Tech4Good Awards 2018

From E-Access Bulletin, July 2018…

From smartwatch wayfinders to robot farmers…

Tablet showing the definition of the word "access"Earlier in July, the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards took place in London, showcasing everything from tiny farming robots to an innovative new way of contacting emergency services.

Now in its eighth year, the event was created by technology access charity AbilityNet to celebrate digital technology projects designed to improve people’s lives and benefit society. Entries can be new or existing ideas, and can come from anyone, such as a charity, business or individual.

In 2016, for example, nine-year-old Arnav Sharma won the Tech4Good People’s Award for his asthma-managing digital device, the AsthmaPi, while in this year’s event, projects from Microsoft and Facebook both made the finals.

Awards are split into nine categories, each highlighting a different strand of digital innovation: accessibility; connected society; young pioneer; ‘Tech4Good for Africa’; community impact; digital health; digital skills; digital volunteer of the year, and; community impact.

A panel of 23 judges from across the technology and charity sectors selected 28 finalists chosen from over 250 entries, while the final category – the People’s Award – was chosen by the public.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s winners.

The AbilityNet Accessibility Award was won by Be My Eyes, a free app for iOS and Android designed to help people with sight loss live more independently by assisting them in completing everyday tasks.

The app works by connecting visually impaired users to sighted volunteers via video link. The volunteers then answer questions from the user, who might want to know, for example, whether the date on a food expiry label has passed, or what a nearby road sign says.

An additional feature is ‘Specialized Help’, which lets companies use Be My Eyes to provide tailored customer service to users with a visual impairment. Users can contact the Microsoft Disability Desk directly through the app to ask for help with Microsoft products.

As reported in e-Access Bulletin earlier this year, Be My Eyes has announced a partnership with transportation app Moovit, to help people with sight loss use public transport around cities.

The winner of the Digital Health Award was TapSOS, a non-verbal method of contacting emergency services through an app. Designed primarily for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech impaired, or in a situation where it’s difficult to speak, TapSOS lets users set up a profile with their medical history, which gets shared with emergency services when the user contacts them. GPS provides a caller’s exact location to emergency services, making it easier to send out a response vehicle.

Small Robot Company won the Connected Society Award for their miniature farm robots, designed to automate elements of the planting, feeding, watering and weeding process on a farm in a lightweight, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.

The Water Watcher was the winner of the BT Young Pioneer Award. The device fits on to a tap and uses an alarm and timer system to alert users if the tap has been left on too long. Powered by a simple BBC Micro:bit computer (a winner in the 2016 Tech4Good Awards), the Water Watcher is particularly useful for people with dementia or dyslexia.

The Unlocking Talent Through Technology scheme, which provides solar-powered tablet computers and literacy apps for schools in Malawi, won the Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award. Led by international development organisation VSO, the Unlocking Talent programme has reached 90,000 schoolchildren so far, and has been integrated into Malawi’s National Education Policy framework.

The Community Impact Award was won by MOMO (Mind of My Own), an app to help keep children and young people safe. MOMO encourages users to record thoughts, feelings and observations, which can help them communicate about difficult or dangerous situations which they might not feel able to discuss elsewhere.

A ‘wayfinding’ app for people with learning impairments was voted for by the public to win the Tech4Good People’s Award. WaytoB helps guide users who may not be able to fully operate other navigation or mapping systems. The app works through a smartwatch, giving users clear directions on a specified journey, and letting them know when to cross a road or which bus to catch, for example.

Crucially, WaytoB is used in harmony by a ‘navigator’ and ‘partner’, such as a family member or friend. Journeys are pre-programmed by the ‘partner’, who can track where the navigator is through the app.

The Digital Skills Award was won by Generation Code, a national scheme to help develop coding skills in young people around the UK. People aged 16-25 who already have coding knowledge are trained to become ‘Code Champions’, who then provide coding activities to people aged 11-19 in their local area.

The importance of coding was also recognised in the Digital Volunteer of the Year Award, presented to Anna Holland Smith. Anna is involved with a number of inclusive coding initiatives, including Manchester’s Codebar, which provides programming opportunities for underrepresented groups.

Read more about all of this year’s winners and other projects at the Tech4Good Awards website…


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Photo Credit: Image licensed through Creative Commons by The Blue Diamond

AFARI Mobility Device featured in exhibit

AFARI deviceNews from the University of Maine’s Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (CCIDS)…

The AFARI Mobility Device, co-invented by CCIDS professors Elizabeth DePoy and Stephen Gilson, is part of the current Access+Ability exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

Here are links to some recent articles about the exhibit and/or AFARI:

AT4Maine – A New Service for Mainers who Need Assistive Technology

AT4Maine - Assistive Technology of All Maine PeopleThe AT4Maine website is a new service being offered by Maine CITE and four statewide Assistive Technology (AT) providers. On AT4Maine, consumers will find a wide range of AT devices and products available for a demonstration or short-term loan. AT is any device, piece of equipment or product that makes it easier for someone with a disability to live more independently and safely, work at a job, learn in school, get about their community or pursue play and leisure.

The AT4Maine inventory has hundreds of AT items available to people with disabilities of all ages. It includes communication devices, devices to aid daily living, devices to accommodate vision and hearing, tablets, mobility devices, adaptive computer switches, specialized software and apps.

The four AT providers are CARES, Inc., Pine Tree Society, Spurwink ALLTECH and, the University of Maine Farmington.

AT4Maine.org will enable individuals, families and caregivers to ‘try before they buy’…” says, Kathy Adams, the Maine CITE Program Director. “In the past year, over 600 Mainers were able to borrow AT and with this new website we hope to inform and serve more consumers”

The Maine Department of Education’s Maine CITE Program’s mission is to make assistive technology more available to Maine children, adults and seniors who need them. The program is funded by the federal Administration for Community Living.

Visit AT4Maine…

Google Maps calls on millions of users to boost access info

From E-Access Bulletin Live…

Google logoThe Google Maps team has requested its extensive user community help improve its accessibility listings.

As reported in previous issues of e-Access Bulletin, Google has taken various steps to increase its accessibility offerings in maps during previous months (see e-Access Bulletin December 2016). Now, however, the Google Maps team have explicitly asked that its ‘Local Guides’ – a community of millions of users who voluntarily collect data – proactively add in wheelchair-accessible location information to maps.

As the Local Guides system works primarily by users answering questions (these questions help gather new data sets that help improve maps), the following calculation is made on a Google blog post announcing the call-out:

“If each of our tens of millions of Local Guides answers three of these questions [about wheelchair-accessible locations] every day for two weeks, we can gather nearly two billion answers to help people who rely on this information every day.”

The blog post was written by Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a software engineer for the Google Maps, Content and Community team, who also uses a wheelchair. Read the Google blog post in full at the following link…

As Blair-Goldensohn points out in the post: “Because anyone can identify and label wheelchair-friendly locations directly on [a Google Map], it’s easy to share this knowledge around the world. But not everyone knows this tool exists.”

The post then lets readers know how to add in this information: “First, make sure your Google Maps Location History is turned on. Then visit ‘Your contributions’ in the upper-left menu, tap ‘Answer questions about a place,’ and indicate whether businesses you’ve visited are wheelchair-friendly.”

Those using devices on the Android operating system can also search for nearby areas around them that don’t have this accessibility info, so that it can be added.

2-1-1 Maine Adds Text Messaging

Referrals Now Available by Text Message

211 Maine logo2-1-1 Maine is a free resource providing an easy, confidential way to connect people to information about thousands of health and human services around Maine.

Every day Information Specialists help people find assistance for complex issues such as financial problems, substance use disorders, and support needs for older adults, and for simpler issues such as finding volunteer opportunities and donation options.

Mainers can now text their zip code to 898-211 and automatically connect with a friendly, Maine-based Information Specialist. The Specialist will ask the person texting what services they are looking for and provide them referrals via text to resources in their area.

Information Specialists are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by texting a zip code to 898-211.

Mainers can also continue to use:

 

South Portland Housing Authority Offers Home Repair Program for Seniors

From the South Portland Housing Authority:

Smart HomeSouth Portland, ME, MARCH 7, 2017 – The South Portland Housing Authority (SPHA) today announced the new and exciting Home Modification for Seniors and Disabled (HMS) program. The Authority hopes to demonstrate that small investments in home safety help extend the time seniors and disabled persons can remain in their own home, reducing health care expenses and improving quality of life in their homes.

“Essentially, homeowners contact us for a simple assessment of their property, and we use the results to focus on high quality safety enhancement,” SPHA Executive Director Michael Hulsey noted. “We are looking for South Portland homeowners to work with at our expense, for simple safety issues.” Hulsey added, “Most work would get done in one -day or-less; more-complicated work would get contracted out when needed. A Grant from MaineHousing pays for the program expenses.”

Melanie Cahill, Coordinator of the Program, explained, “When a homeowner contacts us, we schedule an appointment to discuss their concerns, and take a good look at what needs to be done for the homeowner to stay safely in their home. We have experience selecting and installing equipment and can offer suggestions.” Experienced maintenance staff’s typical installations include grab-bars, hand-held showerheads, transfer benches, raised toilet seats, handrails, and lever-style doorknobs. “We also make smaller home repairs,” added Ms. Cahill. “These repairs, such as securing flooring, motion lights, electrical upgrades (like GFI outlets near water sources) adjusting exterior doors, and stair tread repairs, can make daily living safer. Input from homeowners is crucial for us to be successful.”

South Portland Housing Authority is excited to connect housing and healthcare in innovative ways through this Home Modification Program. The very small per home investment helps to ultimately improve health outcomes and can defer or decrease medical costs. Homeowners themselves drive the process and work closely with the team to make sure that their needs are addressed.

Qualifications for the program include:

  • 60 years of age or more, or have a disability;
  • Own your own home, or live in a home owned by someone in your family;
  • Live in South Portland;
  • Have annual income under $43,050 for a single person; under $49,205 for a two-person family; or under $55,350 for a 3-person family.
  • Less than $50,000.00 in liquid assets

For more information about this program, and how we can help you, please call Melanie Cahill, Program Coordinator, at 207-773-4140

Punch-In: Service for youth with disabilities seeking employment

This news comes from the Great Lakes ADA Center – AT Bulletin of Jan-Feb 2017

Punch-In logoPunch-In is a free resource for young adults with disabilities preparing for and seeking employment. One of the many offerings on the site is a free, online course to develop the skills and strategies necessary to be successful in career endeavors. Teachers and other professionals can set up a self-paced course to administered as group or individuals may take the course independently. The course includes over 100 high quality videos for instruction and advice. There is also a moderator for every course to assist and encourage students.

There are five content modules:

  • Discover Yourself (Module 1) – This module is designed for students who are beginning to prepare for a job search. It offers tools to examine strengths in any potential job and explore careers options.
  • Get Prepared (Module 2) – This module offers the foundational steps to develop your work readiness skills and jump into the critical steps of writing a good resume and cover letter.
  • Find A Job (Module 3)- The Find A Job module helps set a job search in motion. A job search includes the way you find out, apply, and interview for employment. The module also has a special section on networking skills using social media to locate employment opportunities.
  • Know Your Rights (Module 4) – Understanding one’s rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is critical in the employment process. This module is an introduction to the ADA and other disability laws.
  • Use Technology (Module 5) – This module is an introduction to Assistive Technology (AT). AT may be a critical component for a successful career.

If you are interested in administering or taking the newly updated course join the Punch-in network at success-network.punch-in.org. You may also contact Janet Peters with any questions.

Maine Trust for People with Disabilities

Maine’s only pooled trust for people with disabilities

The Maine Trust for People with Disabilities - logoThe Maine Trust for People with Disabilities (MTPD) is Maine’s only nonprofit organization that offers parents, relatives and friends a convenient and economical way to establish and fund a special needs trust account for an individual who has a disability and who qualifies for public benefits, such as MaineCare or SSI. In addition, the MTPD offers individuals with disabilities the option to establish and fund their own accounts. The MTPD is a pooled special needs trust established in compliance with federal law.

These funds can be used to pay for such things as:

  • Recreation and Entertainment
  • Training/Education
  • A  car
  • Electronic devices
  • Appliances
  • Medical care and goods not covered by Medicaid
  • Other living expenses not covered by public benefits

The Maine Trust for People with Disabilities is sponsored by a Maine non-profit corporation The Maine Trust for People with Disabilities, Inc. The daily operations of the Trust are performed by a wide range of volunteers, including people who have disabled family members, representatives of social service agencies, and individuals from legal, business, accounting and investment management businesses. Norway Savings Bank serves as Trustee, and Old Port Pension Administrators is the recordkeeper.

For more information and to create a trust, visit the MTPD website… 

Pre-Employment Transition Services

As posted in the Maine Parent Federation News

High School student working in laboratoryThe Maine Department of Labor’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (or “VR” as it‘s commonly referred to) provides services to transition-age youth with disabilities to help prepare them for employment. Every high school in Maine has an assigned VR Counselor.

With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), there’s an increased national focus on making sure that young people with disabilities and their families start career planning early. To support this, VR is partnering with schools and organizations across the state to expand opportunities for high school students to learn about the world of work through “Pre-Employment Transition Services”.

Here are some examples:

  • Job Tours/Job Shadows
  • Job Clubs
  • Mock Interviews
  • Self-Advocacy/Independent Living Skills
  • Group Career Preparation Activities

Additionally, VR has a number of career assessment tools and helpful labor market information that can assist students to learn about education requirements, projected openings, and wage information for their career fields of interest.

To learn more about Pre-Employment Transition Services available in your area please contact your high school or local VR office. A complete listing of offices is available on the VR’s website.

For more information call (207) 623-6799.

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Photo credit: Image licensed by Creative Commons by Speed of Creativity.

Movie Captioning and Audio Description Final Rule

Icon - reel of filmFrom ADA.gov…

On November 21, 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed a Final Rule revising the Justice Department’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) title III regulation to further clarify a public accommodation’s obligation to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services for people with disabilities.

The Final Rule requires require movie theaters to:

  1. Have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with these features;
  2. Provide notice to the public about the availability of these features; and
  3. Ensure that theater staff is available to assist patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie with these features.

Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations, including movie theaters, to provide effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services.  This rulemaking specifies requirements that movie theaters must meet to satisfy their effective communication obligations to people with hearing and vision disabilities unless compliance results in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration.  For a summary of the Final Rule and its requirements, see the “Final Rule Questions & Answers.”

An advance copy of the Final Rule is available at this link… 

The official version of the Final Rule will be published in the Federal Register, and the Final Rule will take effect 45 days after publication.

Read more about these new rules…


Photo credit: Image in public domain by Pixabay.