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
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/

Apps

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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FingerReader

The FingerReader is a wearable prototype device that helps in reading printed text aloud. The device was in the news this spring, 2014.  Dr. Pattie Maes and the researchers at the MIT Media laboratory designed the prototype by using 3D-printing technology. Users scan a text line with their finger and receive audio feedback of the printed words. The device also provides feedback such as start and end of line, new line, and other cues.

The FingerReader is not only a good tool for visually impaired persons that need help with accessing printed text, but also it can be an aid for early English readers and the elderly. MIT researchers think it can also be implemented to include language translation features. This would be helpful for travelers visiting different countries. When FingerReader becomes available to public, it will be a good finger-wearable device for these needs.

The FingerReader device reminds me of some other portable reading options. For example, various scanner reading pens, which users trace the text by the pen to get feedback. However, often the accuracy of the feedback relies on the user’s operation of the pen such as properly tracing the word or the text line. Mobile apps for scanning and reading are also available on the market, but the accuracy of feedback relies on positioning of the document, lighting, and holding the device with steady hands. I hope that the FingerReader device will be robust and able to offer ease of use with accurate output, and a pleasant audio text feedback (not so robotic) when it becomes available.


FingerReader (Fox News – July 2014)

 

 

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LEAP Motion hand-tracking controller to VR

LEAP Motion is known for their hand-tracking controller, which allows you to access and interact with your computer (PC or Mac) using your hands and fingers while running the LEAP Motion software. LEAP Motion recently introduced new hardware and software updates, which allow the controller to be used with a virtual reality(VR) headset (i.e. Oculus Rift). The cost of Motion’s controller is $79 USD and the mount is $20.

Gaming can be a great learning tool, but often a person with limited hand mobility has difficulties to access a joystick or buttons on the game controller. It looks like LEAP’s developers are planning to integrate Leap Motion controller into virtual reality experiences. Virtual reality creates an artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer and is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it (Merriam Webster). LEAP Motion technology offers handicapped persons more options to access computers and expand their experience.

A virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift looks big and requires someone’s help to wear for persons with hand-mobility limitations, but it is exciting that they can play a game with their hand-gestures and have virtual reality experience. I hope that developers will create special software for handicapped applications (education and communication).

The video above is showing how the user will interact with the PC screen while using a Leap Motion controller and a VR headset.

Other links: 

Leap Motion Website

Leap Motion V2 Tracking developer Beta – demo

Leap Motion VR

 

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Kenguru Car

Some individuals with disabilities can get around town with their manual wheelchairs, but often they have to rely on public transportation or a local van ride. These wheelchair users can really expand their daily activities by this Kenguru Car by being able to do their own errands. You can drive directly from a wheelchair via the rear-opening tailgate. It has a motorbike style handlebar, and a joystick style may be available in the future. Max. Speed 25 miles per hour and you can travel 30 miles on a single charge. It fits nearly anywhere, as it is 83.6 in long, 63 in wide and 60 in tall. Although it has been around for several years, the Kenguru was originally designed by a Hungarian company and a co-founder, Istvan Kissaroslaki. Later he started working with Stacy Zoern (She is also a wheelchair user), in Texas, USA. They made Kenguru car available in US. I do not know the cost as of today, but it was around $25,000 originally. I am hoping that government will provide funding to the people who can benefit from driving this car.

Video: Kenguru Yellow
This video is showing how to access and drive the Kenguru car.

Video: Interview with Stacy Zoen

More information about Kenguru car: http://www.kenguru.com/

Possible funding for accessible van? http://usodep.blogs.govdelivery.com/2012/11/07/funding-your-accessible-van-with-a-grant/

 

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Braille Fone – OwnFone

Many iPhone users, who are blind, have become accustomed to use voice over or Siri when they make or receive calls. However, these features may be difficult for children, seniors or those who have cognitive challenges. Braille phones are now available from a company called, OwnFone (https://www.myownfone.com), in UK. It costs about £40 to £70 ($70 to $110 in US dollars). Users can use either word or image buttons. The 3D-printed hardware provides raised text or braille. This phone is not a smartphone, but you can store phone numbers in the Cloud for future changes and adaptability. The phone can be useful for simple emergencies for cognitive or visually challenged users. I hope that 3-D printing technology will bring the manufacturing costs down further so that it will become more affordable to anyone that has a need for this type of phone when it becomes available internationally.

Web link: UK Inventor of OwnFone on the world’s first customizable mobile

 

Braille Phone - OwnFone

Braille Phone – OwnFone

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AllAccess app

I often use Siri to locate some restaurants nearby when I visit different locations. However, I was always wondering if there is a better app for VoiceOver users.

The app called All Access offers the information about not only Food & Drink but also different categories such as Health & Services, Auto & Travel, Shopping, Scan codes, and more. So I tried this app using the VoiceOver. It is very easy to navigate. For example, from the Food/Drink button, when you select restaurants’ types (i.e. Asian, American, All Types, etc.) and select your choice of a restaurant, you can access the information from separate buttons such as the restaurant’s Menu, Maps, phone, specials, and hours, all of which can be read aloud. This is helpful for everyone because you sometimes cannot read the Menu easily from their website.

AllAccess

An example of using the Food & Drink selection (AllAccess App)

I also liked the organized design, which means that the app covers your different needs so it provides a quick access to what you need without looking for other apps on your phone. For example, the app came in handy when I needed to find a dentist list or using the scan code app while shopping. I may be using this app more often without bothering Siri on my iPhone. However, if you live in a remote area with limited cell phone or no Wi-Fi coverage, you will experience poor performance.  It is free from Apple App store.  Web link: AllAccess

 

 

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E-bot and E-bot ADV

HIMS (www.hims-inc.com) will start shipping E-bot and E-bot ADV this June 2014.

What is E-bot?  E-bot and E-bot ADV are portable read, write, and various distance video magnifiers with OCR (ADV model exclusive). The E-bot supports iPad or Android tablet, PC or Mac. The device makes use of familiar touch-screen gesture controls on your tablet so you can connect your iPad or Android Tablet via dedicated wireless access point. You can also connect with Mac with USB 3.0 or PC via USB 2.0/3.0. It has automatic light adjustments and voice guides (i.e. adjustable Zoom levels by voice).

I have used a few OCR apps on iPad, but it is not always easy to hold the device steady while capturing an image. So I like the design allowing you to place a document on a desk to stabilize it and wirelessly connect to view or OCR the image.

I can imagine that teachers and students would like the features such as capturing the image on the screen, then listen to it read aloud or seeing what is on blackboards to help their classroom activities.

capturing an image through e-bot and viewing from an iPad

image: capturing an image through e-bot and viewing from an iPad

More information

The product information on the HIMS website: E-bot / E-bot ADV HD

PATINS TV: March 18th, 2014: Episode_38

 

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