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Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog

A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!

The Marriage of Captions and Sounds

A conference slide presentation with captions in a conference hall. Captions Are Useful Everywhere

With a little practice, you can increase your enjoyment of videos, slides, and movies by playing available captions along with the sound track of the media.

I have personally learned the value of combining these tools of accessibility over a period of decades.

My first taste of the possibilities of combining captions and sounds was in the mid-’90s when I staffed the Michigan Rehabilitation Council. We experimented with combining real-time captioning  and video conferencing for a single MRC meeting using Michigan’s network of university-based video-conferencing systems to allow people statewide to see the MRC meeting and follow the meeting discussion. We had already been using the video-conferencing network as an ongoing experiment for a year at the time, and felt that adding real-time captioning would be a powerful step to make the MRC meetings more broadly accessible to Michigan’s statewide disability community.

Expanding the universal accessibility of our meetings this way was not routine in the mid-90s. There were a number of different standards for video-conferencing at the time, and universities chose them more or less at random. All the choices needed a significant investment in equipment, software, storage, and technical expertise. The variety of possibilities meant that we had to hire a technical expert whose sole job was to “bridge” the different video systems in real-time to assure that everyone who wanted to could participate in the meeting.

Conference Presentation with multiple methods of accessible content including ASL signer and real-time captioning by a stenographer Multiple Ways to Provide Accessible Content

Real-time captions were much more unique then than now. No third party captions from the other side of the world. We hired a stenographer, and had the stenographer and the site Audio-Visual people work together so that the captions would show up throughout the statewide video-conferencing system and on a screen that was located in the actual meeting.

The experiment went well. I had the opportunity to simply observe the 70-80 attendees at the MRC meeting site as they went about their personal engagement with the content. I also paid attention to my own response, and discovered (to my surprise) that I preferred reading the captions on the screen to listening to the conversation. When I looked around, it seemed to me that about one-third of the participants in the room were also looking at the captions on the  screen rather than simply listening to the Council. Since only a handful of the participants were deaf or hard of hearing, this meant that there were a lot of people who found it easier to engage the content through print in the real-time captioning rather than listening to the voices of the speakers.

My next smaller epiphany was to always turn on the captions in Youtube videos if they were available. This allowed me to do little bits of work and note taking without losing the thread […]

By |July 28th, 2020|Categories: Assistive Technology|0 Comments

3-D Printed AT for Writing, Painting, and Drawing (with Jen)!

[The featured image of the video above is of Jen Mullins, a white woman with long, brown, wavy hair.  Jen is smiling and wearing a coral-colored cardigan and black shirt underneath.  In one hand, she is holding a Palm Pen Holder device that is holding a paintbrush.  In her other hand, Jen is pointing at the device.  On the wall behind Jen is a collection of art and a closet door.  End image description.]

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Tune in as I share about 3-D Printed Assistive Technology (AT) devices for writing, drawing, & painting.  In the video, I turn the camera around and show how 2 different, 3-D printed devices work with a pen for writing, a pencil for drawing, a paintbrush for painting, and an Apple Pencil for creating art on an iPad Pro using the Procreate app!

The devices that I show in the video were printed by an organization called Makers Making Change (MMC).  MMC is a part of the ‘Assistive Technology (AT) makers movement‘, “a small but growing movement among people with disabilities, engineers, students, families, and others who cherish personal independence and freedom of choice to take access to Assistive Technology (AT) to its next stage.”  In short, MMC connects people seeking solutions/devices to ‘makers’ who can 3-D print them.  Users can create a free account on the MMC website, browse and search for various devices that are available to be printed, and request the device(s).  MMC then connects that request with a local ‘maker’ in the user’s geographical area who can print the device for them and arrange for them to pick it up or have it shipped to them (typically the user is responsible for shipping fees).  There is a cost range included for each of the devices listed on the site, but sometimes that fee is less than purchasing a commercially available device from a store or online shop.  And some of the devices listed on the MMC website aren’t currently available in traditional stores/online shops.

While you’re searching/browsing their site, if you don’t find a device that meets your needs, MMC offers a way to submit a need/idea. Once your idea has been submitted, makers & users who are connected with MMC start brainstorming and it’s very likely you’ll hear back from them about ideas for solutions. Personally, I think this feature feels very validating and gives me hope that it is possible to get/create the AT I need.

[Image description: a watercolor paint palette, a Pen Ball device holding an Apple Pencil, a piece of watercolor paper, an iPad, a Palm Pen Holder device holding a blue drawing pencil pointing to a piece of sketch paper and small sketch of a hill and sunshine, a lined piece of paper with writing […]

New Accessibility Features for iPhone, iPad, & More-Coming this Fall!

[Image description: 4 people wearing masks take a selfie in front of a painting of the Mona Lisa; the Mona Lisa is wearing a mask too! End image description.] Image source By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

This past Monday Apple announced that it will be releasing its iOS 14 update in the fall.  Note: OS is the abbreviation for operating system.  In general, an OS is the software that runs your device.  I’ve been learning about some of the new accessibility settings that are included in the update and I’m excited about the possibilities!  Here are a few that seem particularly useful:

[Image description: A pair of Apple AirPods next to a silver iPhone. The iPhone is turned over and the camera and back of the phone are visible. End image description.] Image source I have a hearing disability and also use Apple’s AirPods headphones so I am very interested in the updates Apple is making in the settings for hearing features together with Apple’s headphones (AirPods Pro, second-generation AirPods, select Beats headphones, and EarPods).  Users will be able to customize the audio settings for what’s right for them. Users can set up to nine unique profiles.  We’ll be able to create (and save!) a setting for when watching a movie, a setting to use during phone calls, and more!

Your device will be able to detect if someone on a FaceTime call is using sign language during FaceTime chats between multiple people. When it detects the person signing, it will make their window more prominent in the call; making it easier for participants to see the sign language interpreter.

[Image description: A person smiles while looking at the screen on their iPhone. The person is shown sitting in bed while sun shines on them. End image description.] Image source [Image description: A dog has their mouth open; implying that they are barking. The wear a yellow hat and stand in front of a pink background. End image description.] Image source Your device will be able to listen for 14 different sounds and alert you when it hears these sounds.  Sounds include a door knock, doorbell, sirens, smoke detector alarm, dog barking, a crying baby, and more.

When you double or triple tap the back of your device, you will be able to make actions happen (supposed to work even if you have a case on your device).  You can set your “Back Tap” to turn on your device’s Magnifier, have Siri read the text on the screen aloud (like read a text message aloud), turn on VoiceOver, and other commands.  […]

AT for Gardening: Containers and Beds

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I’ve been a gardener for years and a vegetable gardener for at least a decade. I joined a vegetable garden farm share program about 20 years ago and loved the fresh veggies from down the road and began exploring some easy options to grow some myself. My farm share taught me the joy and beauty, as well as ease, of growing kale, chard, and heirloom tomato varieties. My kids have added in their own delight at picking and eating strawberries in our yard, juice running down their chins.

When I first began to explore gardening on our smallish lot, I learned about the Square Foot Gardening method—using your space as efficiently as possible to grow veggies and fruit that give the most “bang for the buck.” The method worked and I was quite successful right away at growing things that fed my family.

More and more people are interested in growing their own food, especially now that we are months into the pandemic, grocery workers are coming down with COVID-19, and some food shortages are happening.

There are lots of ways that people with disabilities can use AT to grow their own food! In this video, I show two options for affordably growing vegetables and fruits in containers. Containers make it easier to garden, especially if you use a wheelchair or walker or have other disabilities that make bending and stooping uncomfortable or impossible. Containers bring the vegetables to a height that works for you. Additional container gardening options and much more information is also available on a webinar on Accessible Gardening in our archives.

Other MATP resources on AT for accessible gardening:

In addition, Michigan State University Extension has great resources on choosing and growing a smart garden in our state. Other state university extensions around the US are also great resources.

Have I gotten your gardening juices flowing? What do you want to plant?

Are you a veteran gardener? What are your favorite things to grow? What containers and methods do you use to help you garden accessibly?

Stay Home, Stay Safe with Amazon’s Alexa

By Laura Hall, MATP Staff

In the video linked to this blog, I demonstrate just a few of the things you can do with Amazon’s Alexa that could be helpful during this time of “Stay Home, Stay Safe”. The device used in this video is the Echo First Generation, but I also mention the Echo Dot and the Echo Show.   The full array of devices and products that work with Alexa can be found in Amazon’s Echo and Alexa Devices Catagory.   In this video, I ask Alexa to do the following:

For even more ideas, check out Amazon’s blog: Helpful Things Alexa Can do During COVID-19

Alexa has hundreds of thousands of skills.  To explore and search for skills see Amazon’s Alexa Skills store (note: most skills are free to enable)

To learn more about how to use Alexa in general, visit the Alexa User Guide

Part 2: AT for Cutting Without Cuts!

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

In the video linked to this post, I share about a few more AT devices and strategies that might make cutting up food in the kitchen safer and more accessible.  Below are the devices from the video along with links where you might find the devices online.  Please note, MATP is not a vendor and does not sell AT.  Also listed below is are our current resources for AT for accessible gardening (a viewer from last week asked about this topic and we wanted to share the information we have far and wide!)

Do you use AT in the kitchen? What do you use? If you have any questions about AT, please comment! Thanks for tuning in 🙂

AT for Cutting Without Cuts Part 1

Devices mentioned in the video:

AT for Cutting Without Cuts in the Kitchen: a Vlog!

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Due to precautions related Covid-19, many of us are cooking from home more.  For someone whose disability impacts their vision, fine motor, hand dexterity, and upper body strength and coordination, cutting and chopping food can be challenging.  Assistive Technology (AT) devices are available that may help.  In the video linked to this post, I share about a few AT devices and strategies that might make cutting up food in the kitchen easier and safer.  Below are the devices from the video along with links where you might find the devices online.  Please note, MATP is not a vendor and does not sell AT.  Also listed below is a list of our previous blog posts related AT that may help when it comes to cooking, baking, food prep, grocery shopping, and more.

Do you use AT in the kitchen? What do you use? If you have any questions about AT, please comment! Thanks for tuning in 🙂

Here’s the list of our previous blog posts related AT that may help when it comes to cooking, baking, food prep, grocery shopping, and more:

AT and Coronavirus Preparedness

Thank you to Eliza Anderson and the AT3 Center for this post. Originally posted on the AT3 Center News and Tips page.

Steps, products, and resources to prevent infection, educate others and prepare for staying at home this COVID-19 season.

A cartoon germ

Wash Your Hands Often While Singing the ABCs

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Washing can protect you from infection and help protect others if you are a carrier of the virus. On the go, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you have no access to soap and water. Here’s a Popular Science recipe for homemade hand sanitizer gel (many stores are running low).

Go to CDC What you need to know about handwashing video (no audio).

Disinfect Your Assistive Technology (AT)!

It is still undetermined how long this new coronavirus may survive on smooth dry surfaces, but it could be up to 9 days (depending on what source you read).  The CDC says, “Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.”

Door knobs, drawer pulls, light switches and counters, sure, but don’t forget your AT. Mobile devices, computer equipment, braille displays, white canes, mobility equipment, communication devices, anything you and especially anything that others touch should be frequently disinfected.

Some AT devices are not supposed to be cleaned with spray cleaners (consult the manufacturers’ recommendations). One option is a microfiber cloth that is disposable and anti-bacterial. Use your best judgment. For better or worse, spray cleaners can access crevices.

Don’t Buy Masks to Protect Yourself

They won’t protect you from coronavirus infection but can protect others from your sneezing and coughing if you are infected. Masks are also useful if you are not able to sneeze or cough away from others (such as into the crux of your arm).

Do Avoid Touching Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes

In addition to hand washing and disinfecting surfaces, the CDC says to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Go to the CDCs COVID-19 Stop the Spread of Germs video (no audio).)

Stock Up to Stay Home

As of this writing, there are people instructed to stay at home for a variety […]

By |March 13th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Wearable AT for Navigation!

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

In a previous AT blog post, I shared that I have a disability that impacts my ability to navigate.  When I walk, bike, drive, etc., without my GPS, I can’t work out where I am or how I need to get where I need to go.  More than just getting “a little turned around”; without GPS, I get completely lost, panic, and need to phone someone (who’s willing to be patient) for help to get where I need to be.  GPS truly makes traveling on my own possible and it is Assistive Technology (AT) that I use daily.

I use Apple Maps on my iPhone to successfully navigate within my local community and beyond.  Recently, I purchased an Apple Watch and was excited to learn how to use a new (to me) technology.  Because my watch is paired to my iPhone, it mirrors what I do on there.  For example, if I’m listening to a podcast on my phone, controls for the podcast appear on my watch (like volume controls, pause, skip, etc.).  When I use Apple Maps on my phone, navigation also shows up on my wrist.  In addition to showing the turn by turn directions, my watch also vibrates and beeps when I’m coming up on a turn or exit I need to take.  While I’m driving, I usually only visually follow along with the navigation on my phone screen, but having those additional audible and physical cues on my wrist makes me feel more aware, safer and more confident about following the course Apple Maps lays out for me.

Do you use Apple Maps or a navigation app?  Which one?  If you use it with an Apple watch, what have you thought about the additional cues you get with your wearable tech?  Comment to keep this conversation going 🙂

“I didn’t quite catch that. Can you repeat it?” -Siri on iPhone

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Voice Assistants (VAs) are software that has been programmed to listen to users and (hopefully) perform resulting actions.  “Users can ask their [voice] assistants questions, control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal commands.” –source.  Some of the most popular VAs include (in order of popularity by a study by Adobe Analytics): Alexa, Google assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Bixby.

Source: Pexels

More than a convenience, voice assistants can be Assistive Technology (AT) for some users with disabilities.  “For many people with disabilities, voice assistant technology can be a key tool for living independently. Voice assistant technology makes it easier to set up schedules and reminders, have more control over the home environment and lets people to connect with others easier. It can help people learn language and communication skills.  Smart homes can empower people with disabilities to live more independently, giving us control over our environment and freedom to make choices able-bodied people may take for granted.  As smart home technology becomes more widespread and affordable to those who need it most, our world will continue to become a more accessible place.” –The Mighty

You might be thinking, ‘if VAs are so great, why doesn’t everyone use them then?’  One of the challenges in using VAs that people with disabilities may face is getting their VA to understand them.

Source: Pexels

For people whose voice is impacted by their disability (sometimes called a ‘disability accent’), it can be extremely frustrating to have to repeat, repeat, and repeat when trying to ask their VA to do something; even more so when the VA can’t help them at all because it doesn’t understand their voice.  Unfortunately, as is with many current VAs, if your accent isn’t one that the software has been trained to understand and respond accordingly to, it will have a hard time understanding you.  Amazon/Alexa has taken some steps to help devices “learn your voice” and better understand individual users, but it is ultimately the work of the user to “train” their VA to understand them.

Recently, Google launched Project Understood to, “create a database that can help train Google’s technology to better understand people with Down syndrome.”

Source: Disabled and Here

The need is great and Google’s initiative is very needed/smart business for them, but why did Google single out only people with Down syndrome?  Why not include people who have Cerebral Palsy (CP) accents?  People who have a Stoma?  People whose voice has been impacted by a stroke or brain injury?  Why not people who are deaf?  Why not everyone who has a hard time with their VA understanding […]

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