goal is to create a suite of products that will meaningfully improve information accessibility for the BVI community across platforms and devices.

“We have met all our planned milestones thus far and are well on our trajectory toward creating a truly inclusive and accessible digital world,” Palani says.

UNAR Labs is in the process of hiring its first full-time employee, and Palani says they hope to add four more positions before the end of 2020. In addition, the company has contracted with UMaine’s Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Lab — known for innovative research to support nonvisual information access — to help conduct some of the human usability studies with the products being developed as part of their new NIH project.

Contact: Ashley Forbes, ashley.forbes@maine.edu

Photo credit: Image from University of Maine News

AT for Older Adults

The following comes from Laurie Orlov’s Aging and Health Technology Watch current newsletter. Laurie’s excellent site reports out on issues related to seniors and various new and emerging technologies. This week’s newsletter article focused on several new assistive technologies. Use the links in the list below to learn more about each product.

And you might want to consider subscribing to Laurie’s newsletter…

HomeEXCEPT.  “HomeEXCEPT is hardware and software for active seniors, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and researchers. The hardware is used to tag objects and monitor their use.

Livindi.  “Livindi keeps families connected with LivindiPad, a tablet for seniors. Simply touching a picture on the screen starts a video call. Voice to text helps those with diminished hearing. Families can send pictures to a digital picture frame. Livindi includes a set of sensors which monitor activity and environment and recognize behavioral changes.

Sundial Alexa Skill. “The Sundial skill for Alexa and the mobile app work together to connect older adults (the Center) to their loved ones (Care Circle). The Center uses the voice and touch enabled Sundial skill for Alexa (optimized for the Amazon Echo Show) to interact with their private Care Circle of family and friends.

Tembo.Health.  “Tembo.Health, funded at least in part by Primetime Partners, a new aging-focused VC firm, is a provider of telemedicine services intended to connect patients with specialty services like psychiatry and cardiology, including those in nursing homes. The company’s platform connects the specialists to patient data and collaborates with the nursing staff to provide better care plans and also, enabling patients with the care option as per their needs.

Verizon Care Smart Watch. “Care Smart comes with a number of pre-loaded messages making it easier than ever for seniors to respond to text messages. An easy-to-read screen displays the date and time and streamlined 3-touch navigation for accessing contacts, placing calls or sending texts makes this smartwatch a snap to use.

Read the entire article Five notable technology offerings for older adults

 

Governor Marks 30th Anniversary of ADA

The following proclamation was made on July 26, 2020:

State of Maine – PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS, July 26, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life; and WHEREAS, the ADA has expanded opportunities for individuals with disabilities by increasing awareness, removing barriers, changing perceptions, and promoting greater inclusion in community life; and

WHEREAS, the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if public entities, including the State of Maine, remain committed by providing leadership and continued attention to its purpose; and

WHEREAS, the State of Maine recognizes that all people within its borders have the right to fully participate in leading productive and active lives without regard to their disabilities, and that supporting the rights of persons with disabilities is essential to the economic and social well-being of the entire State; and

WHEREAS, the State of Maine has enacted laws, issued orders, and adopted policies to protect the rights of people with disabilities, to provide accessibility for people with disabilities in all State programs, and to comply with and carry out the State’s responsibilities under the ADA; and

WHEREAS, the removal of barriers to equal opportunity for all that limit the participation of people with disabilities in employment, programs, and activities of the State of Maine remains an ongoing focus and requires the concerted efforts of all agencies and their partners to devote resources to coordinate ADA compliance; and

WHEREAS, State government bears a unique responsibility in demonstrating to all people the goals and values of our common life, including serving as a model of accessibility, inclusion, and nondiscrimination for people with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, with information technology and digital services continually becoming a more integral part of everyday life, the State of Maine responsibilities described in Executive Order 2 FY 11/12 are reaffirmed in their entirety, with modifications to ensure that agency procured, utilized, or created digital information and services are available to people with disabilities in an accessible format;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Janet T. Mills, Governor of the great State of Maine, do hereby proclaim the week of July 26, 2020 as ADA Recognition Week throughout the State of Maine and I urge all citizens to celebrate the great progress made under the ADA, reaffirm the principle of equality and inclusion, and recommit our efforts to full accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities in compliance with the ADA.

In testimony whereof, I have caused the Great Seal of the State to be hereunto affixed GIVEN under my hand at Augusta this sixteenth day of July Two Thousand Twenty.

Seal of the State of Maine

/s/
Janet T. Mills
Governor

/s/
Matthew Dunlap
Secretary of State

 

Webinar on Accessible Virtual Meeting Platforms

Recording Available of Webinar on Accessible Virtual Meeting Platforms

US Access Board logoThe U.S. Access Board recently (July 21, 2020) conducted a webinar on the accessibility of virtual meeting platforms as part of its Section 508 Best Practices Webinar Series. Presenters from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission reviewed features and considerations for ensuring access to virtual platforms according to the Section 508 Standards. A recording of this free webinar – including handouts – is available on the webinar site. 

The Section 508 Best Practices Webinar Series provides helpful information and best practices for federal agencies in meeting their obligations under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which ensures access to information and communication technology in the federal sector. This webinar series is made available by the Accessibility Community of Practice of the CIO Council in partnership with the U.S. Access Board.

 

ATP Fundamentals Course

ATP - RESNA logoRESNA – the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Association of North America – administers the Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) Certification system. The ATP certification recognizes demonstrated competence in analyzing the needs of consumers with disabilities, assisting in the selection of appropriate assistive technology for the consumers’ needs, and providing training in the use of the selected devices.

As part of this system, RESNA offers training programs to individuals interested in sitting for the ATP Certification exam. The latest class schedule has been posted on the RESNA website.

Online instructor-led courses will meet two times per week in the evening for 2 hours. Course length is 4 weeks (please review complete session schedule). All class sessions will be recorded for unlimited view and review by course participants – including 90-day access following the last class. Participants will be granted access to their course instructor for the duration of the class schedule. All course information will be communicated to you directly, including delivery of all class materials.

To register for this course, you will need to create a RESNA account (if you don’t already have one) at www.resna.org.

 

Video Series on Universal Design

Icon - reel of filmA new video series on Universal Design is now available from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technologies to Support Aging-in-Place for People with Long-Term Disabilities (TechSAge) at Georgia Tech.

Universal Design involves designing products, facilities, and environments that are easily usable by the greatest range of people regardless of age, size, ability, or other factors. The series explores the seven principles of Universal Design, including use that is equitable, flexible, simple, and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for error, and low physical effort.

TechSAge features multidisciplinary research, development, and training projects that are dedicated to understanding the needs of, and developing supportive technologies for, people aging with long-term disabilities. This center is supported by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

2020 Guide for Maine Families on AT and AEM Published

EducationThe Maine CITE Assistive Technology Program is pleased to release the revised Guide for Maine Families on Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials. The 2020 Guide provides Maine families who have children with disabilities an easy to use resource describing how to get the assistive technology (AT) devices and services they need. Information about accessible education materials (AEM) and families’ important role in the planning process are also provided.

The 2020 Guide updates general information about AT and AEM. It includes new resources about assistive technology used during “learning at home” activities, as well as AT device demonstration and loan services – AT4Maine.org.

Use this link to download the The Guide – PDF

Audio Description Project – Proposed Rulemaking

The following press release comes from the Audio Description Project of the American Council of the Blind (ACB):

On April 23, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes expanding the number of broadcast designated market areas required to pass through audio description from the top 60 markets to the top 100, and to use the term “audio description” instead of the term “video description.”

The NPRM seeks to modernize the terminology in the Commission’s regulations to use the term “audio description” rather than “video description.” The term “audio description” is used by the rest of the federal government and is the term used in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Additionally, “audio description” is the agreed upon international terminology for audibly describing the visual elements of videos, on-stage performances, and subjects at museum and art galleries.

On May 21, 2020, the Media Bureau of the FCC released a public notice announcing the NPRM comment due dates; comments are due June 22, 2020, and reply comments are due July 6, 2020. The text of the NPRM is available on the FCC website.

Interested parties may file comments on their own by accessing the Electronic Comment Filing System. All filings must reference MB Docket No. 11-43. People with disabilities who need assistance to file comments online may request assistance by email to FCC504@fcc.gov.

Read more about the plan to expand the number of broadcast designated market areas…

Read more about the Audio Description Project…

 

UMF Offers Online Certificate Program is Assistive Technology

University of Maine Farmington - logoThe University of Maine Farmington – Division of Graduate and Continuing Education has announced they are offering a graduate certificate in Assistive Technology. The new program is offered completely online.

Those completing the certificate program will be prepared to:

  • Support the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in both school and community settings.
  • Utilize assistive technology to increase independence and eliminate or  mitigate barriers.
  • Assess, design, research, and implement Assistive Technology.

The certificate in Assistive Technology (AT) prepares a broad range of professionals who can assess, design, research, and implement Assistive Technology (AT). Those completing the certificate will be prepared to support the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in both school and community settings by utilizing assistive technology to increase independence and eliminate or mitigate barriers. Courses are chosen in consultation with your academic advisor to ensure professional goals are reached and that sufficient preparation is undertaken for those seeking national certification.

For more information and to enroll, please contact the University of Maine Farmington – Graduate Studies or by phone 207.778.7502 or email gradstudies@maine.edu