MYSURU, INDIA: K.G. Satheesh Kumar, director of the Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation, National Institute of Speech and Hearing, Thiruvananthapuram, has stressed the need for formulating a national policy on assistive technology (AT) for persons with disabilities.
He believes such a policy would help create a network of AT providers across the country. Dr. Kumar was speaking at the inauguration of the ‘Assistive Technology Hackathon’ held the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH) here on Saturday. The event was organised to encourage students and faculty to undertake projects on development of assistive technologies for persons with disabilities.
In his speech, Dr. Kumar said end-user funding can be channelised through AT providers, thereby creating bargaining power for the users over the manufacturers. Increased demand will drive innovation and efficiency and bring down costs, besides increasing research and development, thus making AT products more affordable for Indian consumers. “We need a national AT policy to make this happen,” he said.
He added that leading research and educational institutions, including AIISH, have produced several useful AT products but there have been many challenges in getting those products to the end users. “Lack of awareness among users, their families and caregivers is the primary problem, and this needs to be addressed through consistent efforts over a period of time. People with disabilities also need to be trained on how to use AT,” he said.
Dr. Kumar said many assistive technologies developed in India have failed to turn into successful products for want of product engineering and an industry to undertake their production. “The uninspiring interest has been largely because of the low volumes that stand in the way of profitability. Individual AT developers and providers have constraints in addressing these issues effectively,” he said.
Harish Mysore, director of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, India Operations, in his address, mentioned that the institute was keen to continue its collaboration with AIISH to see that technology is used to transform the life of persons with disabilities.
Pradeep Balachandran, chair, IEEE Special Interest Group on Communication Disability, thanked AIISH for providing a platform to conduct the hackathon. He said IEEE had plans to create a group on visual impairment.
The White House hosted a Design For All Showcase that celebrated inclusive design, assistive technology, and prosthetics by recognizing the work and experiences of designers, engineers, models, and companies striving to help people live happier, healthier lives on September 15
The rise of the maker movement and the democratization of low-cost tools and technologies for design and fabrication are empowering individuals including students, parents, engineers, designers, and manufacturers to create custom assistive technologies and inclusive fashion. At the same time, high-tech innovation is allowing for the creation of prosthetics and other assistive technology, like a mind-controlled prosthetic limb that seems like content for science fiction. These many different types of assistive technology and adaptive equipment create greater opportunity for people with disabilities to live independently and participate in the classroom, workplace and in their communities, from a low-tech magnifying glass to a high-tech motorized wheelchair.
The event recognized people creating and using innovative technology and design to break down barriers, reduce stigma, and improve the quality of life for Americans with disabilities.
CHENNAI, INDIA: A computer, a tablet or a pair of headphones can actually help children with dyslexia. As much as we frown upon technology and its influence on our youth, we cannot dismiss that technology can make life easier in many ways. It certainly has found a way to kids with dyslexia. Difficulty in reading, writing, phonetics, co-ordination, and learning disabilities can become less intimidating if there is intervention of technology given at the right time. But what’s available in India?
Madras Dyslexia Association president D Chandrasekhar tells City Express, “We are still at a stage where parents find it difficult to accept the inability of their child to read or write. There is lot of tech abroad but little in our country as there is no demand. A simple plastic ring-like device called pencil grip can help these kids improve their motor skills but its not available here. I get them from abroad in bulk — $4 for about 100 pieces. Imagine if it were manufactured in India, it would be cheaper.”
But even this modest use of technology in schools should be appreciated. They use headphones, computers with different software which includes a lot of colours, animation and other audio-visual effects.
Talking to us about one such computer program called Haskell was retired computer professor N V Balasubramanian. “This open software, programming language is not popular anywhere in the world except for a small passionate community who use it for scientific research. When I accidently came across Haskell two years ago, I was amazed. This software can help children develop their math skills without studying it on pen and paper. It does not require knowledge in computers or software, just an inclination towards the math is enough.”
The professor has been trying to develop and promote the software among students. “I want to take it to Class 11 students, help them learn its working model for six hours. Then take six dyslexic students to experiment with the software while the other Class 11 students will stand behind each of them to help.” The irony is that Haskell has been around for 20 years, and Balasubramanian is looking to rewrite math puzzles through this programme too. He believes the students will understand the subject better this way.
Teaching methodology is a critical issue when it comes to educating students with dyslexia. But when one talks about helping 2 million children with dyslexia in Tamil Nadu, in every nook and corner, it gets difficult to source and train the teachers in one platform. MDA special educator, Harini Mohan says, “We train about 50 teachers at once for the intensive teaching programme in a year but it is not enough. Teachers need a different type of hand-holding and technology helps us too, not just the children.” They made a video of the entire programme, got it digitised and made it available online so they could access it from anywhere.
There seems to be so much technology out there in the world that can help dyslexic children in unbelievable ways. Why isn’t it picking up pace here? The market has to be developed, society may slowly accept but some parents continue to live in denial. “Lack of awareness is one thing. Parents need to seek help in the form of technology. Nevertheless, there are a few helpful resources available in India,” says Chandrasekhar.
“We have a friendly font called Dyslexie, a software called Wordbook that has thousands of stories that one can listen to. Ajit Narayanan, founder of Invention Labs, is developing a universal language for children and in Sweden there are goggles available that can assist in reading.”
Utah State University’s Assistive Technology Lab, which helps people with disabilities by providing tailor-made devices and technology, has expanded its footprint to one of the school’s regional campuses in Roosevelt.
USU made the announcement in a news release this week, pointing to a nearly $74,000 grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation as an essential funding source that made the lab a reality.
Sachin Pavithran, director of the Utah Assistive Technology Program, praised USU for establishing an AT Lab in Roosevelt.
The new AT Lab, led by Cameron Cressall, will be a resource for the professional community that works with people with disabilities and expanding the loan bank program, which allows people with disabilities to try out devices before purchase.
The AT Lab is part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at USU.
Clay Christensen, the director of the AT Lab in Logan, said the lab and the UATP have been very successful helping people in multiple Utah counties and Idaho over the years and has long been looking to expand.
“We wanted to duplicate this lab because it works so well here,” Christensen said. “Those services (of the AT Lab) extend throughout Utah, but it’s hard when there’s just one location with limited funds.”
The Windows 10 free upgrade period has ended for the majority of users. But Microsoft is extending the offer for users who use assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech softwares for people who are blind or have low vision.
Microsoft rolls out a new webpage to help customers who use assistive technologies to navigate the process and access the free upgrade offer extension for Windows 10 at: www.microsoft.com/accessibility/windows10upgrade.
With more than a billion persons with disabilities in the world, and customers to experience the new accessibility features in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. These include improving the screen reading experience with Narrator, the accessibility of experiences and apps like Microsoft Edge, Mail and the Start menu, as well as better tools and resources for developers to build more accessible apps and experiences.
For more information about Windows accessibility, check out https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/Accessibility/windows.
The Singapore government announced during the E2Connect 2016 forum that people with disabilities, as well as Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs), will soon have greater access to assistive technology and more financial support.
Organized by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), with the support of SG Enable and SPD, the forum seeks to raise awareness of the various Infocomm and assistive technologies (IT/AT) that play an important role in helping the persons with disabilities address many challenges.
Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said there will be two new enhancements to the NEU PC Plus program, a scheme that offers computers and broadband at affordable rates for students from low-income families.
Since 2006, the program has benefitted more than 27,000 low-income households with school-going children or people with disabilities. The scheme will raise the monthly household income cap from S$3,000 to S$3,400 and will benefit another 5,000 households over five years. Secondly, the application process has been streamlined so special education students already on financial assistance will be able to receive a subsidy of up to 75 percent more easily starting 1 September 2016.
The Minister also announced that a new wheelchair-accessible IDA Lab on Wheels bus will be rolled out to bring technology to the special needs community. It will offer workshops with customized curriculum for different special needs such as cerebral palsy and autism.
Moreover, VWOs like Blue Cross Thong Kheng Home and the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) received IT/AT Adoptive Grants from IDA’s Enable IT program to implement technology solutions in the form of smart devices and virtual reality solutions.
“A Smart Nation is about people, not tech alone. It’s about using tech to make people’s lives better, creating new opportunities and building stronger communities; it’s for everyone,” said Leong Keng Thai, Deputy Chief Executive, IDA.
For a long time, assistive technology for people with vision disabilities has mostly centered on audio options like Apple’s Siri, but a new trend is emerging of devices applying Braille.
This year’s International Technology and Persons with Disability Conference, the world’s biggest exhibition for IT products catering to people with disabilities was held in March in San Diego. It featured a number of companies with devices that incorporate refreshable Braille.
One notable product was the Orbit Reader, the most recent prototype from the U.S.-based Transforming Braille project.
The Orbit Reader is a note taker with a 20-cell, eight-dot display on which users can type. Its weight comes in at less than a pound, much lighter than readers currently on the market, and is significantly cheaper, estimated at around $500. Its launch in the market is expected to be in late 2016.
BrailleNote Touch, developed by HumanWare in partnership with Google, was another notable product introduced through the conference. The device’s most unique feature is its touchscreen. Instead of tactile keys, HumanWare’s TouchBraille calibration system determines where the users’ fingers are on the screen and figures out the dot combinations the user wishes to input. While innovative, the device is in the high price range of existing 18-cell Braille readers at around $4,000.
Korean players are also getting in on the game. Neo Access has produced a Braille reader, NeoBraille, using its own proprietary technology. The hardware is similar to existing readers but is 40 percent smaller in volume and 20 percent lighter than previous models sold in Korea. It was supported by the Korea Employment Agency for the Disabled.
“We had to import core Braille display technology from abroad until now,” said Park Seung-kyu, the agency’s president. “But our efforts to develop assistive technological devices have paid off by developing Korea’s own technology.”
Large companies are acknowledging the potential of this niche market. Industry leader Apple recently added an “Accessibility” category to its online store featuring products to assist customers with disabilities including impaired vision. Among the products offered is HumanWare’s Braille Display, which allows blind people to navigate Apple’s iOS via a Bluetooth Braille keyboard. But companies have only scratched the surface. There is a long way to go before the industry can reach a level where assistive devices are affordable for many. Braille reading devices at the moment cost anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000.
Simply offering the devices is just the first step. Educational support will also be necessary, as the worldwide Braille illiteracy rate is over 90 percent amongst people with vision disabilities.
“A lot of times, reading information and instructions out loud to our devices interferes with our privacy,” said Park In-beom, a blind 22-year old student at Ajou University. “And at some point, there’s a limit to what you can do with hearing, so you need Braille.”
There are 235,000 people with vision disabilities in Korea, according to Statistics Korea.
WASHINGTON: National Disability Institute (NDI), in partnership with Spring Bank and Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS), announced the launch of an Assistive Technology (AT) Loan Program in selected areas of New York. The NDI AT Loan Program will provide low-interest loans to people with disabilities, seniors and veterans through participating financial institutions. Spring Bank will be the first bank to pilot this groundbreaking loan program.
“National Disability Institute is pleased to partner with Spring Bank and Bronx Independent Living Services to bring this unique assistive technology loan program to benefit individuals with disabilities in New York,” Michael Morris, NDI Executive Director, said. “Too often people with disabilities have been turned down for consumer loans because of an insufficient or poor credit history. This assistive technology loan program has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities.”
“The Assistive Technology Loan is an important addition to the consumer loan program at Spring Bank,” Eric Pallas, Spring Bank President, said. “I think that we are fulfilling a real personal need by assisting people with disabilities to improve their quality of life in a meaningful way.” He added, “We are providing access to fair and affordable credit to people who would not otherwise have been able to obtain it, and we are happy to partner with National Disability Institute and Bronx Independent Living Services to accomplish this goal.”
“Bronx Independent Living Services is honored to be part of such a great collaboration with NDI and Spring Bank,” Brett Eisenberg, BILS Executive Director, said. “Affordable loans for assistive technology are another step in the right direction of making sure all people with disabilities can participate more fully in the marketplace. These loans are also crucial in helping individuals live as independently as possible in the community by giving them access to the resources they need to succeed.”
The NDI AT Loan Program will operate in New York City, Bronx, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Persons applying for a loan must be a resident of one of the counties and 18 years of age or older to be eligible. Family members, guardians or authorized representatives may apply on behalf of children or other family members, with the understanding that the device or service is for the use of the person who has a disability.
Case managers from BILS are available to assist individuals in determining which AT may best meet their needs. BILS’ staff can help applicants to complete the online AT loan application and submit supporting documentation if an AT purchase with a loan is the best option to meet an individual’s needs.
Information regarding the NDI Assistive Technology Loan Program is posted on the National Disability Institute website.
Funding for the AT Loan Program is provided through the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). Technical assistance is provided by RESNA: Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America.
For more information, visit www.realeconomicimpact.org
California State University, Northridge’s 31st Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference is dedicated to presenting and exploring new ways technology can assist people with disabilities. It is scheduled to take place March 21-26 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel.
People with disabilities make up the largest group of attendees and “are the reason we all gather to push the research and challenge industry professionals to keep moving technology forward and to tackle new challenges,” said Sandy Plotin, managing director of CSUN’s Center on Disabilities, which organizes the conference each year.
The “CSUN Conference,” as it is known in the industry, is the only one of its kind sponsored by a university. It provides a unique opportunity for people with disabilities to have direct input on the creation of or modifications to assistive technologies intended to make their lives easier.
“Our conference brings together thousands of people from around the world — including scientists, practitioners, educators, government officials, the industry executives and entrepreneurs — all committed to driving innovation in assistive technology to promote inclusiveness for people with disabilities,” Plotin said.
The conference explores all aspects of technology and disabilities, and it features a faculty of internationally recognized speakers, more than 350 general session workshops and more than 130 exhibitors displaying the latest technologies for people with disabilities. This year’s exhibit floor has added several new exhibitors from all facets of assistive technology and services. The CSUN Conference Exhibit Hall is free and open to the public.
The conference’s keynote address will be given by Christopher P. Lu, deputy secretary of labor for the U.S. Department of Labor. He was sworn into office in April 2014, after being confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. He serves as the chief operating officer of a 17,000-employee organization that works to create greater opportunities for all Americans.
Lu will discuss the critical role technology plays in the modern workplace, and the adoption of accessible workplace technology by America’s employers. In his travels around the country, he often visits employers who are doing all they can to ensure that America’s workforce is “fielding a full team.” Lu will talk about these experiences, highlighting ways to foster change and better empower a full workforce through assistive technology, inclusion and fairness. Lu also will share agency initiatives related to accessible technology and employment, including the Department of Labor-funded Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, and its recent work to improve the accessibility of online job applications and other recruiting tools.
Conference organizers are working once again with WebAble TV, an Internet TV channel for people with disabilities on the TV Worldwide Network which will serve as the conference’s official webcaster.
“In past years, we have been able to provide some coverage of the conference to non-attending participants through WebAble TV’s live interviews with sponsors, exhibitors, and VIPs, and through a recording of the keynote address,” Plotin said. “This year, we’re selecting sessions from the law and policy track to record and make available for a small fee to download post-conference. We’re hoping that this helps expand the conference experience for those people who are unable to attend, and we’re excited to announce that we’ll be live-streaming the keynote address again this year.”
Conference organizers will present this year’s Strache Leadership Award to Catherine S. Fichten. She is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Dawson College and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University. Her research interests include factors affecting the success of college and university students with various disabilities, with a focus on information and communication technologies.
For more information about the conference or how to register, visit CSUN’s Center on Disabilities website at www.csun.edu/cod/conference/index.php or call the center at (818) 677-2578 V/TTY.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL: Freedom Scientific and Optelec announced today that the two companies have merged to create the world’s largest assistive technology provider for people with vision disabilities. The two companies have a long history of providing innovative technology solutions that enable people who are blind and low vision to reach their full potential – to gain an education, obtain employment, succeed in professional careers, and live independently throughout their lives.
“Combining our complementary businesses gives us the broadest portfolio in the industry and unmatched worldwide distribution and customer support,” said John Blake, CEO of Freedom Scientific.
“The combined company will be able to offer customers a broad portfolio of well-known brands of video magnifiers, scanning and reading solutions, refreshable Braille displays, and the industry’s most recognized screen reading software, JAWS for Windows.”
“Our employees are energized by the capability that results from this merger and we are eager to start working together to deliver market leading solutions, training and support to the broadest audience of users who are blind and low vision,” said Maarten Bosch, CEO of Optelec.
Both companies were recently acquired by Vector Capital, a San Francisco based firm that invests in market leading global technology companies.
“We are excited to bring together two of the industry’s leading companies to create a global, diversified end-to-end technology provider to the low-vision and blind community,” said Andy Fishman, a Managing Director at Vector Capital. “The combination, integration and platform created will enable continued investment, support and growth for the combined company.”
The combined holding company will retain the individual Freedom and Optelec brands and product portfolio as the two businesses work on the integration and realization of all the anticipated customer benefits.