Home, “Smart Home”

Smart Home, equipped with electronic appliances that can be controlled remotely, has been marketed as the house of the future. This trend will help everyone including seniors and persons with disabilities. A few years ago, when I was looking for inexpensive remote control systems, there were not many products readily available. Assistive technology companies were selling environmental control devices, which they sold anywhere from $600 to $6500 and possibly more.  Besides, I found some of them were difficult for the users and their family members to configure and learn. The cost of smart homes can be difficult to obtain because insurance companies may not currently cover the cost of smart home technology.

However, today, you can find environmental control units at hardware stores or online.  For example, some elderly persons or wheelchair users may not be able to easily turn on and off lights because light switches are beyond their reach. Then, you can use a product like ConnectSense by Connect Grid. The technology (i.e. X10) has been on the market for many years, but the updated smart types can now be operated from apps on Smartphones.  If you are looking for more features, most basic kits start from $100, and you can expand your home automation options later depending upon your needs. These products are easy to install and include notifications or alerts to your Smartphone even when you are away from home if you have Internet wireless connectivity in the home.

Some features of Smart home products (Insteon, SmartThings, and more) include:

  • Secure your home with or without monthly cost
  • Receive notifications when people, pets, and cars come and go
  • Flood prevention
  • Remotely adjust the thermostat to save energy
  • Lock and unlock doors
  • Control and monitor your home from your smartphone or tablet, anywhere in the world
  • Schedule lights to turn on and off at sunrise, sunset or any time of your choosing
  • Detect leaks and motion and even monitor doors and windows
  • Get immediate alerts by text messages or e-mail
  • Receive text message and email
  • See and control your WiFi camera from your smartphone

You can buy a specific product you are interested in or buy their basic starter kit and add-on more later. You can review some product comparisons from this link: click here.



Smart Home options have been expanded to a few service sectors as well. For example, AT&T and Comcast have started working on developing products to protect and monitor the elderly from dangerous falls (EverThere–AT&T) or help disabled persons to access and control their services (Talking TV guide – Comcast).

Challenges to house automation still exist.  For example, signal strength issues can lead to distance limitations. Protecting privacy and cyber-security are other issues. However, this new wave of house automation is becoming affordable and getting easier for anyone to implement at home. These products may still not cover all of the needs for individuals with disabilities or may not be compatible with all assistive technology devices (i.e. AAC), but the future “Jetsons” home is nearly here!

Jetsons future of technology

Jetsons future of technology


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Pepper – Intelligent robot

Many researchers and developers have been working on robotic applications to support the physical and educational needs of persons with disabilities.  S0me examples are medical devices that can be used during surgery procedures, robot-assisted rehab to enhance human motor controls and strength, and personal robots that can perform human interactions with real-time feedback.

One of the personal robots that can perform human interactions with real-time feedback is Pepper from a French firm, Aldebaran Robotics (https://www.aldebaran.com/en), owned by SoftBank corp., the world’s largest mobile phone company in Japan. Pepper is under 4 feet tall and weighs about 61 pounds. He can be programmed in 16 languages and is designed to live with humans at home. He doesn’t clean or cook (so what good is he?), but he is a social robot that can interact with voice, touch and emotions. The Aldebaran website says, “Pepper can translate what state you are in using his knowledge of universal emotions (joy, surprise, anger, doubt and sadness) and his ability to analyze your facial expression, body language and the words you use.” So you can have a cheerful or lonely Pepper at home based on your preference. However, it seems that Pepper will need more improvements and enhancements on apps so that he can understand each real-time question correctly.


Pepper – intelligent robot

Meet Pepper, the Friendly Humanoid Robot

The first consumer launch in Japan made only 1000 units available to the public this June 2015. All units were sold within a minute. Unfortunately, Pepper isn’t reasonable for everyone. The base price is 198,000 yen ($1,600), but you also need to sign a 3-year contract ($200 month) and additional insurance pack, which adds up to a total of $9,000. SoftBank also plans to launch “Pepper for Biz” in the fall and make the robot available for business. It looks like we may see this robot, Pepper, in the US within 12 months.

Many researchers and developers continue to focus their research to overcome the real-world obstacles to the use of robots as an effective assistive technology. It is exciting to know that robotic applications have been effectively applied not only to motor rehabilitation but also to support psychological and emotional interactions.  We may not be too far away from seeing robots like Pepper greeting customers in stores, teaching and interacting with students at schools, and being companions in assistive living facilities.

Robot Pepper Sells Out In 60 Seconds | Tech Bet | CNBC


Posted in Accessibility Features, Assessment, Assistive Technology, AT_Apps, AT_Device, Robots, Sensors, Technology in Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wearable medical devices and sensors

Wearable technologies have been one of the exciting developments to expand possibilities in our daily life for everyone including persons with disabilities. You may be familiar with a wearable device like smartwatches that can provide real-time access to information online and advanced features to make your daily activities easier. In addition some wearable devices are used to monitor your health such as measuring your blood pressure or heart rate. For example, smart wristband (i.e. Jawbone UP3) has a heart rate tracking system built into the device. Other types of wearable devices can be used to monitor your family or loved one. Interests in wearable technologies are even growing among young developers. For example, Kenneth Sinozuka, one of the Google Science finalists, developed a wearable sensor to monitor his grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The wearable sensor devices which is installed to his grandfather’s shoes and triggers whenever his grandfather steps out his bed. As a result, his family members were able to monitor and prevent his grandfather from wandering away.

Kenneth Shinozuka – Wearable Sensors for Aging Society

So what is next? Many scientist and engineers have been developing the next generation of wearable devices and sensor systems (i.e. Bio-sensing) for clinical research and health monitoring. Wearable devices, installed with variable resistance bend sensors, enable applications for human posture recognition and motion capture by recovering human joint bend angles. Some wearable sensor systems provide real-time feedback including chemical information such as monitoring potassium or lactic acid levels through their sweat or saliva. For example, without using a needle, a sensor system can gauge someone’s blood glucose level that would help for persons who suffer from diabetes. The next generation of these E-skin sensor systems (i.e. glucose-measuring tattoo) are not ready yet to market, but many scientists are working on these technologies worldwide.

More information about Wearable Medical devices and sensor systems:

Heat and motion-powered wearable electronics for improved health – CES 2015

UC San Diego Researchers Develop Next Generation of Wearable Medical Devices

Monitor Your Health with Electronic skin!

The benefits of both wearable devices and sensor systems are providing significant assistance for daily living, monitoring of persons with disabilities, seniors, infants, or patients, and allowing the early detection of potential life-threatening events. However, some people who would benefit from wearing a medical device or sensors may not willingly wear them. A few of other challenges are how to control the user’s privacy and security while wearing it.

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Self-driving cars (Autonomous cars)

Most people have wished to avoid hectic driving experiences and dream about a self-driving car. Traveling is one of the challenges for persons with disabilities or the elderly. Some of them may have never driven a car. Others may have been forced to give up driving. Autonomous cars (self-driving cars) could help persons with disabilities to expand their transportation options in the future.

Since the first self-sufficient cars appeared in the 1980s, automobile manufactures have been working on prototypes. The main manufactures include Google, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nissan, and Volvo. You might have seen a Google self-driving car on Youtube a few years ago (the YouTube video links are at the bottom of this blog.)

Steve Mahan & a Google self-driving car (2012)

Steve Mahan & a Google self-driving car (2012)

Today Mercedes and Audi have tested speed and long distance driving in both Europe and US. British-based auto-firm Delphi has completed a trip from coast-to-coast (San Francisco to New York – 3500 miles) with its self-driving car this year. Self-driving vehicles may become officially available to public by 2020 (Wikipedia).

Self-Driving Car Completes Drive Across America 99% Autonomously (March 2015)

Autonomous driving cars use a combination of cameras, laser and radar, sensors, maps, GPS, high-end microprocessors, and software to mimic human-like decisions such as parking, driving through congested areas, and traffic. Some designs have touch-sensitive sensors that monitor the driver to keep his hands on the wheel periodically.

Manufacturers still face challenges and need to clear hurdles of their self-driving car designs such as driving in hazardous road conditions (heavy rain and snow), navigating in a congested parking lot, protecting the car’s software from computer glitches and hackers, and distinguishing between police officers or pedestrians. It may be necessary to establish additional traffic regulations and smart-road infrastructure standards, such as systems that can relay traffic and accident data in real time. On the other hand, most of automobile accidents are based on human errors. According to an article appeared on Wall Street Journal (March 2015), a new report by a consulting firm McKinsey & Co states that self-driving vehicles could eliminate 90% of all auto accidents in the U.S.; prevent up to $190 billion in damages and health-costs annually and save thousands of lives.

For persons with disabilities, they may have challenges in accessibility to get in-and-out of a self-driving car, the limited space for a wheelchair, and the identification and location to unfamiliar places. For example, if a self-driving car needs to adjust a regular drop-off location to avoid a new construction site, which may appear overnight, the unexpected changes will create challenges for persons with disabilities (i.e. Blind). I hope that manufacturers will continue their designs with handicapped drivers in mind (i.e. accessibility to the car or a space for a wheelchair user or various prompt options). A paratransit system could implement including self-driving cars as an individual or a shared-ride transportation to provide a door-to-door service for the handicapped (i.e. MetroAccess). Then self-driving cars will make transportation available to more handicapped persons and reduce the waiting time for each rider. In addition, self-driving cars can expand more employment opportunities for disabled and those who live a far distance away.

Here are a few  more videos about self-driving cars from YouTube.

Google Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Mahan (Audio Described) – published May 2012

A First Drive Google self-driving car project – published May 2014

CES 2015 Trying to crash in a self-parking BMW – published January 2015

AUDI RS7 NO DRIVER 149mph – published January 2015

Mercedes Self Driving Future Truck test – published January 2015

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Mounting systems and holders

Mobile devices such as iOS and Android phones and tablets have become a necessity in our daily activities. These portable devices are popular among wheelchair users as well, but some users with limited hand dexterity face challenges to use their mobile devices at home as well as when they travel.

You may be familiar with the mounting systems or accessories from Enablemart, Ablenet and RJ Cooper (Click each company name to find more information about their products). These products help mobile users with limited hand dexterity to access a computer or mobile devices. Their products can cost anywhere from $130 and $380.

If you are looking for a less expensive holder for a cellphone or a tablet, you may be able to use the following options. A product called CellHandle, can help holding a cell phone or can be used as a kick stand.   It uses a rotatable, removable clip with Velcro, which helps a user prevent dropping a phone. The company also offers a product called e-Handle for small tablet and iPad Mini. These products cost about $10 to $20.

CellHandle and E-Handle

CellHandle and E-Handle

Another company, LabWorks offers similar holders. Here is one of the LabWorks products ($35).

LabWorks Tabletholder1

LabWorks Tablet holder

If you are looking for an inexpensive mounting system, you may find this iPad/Smart phone holder interesting. The mounting system or holder’s costs about $70. You can find more information about the cost and warranty at: iPad/Cellphone holder – Wheelchair88.com.


Wheelchair88 iPad / Smartphone holder for Wheelchair

A video 1: how to install a Wheelchair88 holder to a wheelchair.

A video 2: how to attach an iPad to the holder.

The following product is not a mounting system for mobile devices but for umbrellas. You may find the following mounting holder mount useful when you or a wheelchair user would like to go out in a rainy day.

Sinuote umbrella holders for bike, wheelchair, and stroller

Sinuote umbrella holders for bike, wheelchair, and stroller

Sinuote Umbrella Connector Holder for bike, wheelchair, and stroller ($10.25)

These mounting systems and holders help persons with disabilities reduce fatigue while using devices or making technologies accessible to them so that they can expand their daily activities.

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YouTube Kids app

YouTube Kids is a free app from Google.  This YouTube Kids app includes age-appropriate videos, popular children channels, and playlists. A few examples of programming playlists are from Sesame Street, POCOYO, LEGO, Little Baby Bum, EvanTube, Stampylonghead, and more. In addition, the app also features kid-friendly educational content for older children from many resources (i.e. TED-Ed). The settings for parents include options to turn on or off background music, Search options, and a built-in timer to stop playing or limit the length of activities. These settings are helpful so that you do not need to search videos randomly and narrow the purpose the activities. The navigation buttons include Recommended, Shows, Music, Learning, and Explore.

YouTube Navigation buttons

YouTube Navigation buttons

Sesame St / Ted Ed

Examples: Sesame Street / Ted Ed screens

I think this app can be used not only among parents at home, but also teachers to create activities for their students in classrooms. For example, by using children favorite characters and scenes in the app, children can create their own stories as shown in the YouTube video below.

This app is available for both Android and IOS devices.

YouTube kids free app for Android devices.
YouTube Kids from App for IOS devices:


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Verbally (text-based AAC app)

Many app developers have been creating AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) apps and updating the features. Augmentative communication manufacturers such as DynaVox and Tobi ATI offer apps (from free to a couple hundred dollars) vs their hardware AAC devices which can cost thousands of dollars. These expensive devices are designed for individuals with complex communication needs, but inexpensive or free apps are still great for using as basic usage or evaluation as well as getting familiar with augmentative communication equipment. Among some of free apps, For this blog, I picked a text-based AAC app called Verbally, which has been on the market for several years.

Verbally is an app for iPad offered in a free version and an upgrade version is available for $99. It is a text based AAC app (Text to speech) so it is useful for non-verbal individuals who can read and spell, but the app can be useful for teaching how to read or write simple words and sentences. The company website states that Verbally is an invaluable communication aid for people with apraxia, ALS, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, or muscular dystrophy.

When you download this free app, you will see this image with instructions so you can get started right away. This is very nice because you can use it as a quick reference guide by taking a screen capture on your iPad and save it for later use. (Just a note: take a screenshot with your iPad, simply press the Home and Sleep/Wake (Power) buttons at the same time.)

Verbally-Qwerty Keyboard

Verbally-Qwerty Keyboard

From the settings, you can change the keyboard layout to Horizontal:Qwerty(shown above), Left-Handed: ABCD, and Right-Handed:ABCD (shown below). The free version comes with two voice settings (Rosie and Dave), but you can purchase other voices.

Verbally-LeftHanded keyboard

Verbally Left-Handed keyboard

Verbally Right-Handed keyboard

Verbally Right-Handed keyboard

This app offers easy access to the most commonly spoken words and phrases from its tabs. For example, you can select phrases such as “How are you?” or “Nice to see you” from the Phases tab. You can also construct a sentence from the Words tab by pressing each word.  For example, you press; I, need, help, and press the Speak button, then you hear the speech output, “I need help”.

The Verbally app also provides a word prediction feature to help your typing independently.  With the Paid version, you can create and save your favorite phrases and organize your favorites into your own customized categories based on location, audience, and situation.

I found the free Verbally app useful as a simple communication tool if you do not need to customize and save a large set of communication categories or do not need complex communication in various environments. You can find more information at the website, Verbally or download the free app from App store.

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Speech Recognition

Speech recognition (SR) is the translation of spoken words into text vs. Text to speech (TTS) system converts normal language text into speech (Wikipedia).

The speech or voice recognition feature (i.e. Siri or Google Now) has been added to many mobile devices so you may become one of the users of speech recognition on your phone today.

Speech recognition software on a computer lets you dictate documents, search the web, email, and navigate your computer. The feature on a computer is useful for not only accessing and operating a computer or mobile device, but also it is especially helpful for persons who have difficulty in writing. I have seen students who can present their ideas verbally but have difficulty when it is necessary to write their ideas on paper. Surprisingly, some of them can use the speech recognition software for their writing assignments with practice.

One well-known software is Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PC (and Dragon Dictate for Mac) from Nuance. Some of the new features include an improved interactive tutorial, accuracy tuning, support for built-in microphone on computers, and enhanced support for Chrome, Firefox, Gmail, Hotmail, and iCloud.  Some reviews stated the accuracy has improved, and the Read Back feature, which synthetic voice reads selected text aloud from the screen, is useful when you need to review the contents after dictating.  Dragon software can transcribe audio recordings in the WAV, WMA, DSS, DS2 and MP3 formats. Once you get more familiar with Dragon, you can control your computer by spoken mouse-click commands. Unfortunately the Home version does not include all of these features and you will need to spend more to get extra features. Here are the Dragon Naturally Speaking Comparison chart and an additional chart.

Dragon also has several apps for mobile devices such as Dragon Dictation for iOS devices and Dragon Go app for both iOS and Android. Nuance and AneedA’s i.am+ team worked together and included the speech recognition feature in a wearable device called, i.amPULS (aka PULS). It is like having an intelligent personal assistant.  From the moment you engage the PULS, AneedA is listening and on point to deliver, whether taking dictation for messages to send a text, playing the perfect song, posting to Facebook, scheduling appointments, making calls, and more.

i.am.PULS - a wearable device

I.amPULS – an intelligent personal assistant

For those who have a computer, but do not wish to buy software, you may want to use one of the Windows Accessibility features, Speech recognition on your computer. For Mac users, Speech recognition feature is called VoiceOver.

How to use speech recognition in Windows 8.1: link
Common commands in Speech Recognition (Windows): link

VoiceOver (Mac): link
VoiceOver commands list: link

Additional speech recognition software or apps
(Note: verify the operating system first.)

Voice Finger 2.6.2: http://voicefinger.cozendey.com/

Via Talk: http://www.penpowerinc.com/product.asp?sn=698

Dictation Pro http://www.deskshare.com/dictation.aspx

e-speaking http://www.e-speaking.com/

TalkTyper  online https://talktyper.com/

Online dictation using Chrome https://dictation.io/

Realize Voice  http://realize-voice.en.softonic.com/


Voice Texting Pro: link
Speech to Text: link
Dragon Mobile Assistant: link
iPad Voice Dictation: link
Search more apps from this link: link

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Samsung EYECAN+ open source technology

Eyegaze or eye tracking is a computer access method for persons with disabilities who cannot access a computer by a regular mouse and keyboard or touchscreen. Unfortunately it may be difficult for anyone to obtain an eye tracking device because of their high cost. However, a new Samsung EYECAN+ open source technology design is introduced (November 25, 2014-Samsung Tomorrow).  This means that we may see less expensive eye tracking devices available in near future.

The recent Samsung EYECAN + mouse has a more enhanced design compared to the previous design introduced in 2012. EYECAN+ requires the user to be situated between 24 in (60cm) and 27 in (70cm) from the monitor, but it does not require glasses. Instead, it is a unit sits below the monitor and calibrates with the user’s eye and is wireless. It looks that you can sit or lay down to access computer and simulate a mouse click with an eye blink by focusing the eyes on a certain icon and selecting it.

Samsung EYECAN+

Samsung EYECAN+

At this time, Samsung has no plans to commercialize the EYECAN+, but instead, will donate a few devices to some charitable organizations.  Generously, Samsung will make its technology design open source. This means that some hardware manufacturers can produce eye tracking devices with less cost. One article says it may be produced for around $500. This is quite a bit less than eye tracking devices on the market as of today.  For example, the new design of Samsung EYECAN + has a similar design to a device called PC Eye from Tobii that costs approx. $2000 for a Windows 8 system or $4000 for a spinal cord injury solution model.

The Vice President of Community relations at Samsung said, “The EYECAN+ is the result of a voluntary project initiated by Samsung’s engineers, and reflects their passion and commitment to engage more people in our community” (from News 360).

For more information about the new Samsung EYECAN +, go to this link, Samsung Electronics Introduces EYECAN+.

If you want to know more about EYECAN projects in the past, you may be interested in youtube videos: Samsung’s eyeCan + and  Eyewriter: Co-writing a Recipe for Collaboration| SDF 2013 and Eyecan test in 2012. You can also find about Eyewriter project at NotImpossiblelabs.

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Text-to-Speech (Read Aloud) options

Do you or someone you know has difficulty in reading? If so, a text-to-speech feature may be helpful for reading. Text-to-speech options have helped persons who are blind, have low-vision or suffer from Dyslexia.

Scanning/Reading devices such as DaVinci HD/OCR All-in-one desktop or SARA Scanning Reading appliance offers the feature of converting printed text to human-like speech from printed documents. Jaws and Kurzweil 1000 software have been around for many years helping the blind or have low-vision. However, most people cannot purchase such scanning equipment or software because of the cost.

One might ask, “Are there any other inexpensive products?” Guess what. If you are a Windows PC user, you can use one of the accessibility features, Narrator, on your PC or laptop (The text-to-speech feature (VoiceOver) is also available for the Mac/Apple systems, but I will try to provide the information in another blog).

In Narrator, I found the Windows 8 system has a better voice than the previous version of Narrator. If you would like to preview the voice, you can select the voice from the Ease of Access Center/Use the computer without a display, and find the Set up Text to Speech link to preview Voice. On my Windows 8.1 system, I found Female/Male with US and Female Britain voice selections.

A few of keyboard shortcuts are:

On desktop:
Use the Windows Logo key and Enter key to start or stop Narrator. If you cannot start the narrator, you can enable it from the PC settings, Ease of Access, and turn on Narrator or Windows logo key + U will bring up the Ease of Access window (See below).

Ease of Access Windows

Image: Ease of Access Windows

You can access the Narrator default settings by clicking the minimized Narrator icon on the taskbar.

Narrator default settings

Image: Click the minimized narrator on the taskbar will open the default settings pop-up window.

MS Office Word by using Narrator:
Go to the beginning of a document and press Ctrl + Home or if you want to go the top of the window, you can use ALT+CTRL+PAGE UP. You can also use arrow keys to navigate.

To read continuously, press Cap + M keys. To stop temporally, press ctrl key. Disable Narrator, press Windows logo key and Enter. To find out more about accessibility features, click the following links.

About Narrator: Hear text read aloud with Narrator
About Ease of Access: Microsoft Accessibility

Speak quick access button:

If you are only looking for a text-to-speech feature within MS Office application, then adding the Speak button on the Quick Access Tool bar may be helpful. You can use the Speak command to enable text-to-speech on the selected text of your (i.e. MS Office 2010) by a mouse. Click File/Options/Quick Access Tool bar, select All Commands, and look for Speak, add and save. You should see the Speak button within your MS Word at the upper left. You can add the Speak command in other MS Office software such as Excel to read.

Speak button

Image: Add the Speak button in the Quick Access Tool bar.

Narrator worked fine by using shortcut keys as long as you are able to navigate to the section while reading online. However, it is still difficult to navigate on a complex website.  I also found that many PDF files are not readable due to the original format of older PDF files. Using the Speak button may be challenging for the persons who has difficulty in using a mouse.

Window-Eyes (Free offer for Office 2010 or later):

Microsoft is offering customers who have a licensed** version of Office 2010 or later the ability to download Window-Eyes, a screen reader for Windows PCs, free of charge. http://www.windoweyesforoffice.com/

Natural Readers: 

You can read text online or electronic format documents (i.e. word document) on your PC with their free version. However, you have to purchase the retail version for the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature. Click here for more information.

I will post Speech to Text (dictating or writing) options next time.

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