Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Magical apps for your iPhone or iPad

By Jeff Samco, Assistive Technology Advocate, FREED

I work as an assistive technology advocate at FREED, an Independent Living Center in Nevada City, California. I am also legally blind, so I use AT everyday in my life. Here is a quick overview of the "magical" apps I use on my iPhone 4. 

Note: I do have a little useable vision for pointing a camera, although not enough to see what is on the screen, nor in the viewfinder. Also, I've only had the iPhone for 2 months. I solely use it via the built-in screen reader called VoiceOver. And, for those interested, I do not use it as a phone since I cannot afford the monthly service fee. Instead, I use it with apps that are entirely self-contained on the iPhone or those which work via a Wi-Fi connection such as I have at home, work and at some public venues.

US Currency Identification apps:

EyeNote, developed by the US Treasury, is a free application for your iDevice. I do applaud the US Treasury's effort to make US currency more identifiable for those who are blind or visually impaired. However, the implementation of the free EyeNote app falls significantly short in its performance compared to that of a previously-released commercial app by LookTell called Money Reader that costs  $1.99.

Here's my brief comparison of the two apps:

The EyeNote snaps a picture which is then analyzed and, if successful, speaks the denomination. The bill needs to lie quite flat in adequate lighting to be recognized. If not recognized, the user needs to again snap another picture and wait the few seconds of processing time.

The Money Reader app uses a continuous video stream from the iDevice's camera and activates an iPhone 4's built-in flash if needed. Recognition takes less than a second. Bills can be quickly passed in front of the camera and identified one after another. It will recognize a bill when fully open, folded in half or less, flat or krinckled. It rarely cannot identify the bill.

And cameras can do more than identify money. oMoby object identification is a free app that requires data connection via Wi-Fi or cell. You snap a photo of an object such as a box or can of food, and the image is sent off over the Internet for comparison with a database of images. If a match is made, a short text description is returned and VoiceOver can speak it. If no match is made, the image is sent to a live human who views it and types in a short text description returned to the sender. I've had great success in identifying various food items in the kitchen. Of course, results are only as good as the photo image taken.

Let's move on to GPS applications. The Navigon GPS app retails for around $70, but can be found on sale a couple times a year. I have quite a bit of experience with the Trekker Breeze (a handheld talking GPS device retailing for approximately $900) and will use it for comparison.

The Breeze: Very good with naming cross streets, distance to next turn, customizing walking routes and marking personalized locations. The Breeze's limitations include: It does not announce on which side of the street you will find your destination address, Points of Interest are limited, recalculating a route is slow, it comes with only one regional map (e.g., California only), it costs $75 to purchase maps for the entire U.S., and the Breeze is not so precise with vehicle directions.

Navigon: Certainly more limited with no ability to announce names of cross streets. Always tells the street name currently travelling, announces distance to and name of next turn, announces which side of the street destination address is on, includes all U.S. maps, and is much better with Points of Interest. The Navigon recalculates routes quickly and has better vehicle directions and information.

After using Navigon for a month now, I have found it to be adequate for my walking and driving needs (driving in the sense that I am the navigator for my wife).

And for the fitness minded, the iTreadMill walking pedometer app is only 99 cents and is self-contained on an iDevice. You can easily learn distance walked, current speed, average speed and number of steps, whether on a treadmill or out for a walk. The iTreadmill does not use GPS, but the motion sensor of the iDevice. Typically there is no way of getting information on a treadmill display other than viewing it.

I use non-AT apps, but these are the main ones that still amaze me for the added capabilities they add to my life.

What AT-related mobile device apps amaze you? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Disability Capitol Action Day

Did you know that Disability Capitol Action Day is only two days away? On Wednesday, May 25, Californians with disabilities will come together on the west steps of our state capitol in Sacramento for a march, rally and resource fair. This year's theme is "Our voices, our choice, our lives, our vote." 

With many proposed budget cuts that will dramatically affect the disability community, join us and let your voice be heard. All participants are encouraged to make appointments with their legislators. Also, please swing by the AT Network's resource fair table and say "Hi!." 

Click here for a schedule of events. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Learn about the RESNA ATP Certification, and the new SMS (Seating and Mobility Specialist)

Did you know that the AT Network hosts webinar events? Did you know that you can participate from the comfort of your home or office? It's true. The AT Network hosts remote AT trainings, conversations and vendor forums. Click here to check out our calendar of  webinar events.

In fact, we have a great webinar coming up. Join us on Thursday, June 2, 2011 from 11am to Noon for an AT Network Brown Bag: RESNA ATP Certification, and the new SMS (Seating and Mobility Specialist)

To Join the Webinar Session: http://tinyurl.com/atforum15

Webinar Description: Why do people get certified? Why do people seek out ATP's? And what exactly is RESNA? Find out more about this specialized credential in our field, who it was designed for, and what its relevance is to you. RESNA itself is the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, a professional society for individuals and organizations interested in technology and disability. Visit the RESNA website, www.resna.org, to get background information, and bring your specific questions to learn more.

If this is your first time participating in a CFILC Elluminate webinar, please follow the directions below at least 24 hours before the webinar:

1. Ensure you have access to a headset, microphone, and speakers. These can be separate or in a USB headset combination.

2. Check your computer for compatibility with Elluminate (you will only need to do this one time):
Visit the following link: http://elluminate.com/support/index.jsp You will see First Time Users Step 1,2, and 3. Step 1 shows a green check if you have Java loaded and a red X if you don't. Step 2 will allow you to go into a configuration room to test your audio and microphone. Step 3 is more general information including an online orientation, quick reference guide, and a recorded introduction.

3.  If you use a Screen Reader, download the Java Accessibility Bridge:

a.     Visit the following link: Link to download Java Accessibility Bridge for Screen Readers. This bridge is ONLY for Windows users. The accessibility bridge is already pre-installed with Java for Mac OSX users.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ILS - Integrated Listening System, or Incomprehensible Little Secrets...

Written by Luke Hsieh, Community Access Center, Riverside

I am back to my favorite field of Assistive Technology after about eight months of doing Special Education Advocacy. My conclusion? Computers are way more compliant than school districts in the Inland Empire.

Anyway, the latest and hottest news for people with Autism seems to be something called an Integrated Listening System. From a strictly technical standpoint, the whole thing appears to be a glorified MP3 player. But some school districts seem to swear by it, and if it is good enough for the Californian school districts, it may be good enough for me. But first, I need to do some digging for information.

What's surprising about the system has been that other than the officially sanctioned testimonies and research articles, shockingly little is known. That does not go well with my stereotypical notion of the American public. Usually when something does not work, the allegation of fraud and scam fly off the roof, and god forbid, civil lawsuits. So, looking at it from this angle, no negative publicity equals good publicity. Although there are tons (gigabytes) of therapeutic listening CDs on Amazon, there is no integrated listening system, not even a sample. So we are left with little more than informerciously (yay, I invented a new word) miraculous testimonies, and the fact that some school districts are using it.

So, if you know something, anything, about the efficacy of the seemingly glorified mp3 player, I need to know if it helps you or your child and to what degree it has helped. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where can you find AT Services?

Written by Allan Friedman, CFILC’s Technologies Manager

Recently, we unveiled the AT Services Directory, version 6.0 (?  I think; I’ve lost count) on the ATnet.org website, and I believe it is the most user friendly version yet.

Way back in 1997 (at about the dawn of the Internet age) the AT Services Directory was a collection of floppy disks (remember those?) managed and updated by a Department of Rehabilitation contractor.  If you needed referral to a resource, you called him.   We put it online in the first iteration of the AT Services Directory in 1998.  Since then, the directory has undergone a few upgrades and revisions designed to make it easier and more productive for people to use. 

Last year we added bookmarking and a comment section for each record so users could share their experiences.  The bookmark feature allows users to create their own resource list and print it out after doing multiple searches during a session. 
The comment section allows users to rate the resource and share comments on the vendor/service provider.

We also provided a link to add new resources.  Every page of the directory has a banner ad across the top that links to the submit a new resource form.  This has enabled vendors, service providers and consumers to add new resources to the directory.

Our latest improvements should make search results more responsive and relative to users’ needs.   We reduced the number of categories and replaced the sub-categories with a second-level search for type of service. Now you can, for instance, select “Blind & Low Vision” from the category box and “funding” from the Service Type box and get a list of resources that provide funding for blind and low vision devices.  Searches can be further refined by using the zip code feature to narrow the geographic radius of a search.

To help users figure out what category to search, we’ve added links to a descriptions page which lists examples of the types of devices and services that would be found in the category. 

We hope these changes make the directory a more useful search tool.  Our goal is make the AT Services Directory the place to go to find assistive technology service providers in California.    Take some time to visit the AT Services Directory at http://atnet.org/svcdir/index.php.  And if you know of a resource that should be in the directory but isn’t, tell us about it.  Submit a new resource at http://submit.atnet.org.