Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Donate Your Used AT for Earth Day

Do you have any gently used AT sitting around in your closet or garage?


Donate it for Earth Day!

picture of the earth with people using a walker, wheelchair and scooter on top of the globe that says earth day reuse drive all in greens
It is that time of year again... time for some good old-fashioned spring cleaning!  Why not use Earth Day as your impetus to get organized, clean out that garage, basement or closet, and reduce, reuse, and recycle while you are at it. Chances are you have something collecting dust that someone else could use to be independent.

In honor of Earth Day and to promote our reuse partners, the AT Network is excited to announce our first annual Earth Day Reuse Drive with participating organizations throughout California .
Did you know that there are many organizations throughout California that accept gently-used donations of medical equipment and other AT devices?  Thanks to a generous donation from Molina Healthcare, the AT Network is kicking off its first annual Earth Day Reuse Drive to promote these amazing organizations' efforts. Not only are they keeping AT equipment from laying useless in landfills, but they are also getting it into the hands of people that really need it!  People like Araceli in Bakersfield. 

Araceli, a mother of two, uses a wheelchair because she has Cerebral Palsy.  She calls her wheelchair her "legs with wings" because it allows her to live independently and do all of the many things a mother of two needs to do. When she was in a car accident and her power chair was destroyed, Araceli's life stopped. She was distraught because she couldn't afford a new one or a rental and was told she would have to wait months for her insurance to cover it. Thanks to the Independent Living Center of Kern County and the AT Network's Keep the Wheels Rolling Repair Fund, Araceli was able to use a refurbished power wheelchair in the meantime. Araceli was greatful to have her "legs with wings" - and life - back.

You can further this great cause by donating any gently used items that might be useful to individuals with disabilities. Please contact each program directly to find out what equipment they accept and please let others know about these programs.  

molina healthcare logo
Earth Day Sponsored by Molina Healthcare

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kindle Fire HDX - The Saga Continues

by Chi Hung Luke Hsieh, AT Advocate at Community Access Center in Riverside

The annual CSUN conference on disability has come and gone, and despite it being slightly smaller this year, I nonetheless had the pleasure of attending an all-day workshop hosted by Amazon for the purpose of promoting their latest pet, the Kindle Fire HDX. And, since they touted the revamped accessibility features as one of its selling points, it's fitting for me to write a review about it.

Firstly, all models of the Kindle Fire HDX are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 - the standard state of the art processor for all high-end android devices since October of
Kindle Fire HDX
last year. The sheer sound of Snapdragon 800 induces a sense of excitement in yours truly the same way a cute anime girl such as Hatsune Miku would. Anyway, moving on, the HDX also features an amazing HD display - 300+ ppi (pixels per inch) which makes anime girls or any movies a joy to behold. Okay,  seriously now, moving on...

Due to the acquisition of Ivona, a Polish company that specializes in text to speech technology, in 2012 the HDX is equipped with multiple voice engines to boot: Australian English, British English, American English, (two of both male and female) a Canadian French, two standard French, two German, two Italian, two Brazilian Portuguese, one Russian and two Castilian Spanish. 

This obviously has implications for assistive technology users. For someone with dyslexia, it means your kindle is now multilingual and it can read books aloud not only in different languages, but also in clearly differentiated accents. For me, it means I can now have an affordable AAC device with a male adult voice with a British accent.  It means I can go to a bar and order a martini, shaken or stirred. I'm not sure how much more attractive it would make me, but it does make the device quite sexy. Of course, now Google, too, is catching up on the text to speech technology, so it will be interesting to see how much longer Amazon can hold on to this advantage.

As an often quoted Chinese Proverb goes, the deeper the love, the harsher the reprimand, and if there is one reason why the Kindle Fire should die a horrible death, it is because of the following: Amazon chose to run a forked version of Android and it decided to run its own closed app store. While on their own, the decision might still make sense, but together, these decisions are a folly. 

Let's stop for a moment and think about what it means to run a forked Android. This means that whatever improvement you make on your device is bound to be superficial because any fundamental development of the operating system is done by google. This would still be tolerable if Amazon allowed its forked version of Android to be regularly updated or allowed google play to update their third party apps. None of these is happening and none of the new accessibility features can be downloaded to the old Kindle Fire HD (2012 version). This means that they made a tablet, updated it once or twice, and then left it to rot. 

I even asked them, frankly, at the workshop if we are expected to purchase a new model every year. But they only replied, "We are not here to talk about that." However, that is essentially what has to be done in order for me to enjoy the new accessibility features. I have had to give my old Kindle Fire HD to my sister and buy a new Kindle Fire HDX.

The infamous eco-system of the Kindle Fire has been mentioned to death by just about every technology reviewer on earth. Running a closed app store that's essentially a rip-off of google play also means that your third party vendors sometimes forget about you. A case in point, the android app Speech Assistant on google play (and on my LG G Flex) is currently the version 3.20, yet the same app on the amazon app store is only version 2.72. This frequently means less features and inferior versions of the same android app;  running both forked Android and a closed app store severely limits the potential of the Snapdragon 800.

Ultimately, love it or hate it, Kindle Fire HDX comes with attractive hardware and at a affordable price. In my opinion, it is a flawed beauty limited by business decisions which are completely out of touch with reality and limit the potential of the Snapdragon 800.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CSUN Conference Highlights

The AT Network was excited to participate in California State University Northridge’s 29th Annual Conference for People with Disabilities in San Diego from March 19-21. This week we are sharing some highlights from our participation in the event.

Picture of Derek shaking hands with a young woman in front of a booth with computer screens on its table
Derek Zarda, AT Advocate from ILRC San Francisco building vendor relationships.
First, a big thank you to all of the AT Network members who came by our AT Network booth in the exhibit hall. Based on the number of members who dropped by, it appears the AT Network was well represented at the conference. In fact, from our booth I saw many AT Advocates based at Independent Living Centers throughout California networking with vendors to learn the latest in AT.

The AT Network wasn’t only in the exhibit hall; we also presented a conference session titled “California’s AT Network Device Lending Libraries.” The AT Network’s Rosemarie Punzalan teamed up with Aaron Markovits from Kern Assistive Technology Center and Samuel Moore from Rolling Start to present on California’s system of Device Lending Libraries. Their presentation included information on lending trends and how to access the service. Many of the session participants followed up with a visit to our booth to learn more about services in their local areas.

Man standing in front of podium with a lare screen in the background that says comcast. Also two women sitting at  table listening to presenter
Comcast Presentation on Voice Controlled Cable
We also attended a Comcast reception where they demonstrated a newly developed voice controlled remote feature to allow you to verbally control your cable channel selection. In addition, they added additional audio description of the cable channel menu and an accessible remote app with audio prompts. We didn’t hear exactly when the new features will hit the market, but many of the attendees were very excited for the changes.
It was a busy week filled with a lot of learning and networking. Next week we will be back with a guest post evaluating the Kindle Fire HDX based on what the author learned at a CSUN conference session.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The WHILL - A New Mobility Device

Have you seen this new wheelchair design yet?

The AT Network recently had WHILL, Inc. come give a demo and presentation about the development of this new wheelchair design – actually not even called a wheelchair, but rather, a mobility device.  Everyone at the meeting agreed that the WHILL was very cool!

The WHILL was developed by engineers in Japan on a personal mission to not only improve the functionality of the wheelchair, but to improve the style as well. 

Wheelchairs have been around for centuries, yet look at these pictures comparing the advancements in phone technology versus the advancements in wheelchairs during the last century.

Shocking, no?

The main features distinguishing the WHILL from other mobility devices - other than the unique and modern design - are its unique wheel structure (the front wheels are actually made up of many smaller wheels), side arm rests that lower to allow for easier transfers and for sitting at a desk/table, its “mouse-like” steering system, its smaller and narrower size, and a smaller, sharper turning radius for users. 

The WHILL only weighs about 200 lbs, while typical power wheelchairs designed for the same sized person are closer to 400 lbs. Its unique wheels allow the WHILL to traverse easily through rough terrains such as snow, gravel, dirt, and woodchips. It can even go over curbs that are up to three inches tall! Furthermore, it is rain-proof and, with a full battery, it can travel up to 15 miles depending on the terrain.  

Shannon, who is a power and manual wheelchair user, had a chance to test drive the WHILL.   

picture of shannon in the whill talking to ceo who is squatting on the ground
Shannon talking to CEO of WHILL Satoshi Sugie
 "First of all," she said, "I like it because it is very stylish. It feels different that driving my own power wheelchair. It doesn't feel quite as stable as the one I currently use, but I like that it drove very well over rough terrains. I also like that it is very simple and sleek in its design.  It is not bulky and you actually don’t even feel like you are riding in a wheelchair. It made me feel like I was riding on some sort of a futuristic Segway and it reminded me of the movie, WALL - E.” 

The WHILL Type A is the third prototype design by the company. For the first two designs they recruited many wheelchair users to test their design out and explain what worked and what didn’t work for them.  Currently, they are taking their first limited orders. The current cost is around $9,500 - depending on the features you order for it- but they plan on the cost lowering once the WHILL is mass-manufactured to make it more affordable to all. I hope Medicare/Medical will cover it!

What do you think of the WHILL?  What do you think of using the term "mobility device" instead of wheelchair?  Write your answers in the comment box below!