UMaine faculty talk about assistive tech on national podcast

autonomous transporterUniversity of Maine researchers and faculty members, Nicholas Giudice and Richard Corey were recent guests on Assistive Technology Update, “a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs.” The host of the show, Josh Anderson, is with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Giudice and Corey are co-founders of the  Virtual Environments and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory (VEMI Lab) at the University of Maine and recently were awarded a $300,000 grant from US Department of Transportation.  VEMI plans to develop a smartphone app that will provide the navigational assistance needed for people with disabilities and seniors to enjoy ride-sharing and ride-hailing, collectively termed mobility-as-a-service. The app, known as the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant (AVA), can also be used for standard vehicles operated by human drivers and enjoyed by everyone.

On the podcast, broadcast on March 26, 2021, Giudice and Corey discuss the grant competition and how the AVA app could  allow people with disabilities and seniors to achieve greater independent in transportation. Some of the challenges of the autonomous vehicle technology are also discussed.

 

Maine Partners with T-Mobile to Provide Increased Internet Access to Maine Students

From the Maine Department of Education

HelpThe Maine Department of Education has partnered with T-Mobile to expand efforts to provide internet access and devices to Maine students through their Project 10Million initiative. If they choose to participate, the program provides mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices directly to school districts for student use.

“We are thrilled to partner with T-Mobile to continue providing opportunities that allow Maine students to stay connected to their teachers, peers, and school communities,” said Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin. “The partnership helps to expand our own Connect Kids Now! initiative which supports Maine schools by providing internet connectivity through the pandemic.”

The Connect Kids Now! initiative began in the spring of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic when it became abundantly clear that technology resources were critical in closing the equity of access gap for continued learning for Maine students. In line with this these efforts, T-Mobile’s Project 10Million initiative provides the opportunity for districts in Maine to participate by signing up and choosing from three tiers of service which they can pass on to students at no cost: up to 100GB per year per device for free, or low-cost options for 100GB per month or unlimited data. Part of the commitment of the partnership will be to provide additional devices from T-Mobile over the next five years. T-Mobile will distribute these devices directly to districts and all student households with at least one student participating in the National School Lunch Program are eligible for the program. The Maine DOE will look to include districts based on economic factors such as Title 1 schools, National School Lunch Program eligibility rates, and distressed county designations. Districts can complete an online interest form to participate in the program.

“Partnering with the Maine DOE helps us identify districts and students that will benefit most from Project 10Million and get them the devices and connectivity required to fully participate in school,” said Mike Katz, executive vice president of T-Mobile for Business. “We are grateful to be a part of the solution that Commissioner Makin and her team have put in place to make sure ALL students can access the resources they need to succeed.”

 

Making gaming accessible to visually impaired gamers

From Cool Blind Tech...

What is the software called and how does it work?

This new software is called Mars Vision (currently in beta) and it offers a technological solution to let all players who have low-vision or are visually impaired enjoy computer games. The application monitors gameplay in real-time and assists the player in navigating the game’s environment and menus. Using a neural network, Mars Vision doesn’t change the gameplay present in a game; rather, it translates gameplay so that the player has the information they need to immerse themselves fully in the world. The technology has been developed in partnership with visually impaired end users to ensure that pain points that are present in similar software are not experienced with Mars Vision.”

When is Mars Vision available?

Mars Vision is currently in closed beta and players who are interested in taking part can sign up here…

Read the whole blog entry – Super.com announces partnership to make gaming accessible to visually impaired gamers

FCC announces new program to help households struggling during the pandemic

The Emergency Broadband Benefit

Neon sign with the words Hi Speed InternetThe Emergency Broadband Benefit is an FCC program to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, and virtual classrooms.

About the Emergency Broadband Benefit

The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10-$50 toward the purchase price.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

Who Is Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?

A household is eligible if one member of the household:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

When Can I Sign Up for the Benefit?

More Information for Broadband Providers

The program is open to all broadband providers, not just those currently offering Lifeline services.  Participating providers will receive reimbursement from the program for delivering qualifying broadband services or devices to eligible households. Broadband providers can find more information about how to participate here.

Use this link to go to the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit page for more information…

App developed in Maine will help people with disabilities

From the VEMI Lab at the University of Maine Orono

App from VEMI Lab group will help people with visual impairments, seniors enjoy ride-sharing with self-driving cars

University of Maine logoORONO, Maine, January 29, 2021 – Self-driving cars will offer access to ride-sharing and ride-hailing with their suite of modern conveniences. However, many people with visual impairments who use these services rely on a human driver to safely locate their vehicle.

A research group led by the Virtual Environments and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory (VEMI Lab) at the University of Maine is developing a smartphone app that provides the navigational assistance needed for people with disabilities and seniors to enjoy ride-sharing and ride-hailing, collectively termed mobility-as-a-service, with the latest in automotive technology. The app, known as the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant (AVA), can also be used for standard vehicles operated by human drivers and enjoyed by everyone.

AVA will help users request, find and enter a vehicle using a multisensory interface that provides guidance through audio and haptic feedback and high-contrast visual cues. The Autonomous Vehicle Research Group (AVRG), a cross institutional collective led by VEMI lab with researchers from Northeastern University and Colby College, will leverage GPS technology, real-time computer vision via the smartphone camera and artificial intelligence to support the functions offered through the app.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $300,000 to AVRG for the AVA project through its Inclusive Design Challenge. The initiative sought proposals for design solutions that would help people with disabilities use autonomous vehicles for employment and essential services. AVRG was one of the semifinalists.

“This design challenge was exciting to us as it falls so squarely in our wheelhouse” says Nicholas Giudice, a professor of spatial Computing at UMaine. “We have worked in the areas of multimodal information access and navigation for visually impaired people and older adults for years, and have recently started a research program investigating human-vehicle collaborations for increasing the trustworthiness and accessibility of autonomous vehicles. This development project connects the dots by allowing us to bridge several areas of expertise to ensure that the technology of the future is ‘accessible for all.’”

Users will create a profile in AVA that reflects their needs and existing methods of navigation. The app will use the information from their profiles to find a suitable vehicle for transport, then determine whether one is available.

When the vehicle arrives, AVA will guide the user to it using the camera and augmented reality (AR), which provides an overlay of the environment using the smartphone by superimposing high-contrast lines over the image to highlight the path and verbal guidance, such as compass directions, street names, addresses and nearby landmarks. The app also will pinpoint environmental hazards, such as low-contrast curbs, by emphasizing them with contrasting lines and vibrating when users approach them. It will then help users find the door handle to enter the vehicle awaiting them.

“This is the first project of its kind in the country, and in combination with our other work in this area, we are addressing an end-to-end solution for AVs (autonomous vehicles) that will improve their accessibility for all,” says Giudice, chief research scientist at VEMI Lab and lead on the AVA project. “Most work in this area only deals with sighted passengers, yet the under-represented driving populations we are supporting stand to benefit most from this technology and are one of the fastest growing demographics in the country.”

AVRG studies how autonomous vehicles can meet various accessibility needs. VEMI lab itself has explored tactics for improving consumer trust in this emerging technology.

AVA advances both groups’ endeavors by not only providing another means for people with visual impairments and other disabilities and seniors to access self-driving vehicles, but also increases their trust in them. The project also builds on a seed grant-funded, joint effort between UMaine and Northeastern University to improve accessibility, safety and situational awareness within the self-driving vehicle. Researchers from both universities aim to develop a new model of human-AI vehicle interaction to ensure people with visual impairments and seniors understand what the autonomous vehicle is doing and that it can sense, interpret and communicate with the passenger.

The app will offer modules that train users how to order and locate rides, particularly through mock pickup scenarios. Offering hands-on learning provides users confidence in themselves and the technology, according to researchers. It also gathers data AVRG can use during its iterative, ongoing development for AVA and its integration into autonomous vehicles.

“We are very excited about this opportunity to create accessible technology which will help the transition to fully autonomous vehicles for all. The freedom and independence of all travelers is imperative as we move forward,” says VEMI lab director Richard Corey.

VEMI Lab, co-founded by Corey and Giudice in 2008, explores different solutions for solving unmet challenges with technology. Prime areas of research and development pertain to self-driving vehicles, the design of bio-inspired tools to improve human-machine interaction and functionality, and new technology to improve environmental awareness, spatial learning and navigational wayfinding.

FMI Contact: Marcus Wolf, 207-581-3721; marcus.wolf@maine.edu

See also article on Cool Blind Tech blog…

“Get Up To Speed” Maine Launches Statewide Internet Speed Test Mapping Initiative

Neon sign with the words Hi Speed InternetThe Maine Broadband Coalition has launched a statewide internet speed test mapping initiative. The goal of the “Get Up To Speed” initiative is to gather data from across the state to generate the most comprehensive map of both the presence and quality of internet in Maine to date.

Residents are being asked to help the initiative by taking this less-than-a-minute test to map their own speed through the Maine Broadband Coalition’s website. We strongly encourage you to share this link with your community, so that we can get the most accurate map possible.

The Maine Broadband Coalition will aggregate, document, and visualize the speed testing information to provide users and state officials with up-to-date service maps. Participants can view their results (while personal information remains confidential) and watch the public map of Maine grow in real time.

The new speed testing initiative is the crucial next step in ensuring the delivery of broadband throughout the state and will help local, regional, and state leaders develop projects and steer investments to the places that need it most. This map, along with other data collected, will help inform where the bond funding, approved by Maine voters in July, can have the most impact.

 

W3C Publishes Working Draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0

From the U.S. Access Board

Accessible Information TechnologyThe World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published the First Call Public Working Draft of its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0, which are developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world. WCAG 3.0 provides new ways to evaluate web content accessibility for people with disabilities by addressing more types of disabilities, concentrating on both mobile and desktop applications, and developing new tests and scoring to determine accessibility.

While WCAG 3.0 would succeed WCAG 2.1 and 2.0, it would not deprecate these earlier versions. WCAG 3.0 covers a wider set of user and disability needs, publishing requirements, and emerging technologies such as web XR (augmented, virtual, and mixed reality) and voice input. WCAG 3.0 also includes non-normative information about web technologies working in conjunction with authoring tools, user agents, and assistive technologies. The WCAG 3.0 model is designed to support better coverage across disabilities and be easier to maintain so that the model keeps pace with accelerating technology change.

Since the late 1990s, the Board and the WCAG working groups have engaged in ongoing collaboration to make web content more accessible to users with disabilities. The Board’s original Section 508 Standards (2000) cited WCAG 1.0 and included a mapping between specific WCAG 1.0 checkpoints and 508 provisions. The refreshed 508 Standards (2017) incorporate significant portions of WCAG 2.0 by reference.

The finalized WCAG 3.0 standards are not expected to be completed until after 2022. To submit feedback, file an issue in the W3C Silver GitHub repository (GitHub account required). Please file one issue per discrete comment. If filing issues in GitHub is not feasible, send an email to public-agwg-comments@w3.org or public-silver@w3.org. Feedback and comments on this draft are due by February 26, 2021.

Use this link to view the draft and directions on how to participate and make comments…

New MyJAN Portal Added

From AskJAN…

New MyJAN Portal Offers Customized Access to AskJAN.org Resources

Job Accommodations Network - JAN - logoThe MyJAN portal is a new online tool made available by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). MyJAN offers AskJAN.org website users customized access to resources on the site. Work smarter and faster by organizing your frequently accessed and favorite JAN Newsletter articles, accommodation solutions by disability, A to Z by Topic resources, and many more, in one convenient online location. MyJAN offers quick access to the AskJAN.org resources you trust to help you navigate the interactive process, explore job accommodation solutions, and be informed about Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rights and responsibilities.

Organize the AskJAN.org website your way!

MyJAN is an online portal where you can organize AskJAN.org resources by Accommodation, Legal, and Other categories. While using your personal MyJAN portal, simply explore the AskJAN.org website and add pages by clicking the MyJAN+ tab on the right side of the screen. From there, select a filing category, add notes about the resource and rate it, and set the list and grid view order. There’s no limit to the number of AskJAN.org resources that can be saved, and resources can be added, organized, and deleted as you choose.

Never miss a new AskJAN.org resource!

Recommended and newly released AskJAN.org resources are displayed in a “Recommended Resources” tab in your MyJAN portal. Recommended resources include a description and can easily be added to or deleted from your customized MyJAN portal.

Access all the ADA and accommodation AskJAN.org resources you need in one convenient online location.

Set-up a free customizable MyJAN account today at the MyJAN portal page.

 

Telework and Accessibility

From PEAT – the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology

Telework and Accessibility ToolkitMany employers and employees have shifted to telework. PEAT is here to help with the transition to ensure your digital communications and platforms are as accessible as possible for everyone, including people with disabilities.

The recent shift to telework for a staggering number of government and private sector employees has caused a surge in the use of digital communications systems. Employers and employees are now relying heavily on digital technologies to conduct business, collaborate with colleagues, host virtual events, and recruit and hire employees.

Use this link to access the PEAT Telework and Accessibility Toolkit and other resources…

Aging in Place and CES

Senior using ATAddendum: Laurie has posted a follow-up with nine more devices on January 20th…

The CES – Consumer Electronics Show – the annual technology event that features all the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets took place this year as a virtual conference. Billed as “the most influential tech event in the world — the proving ground for breakthrough technologies and global innovators…” CES generally makes lots of news as new, and emerging technologies begin to hit the consumer electronics market. As we have mentioned many time during our Maine CITE webinars, increasingly, consumer electronics are being used as assistive technology and/or include accessibility features “burned in” that support people with disabilities allowing all users to have an equivalent experience.

Aging in Place Technology Watch, a great blog site and newsletter dedicated to technology related to allowing seniors to live at home safely and healthfully, is published by Laurie M. Orlov, a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker and elder care advocate. This week Laurie has a review of the CES as it relates to this population. Below we have included some of the highlights, but make sure you read the whole edition.

AbsoluteAudio’s PYOUR Audio Hearing 2.0. This comprehensive software suite is built up from a range of proprietary algorithms, destined at restoring speech understanding and best music experience for people suffering from hearing damage or hearing loss. It consists of AAL’s unique and unbeaten Advanced Noise Suppression, directionality algorithms, Instantaneous Wide Band Compression and Acoustic Feedback Cancellation. It is the only solution in the market that can support building hearing aids from premium consumer audio components, by pairing high quality hearing performance with extremely low power consumption and low memory usage. Learn more at Absolute Audio.

Aladin Smart Lamp. A smart lamp that hangs on the wall and anticipates and prevents falls of residents in assisted living and nursing facilities, Aladin uses artificial intelligence (not sensors) to detect changes in motion, temperature, and more. Its automatic lighting, built-in fall detector, and integrated monitoring system not only reduces falls but can decrease the stress on caregivers, allowing high-risk individuals to be independent again. Learn more at Domalys.

CarePredict TouchPoint. This product is a remote activity monitoring app for seniors. It provides caregivers with continuous insight and increased visibility into their loved one’s well-being. TouchPoint is the companion of another CarePredict product called Tempo, which is a wearable device, similar to a watch or wristband, designed to track subtle changes in a senior’s daily activities and behavior. Learn more at CarePredict.

FallCall Detect.  “FallCall Detect’s breakthrough technology distinguishes between falls with greater force that are more likely to cause injury and falls that occur from a sitting position. If a high-impact all is detected, FallCall’s US-based medical monitoring service is automatically contacted* and will send emergency services if needed. If a low-impact fall is detected, only a user’s pre-designated support community is contacted. For Apple Watch.”  Learn more at FallCall – PDF.

WellBe Medical Alert.  “HandsFree Health, rovider of WellBe®, a secure, HIPAA compliant, voice-enabled virtual health assistant platform, is offering the first fully integrated home health system for seniors to help them age-in-place. WellBe Medical Alert PLUS is an AI-powered system that includes both a voice assistant as well as a sleek smartwatch, connecting users with emergency services with their voice at home or via a watch button when on-the-go.” Learn more at HandsFreeHealth.