Voice-Enabled Innovations for Older Adults

Amazon Echo SpotLaurie Orlov has published another great blog about Voice-Enabled/Voice First innovations in the past year. If you don’t know Laurie, her website, Aging in Place Technology Watch, is a great source of information and news about everyday electronics and technology that help seniors live safely at home.

Published on October 6th, Five Recent Voice-Enabled Innovations for Older Adults 2020 cover some recent changes and new products. Here is a short part of her blog:

Voice-enabled innovation softly races ahead. Technology innovation announcements whiz by at what seems to be a breakneck pace. Consider Amazon’s Whisper Mode – “I think you just whispered to me – Sau ‘turn on’ Whisper Mode.” Not just for insomniacs, imagine its utility for the faint-voiced older adult wanting to ask a question. Or consider Apple Family Setup, which enables an Apple Watch to be set up and used without an iPhone, enabling texts, calls and GPS location. Or in-Car voice technology like Garmin Speak-Plus for directions without a screen (that’s a plus).

Here are five from recent times:

Amazon Care Hub. “Care Hub represents the next iteration of smart speakers, which have evolved from just playing music or providing the weather forecast, to enabling home security services and now supporting senior citizens at home. With Amazon’s Care Hub, users can receive notifications of their loved ones’ own Alexa interactions to monitor their activity throughout the day or ensure they have been reminded to take their medication, for example. A user can also “drop in” on a loved one by video calling them within the app. And most importantly, if a loved one uses their voice to call for help, Alexa will notify the user. (Alexa cannot call 911, but will notify the designated emergency contact.)” Learn more at Care Hub. Not yet released.

Amazon Guard Plus. “Guard Plus will add a more robust ‘sounds of activity’ detector, which will listen for doors opening or closing and other sounds associated with unwanted visitors. Second, Guard Plus will bring deterrence features, for instance triggering Alexa to play a recording of dogs barking if a security camera catches someone sneaking around the back of the house while you’re away. Finally, the Guard Plus will add a new hands-free emergency help line, run by a third-party company, to connect users to emergency services like police, the fire department or emergency contacts.” Learn more at CNET…

Read the whole blog, Five Recent Voice-Enabled Innovations for Older Adults 2020…

 

 

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

 

Give IT Get IT provides PCs for Maine citizens

From MaineBiz Magazine

Person using laptop computer

An organization that refurbishes donated computers and provides them at low or no cost to people who need them is stepping up its efforts to help Mainers who are offline during the pandemic.

Waterville-based give IT. get IT., a nonprofit formed last year out of a merger between PCs for Maine and eWaste Alternatives, is increasing its capacity to recycle retired technology from Maine businesses, refurbish it, and then distribute it to technologically isolated Mainers.

“We were planning to launch give IT. get IT. in March, before COVID-19 forced businesses of all sizes to completely alter their operations,” co-founder Chris Martin said in a news release. “With so many Mainers now facing isolation due to shelter in place mandates, the need for give IT. get IT.’s services has never been greater or more urgent.”

PCs for Maine was formed in 2002 to provide computers and free technical support in Maine, and other parts of northern New England. The merger with eWaste Alternatives added the recycling function.

The pandemic has created more reliance on technology throughout the state, particularly for education and work, and the need  for computers in the home has increased. Of the estimated 70,000 Maine households that don’t have access to the internet or a personal computer, half have students who need to participate in online classes. “This represents a significant threat to Maine’s future workforce and economy,” the nonprofit said.

Read the complete article on MaineBiz magazine

Give IT Get IT website


Photo credit: Image licensed through Creative Commons by Pexel.com

Corona Virus Statistics Website Accessible for the Blind and Partially Sighted

From Cool Blind Tech:

A Boston-based software developer wanted to make COVID-19 stats accessible

He created a website that would be easily readable by electronic braille readers and other assistive devices used by the blind and partially sighted.

Tyler Littlefield, a software developer based in Boston, has created a database of COVID-19 statistics meant to be accessible to the visually impaired.

Called CVStats.net, the site organizes up-to-date COVID-19 data in simple charts specifically designed to be legible to a range of aid devices the visually impaired use to access websites.

For Littlefield, and many other people with visual impairments, trying to stay updated during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge because many of the commonly shared charts and graphs are inaccessible, including those from the CDC and Department of Public Health.

“For many people with various types of disabilities, graphics and the information conveyed in them is hard to read and understand,” Littlefield told Vice.

“I believe in the idea of open data, data that everyone can access to help make informed decisions. Finding this lack, I created CVStats to present the data to users in a straightforward way, free of ads, click-through news articles and graphics.”

One of the main obstacles in making COVID-19 information more accessible are the conventions of modern web design. With a profusion of autoplay videos, pop-up windows, and animated inserts, many modern websites make it difficult for braille embossers to scan a webpage and convert its content into a braille printout.

“Clutter is the enemy of tactical legibility,” Naomi Rosenberg of the accessibility firm Lighthouse told Vice.

“For each of these, a blind reader is at the mercy of the designer, writer, or educator to produce quality graphics, concise image descriptions, or properly formatted tables,” Rosenberg said.

One possible alternative to visual graphs are ‘sonification curves,’ which translate graph lines into rising and falling sounds to try and convey a similar sense of magnitude, something that an aid device won’t be able to do without simple and accessible data.

Another challenge, according to Sassy Outwater-Wright, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is that many healthcare facilities don’t post clear or accessible information about their policies.

For instance, some drive through testing sites only allow private vehicles, not taxis or other commercial vehicles, which would be important for a visually impaired person who can’t drive themselves to know before planning a visit.

“The moment that I heard everything was going drive-thru I kind of had a cringe moment because, other than in the hospital, there’s really no other way to access that testing, and for many in our community, including myself, who are immunocompromised, that puts us at a much higher risk,” Outwater-Wright said.

“We don’t get the benefit of staying in our car, we don’t get the benefit of trying to continue to social distance. We have to go in.”

For more information see Motherboard on Vice.com…

Relay Conference Captioning

The following information is provided by Debra Bare-Rogers, Advocate, from the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS).

Attending virtual event, is a great opportunity to connect. For attendees with hearing loss, this can bring challenges. Free resources are available to make online meeting participation more accessible. In Maine, deaf and hard of hearing individuals can use Relay Conference Captioning.

What is Relay Conference Captioning?

RCC (also called Sprint Teleconference Captioning) offers live and high quality captioning for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals to participate in meetings (in-person or remote), phone calls, videoconferences and multi-party teleconference calls. There is no cost to use this service.

Please use this link to see a demonstration of how RCC works

How to use RCC

Schedule an RCC event at least 12 hours before the meeting time.

  1. Use this link to go to the Maine Relay Conference Captioning Event Request form. Complete the form and submit the form.
  2. You will receive an email from Relay Conference Captioning confirming your request along with a link to the captioning.
  3. At the start time of the event, (using a computer, laptop or smartphone) login by clicking on the link provided in the confirmation email. Captioning will appear in real time during the call.
  4. NOTE: During the event, if you have a question or comment you can use the text box in the bottom right corner and the captioner will speak into the call on your behalf.

If you have additional questions about RCC and other relay resources available in Maine. Debra is available via Zoom to provide 1:1 virtual appointments, staff presentations and webinars. Contact her to schedule a meeting.

Debra Bare-Rogers
drogers@drme.org 

Disability Rights Maine
1 Mackworth Island, Bldg. C
Falmouth, Maine 04105

Phone: 207-797-7656 x 113 (V/TTY)
Toll Free: 800-639-3884 (V/TTY)
Fax: 207-797-9791

TRS includes Maine Relay Services, captioned telephone services (CapTel or CTS), and 711.

eLearning Teaching Tips webinar from edWeb

The following announcement comes from edWeb  who is sponsoring this free webinar…

e-Learning Teaching Tips: Support for Educators During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thursday, April 9, 2020
3:00 pm ET

Presenters

Candice Dodson, Executive Director, State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA)
Ashley Webb, Graphic Design Teacher and Instructional Coach, Mountain Heights Academy, UT

Program Description

In support of the SETDA Coalition for eLearning, SETDA will collaborate with teachers that have extensive experience teaching online to share tips for best practices for online learning. Teachers are being asked to transform the way they teach and to meet diverse learning needs, and they need support. Join this edWebinar to hear from experienced teachers, ask questions, and share your examples as we all work to support students in this time of need.

This edWebinar will be of interest to preK through high school teachers and school leaders. There will be time for questions at the end of the presentation.

Use this link to learn more about this event and to register…
 

Survey on Wireless Device User Experiences for People with Disabilities

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Inclusive Technologies (Wireless RERC) announces the launch of its 2020 Survey of User Needs (SUN). The SUN is the Wireless RERC’s cornerstone survey on wireless technology use by people with disabilities. Over 8,000 consumers have completed it with disabilities since it was first launched in 2001.

This latest version has been updated in response to changes in technology. In addition to questions about cell phone and tablet use, this latest version of the SUN collects information about wearables, “smart” home technologies, and other next-generation wirelessly connected devices. User responses will help designers and engineers make new wireless devices and services for people with disabilities. Data from the SUN also provides important information to the wireless industry, government regulators, and other researchers to help them make wireless technology more accessible and more useful to people with all types of disabilities.

If you have a disability, please consider taking this survey. If you know someone who has a disability, please forward the survey to them. Thank you!

Select this link to take the 2020 Survey of User Needs

 

Hotspot Donations and Wireless for Educators

ACTEM and all ISTE affiliates have been asked to pass along the following information from Digital Wish…

Hotspot Donations and $10/Month Wireless for Educators

With nationwide school closures due to COVID-19, nonprofits Mobile Beacon and Digital Wish have a major hotspot donation program available that can significantly increase remote connectivity for students and teachers. Visit digitalwish.org and get up to 11 donated hotspots per school. Discounted $10/month unlimited 4G LTE internet service is provided so that teachers and students can connect and learn from anywhere in the Mobile Beacon coverage area. With a lending pool of hotspots, students-in-need can access the internet to embark on a distance learning journey during isolation.

Each hotspot has unlimited, high-speed 4G LTE mobile broadband service, and can connect up to 10 people on the internet on only one plan.

This donation program is open to all public, private, and non-profit K-12 schools and universities. For higher-need schools that exceed the cap of 11 hotspots per school, behind the scenes Digital Wish is purchasing modems that will qualify for the subsidized $10/month broadband service. If you need more, please contact: Heather Chirtea 802-379-3000, heather@digitalwish.org.

Mobile Beacon is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the second-largest Educational Broadband Service (EBS) provider in the United States. The nonprofit has been given an EBS spectrum license by the FCC, specifically to support broadband use in schools. Nonprofit Digital Wish teamed up to make the 4G LTE hotspot device donation program available to schools throughout the United States. If your schools have connectivity issues, this subsidized service will allow you to fill the gaps with wireless hotspot donations and equitably connect all students. Schools can easily create a Hotspot Lending Pool for students needing internet access at home.

Use this link to learn how to set up a lending pool...

Please share this announcement with your colleagues who are struggling to acquire access for remote students.

 

Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days

With schools across the country forced into the situation of closing and providing services to students via distance education, this webinar focused on the specific educational and technical needs of students with IEPs. Particular emphasis was paid to supporting students who use Assistive Technologies (AT) and Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) and the importance of ensuring distance learning systems work effectively with these. Resources and offers for technical assistance were described.

Due to high demand and a tremendous turn out, the live session on March 23rd was not available to most who registered for the event.

The recording from edWeb is now available to view at this link

Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days was presented by Christine Fox, Deputy Executive Director, SETDA; Cynthia Curry, Director, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials and the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) at CAST; and Luis Perez, Technical Assistance Specialist, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials at CAST –