Tuesday, September 24, 2013

AT Home in the Kitchen

By Bobbette Cantrell

Bobbette standing in front of refridgerator pulling out a tray of creamers from the top shelf
Bobbette using cookie sheets to pull items out of her fridge
My kitchen is not like most.  

Because I have had Rheumatoid Arthritis for over 30 years, I use every day tools and supplies to make my life much easier. As a person who has always been independent, I decided that I could do the same kitchen tasks as a person without a disability, but with slight modifications and good old ingenuity. 

For example, I have found a way to reach into my refrigerator and pick up the items I need. By placing several cookie sheets and trays on the refrigerator shelves I can easily reach food and beverages. When I need something, I just pull a cookie sheet toward me and pick up the item. This simple change has saved my shoulders, arms and hands from straining, and most importantly, I don't drop anything! 

wooden dowel with a hook on the end grabbing a coffee cup out of a cupboard
Wooden dowel with hook
Another handy item I use is a tool I made myself. It's a simple dowel (I’ve made several in various lengths) with a small hook at the end of it. With this woman-made tool, I'm able to reach into high cupboards and retrieve coffee cups, spices, small glasses, pots and other things. Sometimes I use a reacher to finish the task.

I also rely on an electric can opener as well as simple jar and bottle openers. Using them has made it so I don’t have to find a family member or neighbor when I want to dig into my canned goods.

With just a few changes in my kitchen, I continue to enjoy cooking. 
Have you made any modifications to your kitchen to make cooking easier? Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section below.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

AT on the Horizon - VGo Robots

by Rachel Anderson, Marketing & Communications Manager
Imagine you had an illness that prevented you from going to school for several months. Or, what if you had to miss work for weeks due to a sudden injury? Think of the amount of important information that you would miss out on being out of the office or classroom for weeks or months at a time. Moreover, what if you were thousands of miles away from an important business meeting? Or you had a loved one in the hospital that you really wanted to be there for?  Now, imagine that you could go to that meeting or visit your loved one in the hospital via technology. These are all things that you could do if you had the VGo robot.

VGo tall thin white device with a small computer screen at the top and wheels at the bottom
VGo is a form of robotic telepresence that enables a person to put themselves in a distant location and have the freedom to move around as if they were physically there.  The person can see, hear, talk, interact and move. It differs from video teleconferencing in that it is completely remote controlled so you aren't dependent on the people in the distant location.

Promoted  as a perfect solution for schools, hospitals and businesses, the VGo robot can go anywhere a person wants to go.  They can even attend school physically for students that are unable to go themselves.  For example, there is a student in Texas that can't be in a classroom safely because of his disability. With his VGo, now he can participate in classroom discussions, locker-side chats, lunch period, and even move from class to class. The VGo could be an option for students that have severe allergies or autoimmune disabilities.

In addition to schools, another great place for VGos are hospitals.  Last year, a group of high schoolers helped raise money to purchase a VGo robot for a children's medical center in Utah. There are 20-30 children at a time that are in this hospital and the group of students wanted to allow these kids to be able to attend class while they had to stay in their hospital bed. 

VGos cost around $6,000 and can come with Verizon 4G LTE connectivity. Monthly charges are around $100 every month and additional charging stations are $500. The VGo doesn't require a wi-fi connection to transmit the video feed, and it has a six hour battery life. You can connect to the VGo from both Macs and PCs. Some of the disadvantages of the VGo that have been observed already are the fact that closed doors and stairs are obstacles for them without human intervention, as well as the fact that since it only weighs 20 lbs, it could easily be stolen. 

What do you think of these robots?  Do you think this AT will catch on and can help people with disabilities live independently?  Have you ever seen a VGo? Let us know in the comment box what you think about this communicating robot.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

AT News From Around the Web

Here at the AT Network, we love to learn about all the new, different and constantly evolving AT that is out there. There are so many AT items that we can't possibly keep up with every device or piece of equipment that exists. Fortunately, we are not the only ones researching AT and we can look to other writers around the web! Here are some great other AT blogs and resources to check out for up-to-date Assistive Technology news:

1. The Assistive Technology Daily

From the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program. Some recent posts include:

2. Assistive Technology
Blog on the topic of assitive technology, eLearning, mind mapping, project management, visual learning, collaborative tools and educational technology. Some recent posts include:

3. Jane Farrall's Blog
Jane is a speech pathologist and special educator passionate about literacy, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and Assistive Technology. Some recent posts include:

4. Assistive Technology Blog
Learn about assistive technology for people with reading disabilities, dyslexia, low vision, blindness and other disabilities that make reading, writing and other tasks difficult. Written by someone who uses AT to read and write. Some recent posts include: 

5. Maryland Technology Assitance Program Blog
The Maryland AT Blog is a service of the Maryland Department of Disabilities Technology Assistance Program, aimed at providing current updates on new AT, product reviews, conference updates and other AT related news. Some recent posts include:

6. The Assistive Technology Blog
The Assistive Technology Blog is a publication from the Virginia Department of Education's Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC) at Virginia Commonwealth University. Some recent posts include: 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bluetooth Keyboards and Limitations

by Kihiroshi Luke Hsieh, AT Advocate, Community Access Center

As a disabled technophile, my relationship with Amazon (and to a lesser extent, Apple) can only be described as a love-and-hate affair.  That does not mean I love Apple more than Amazon. Quite the contrary, as I find that I use Amazon far more than Apple. 

Apple has made their iPhone 4S accessible to the visually impaired, and I have seen with my own eyes, how a blind person can overcome touch screen with mixture of voice feedback (Siri) and voice command. Google Android has achieved more or less same level of functionality.  In fact, today’s high-end smart phones - Android, Apple or Windows (for the adventurous) should be accessible for most  people that are blind or have low vision.

What about the Amazon Kindle? As far as the e-readers go, the most accessible model for individuals who are blind or have low vision remains the Kindle Keyboard 3G. Released in 2010, it is both tactile and affordable, and the Neo-speech TTS voice engine combined with voice navigation quickly made it a favorite among people who are blind. I remember how happy one of my consumers was about being able to read the newspaper again on it after decades of not having an accessible newspaper option. However, on a side note, the 6” model was discontinued in 2013, and  the DX 9” model costs $299 - which is quite a bit more expensive than the original. 

None of the newer models - including the critically acclaimed Kindle Paperwhite - comes with text to speech or even anything at all for the ears. To my dismay and to the dismay of many, I am guessing they have just given up on the concept of universal design. 

This left me with the Kindle Fire HD.  Now, I once called this tablet the most inaccessible tablet on the market. Fortunately,it has since added some important accessibility features. Two of which include Ivona Salli and some accessibility features from Android Icecream Sandwich such as allowing one to explore by touch in its updates.  Better late than never i guess!

picture of a bluetooth keyboard hooked up to a Kindle Fire tablet sitting on a desk
Kindle Fire HD hooked up to a bluetooth keyboard
One thing I do love about the Kindle Fire HD is the simplicity of its fool-proof GUI interface, which could conceivably be navigated with only the arrow, escape and enter key. To test out this theory, I hooked up my Kindle Fire HD to a bluetooth keyboard that costs around $20. The navigation of the home page was every bit as smooth as I had anticipated. The problem only hit me when I tried to run individual apps. 

I’ve had similar problems with my iPhone after hooking it up to a bluetooth keyboard as well. It is as if the purpose of a keyboard is only to serve as an "assistive add-on" and not as a replacement for the touch screen.  This means that I still need to touch the play button on the touch screen in order to activate the text to speech.  I cannot do it simply by pressing a key on the keyboard. 

I have to admit, I feel disappointed by my results. It would be nice if hooking a device up to a keyboard would allow one to navigate exclusively with the keyboard, rather than having to use only the inaccesbile touch screen option. My hope is that amazon will at least make their stock apps more keyboard-friendly in the future.

What has your experience been with accessibility in e-readers or tablets?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment box below.