Socially Assistive Robots

Socially assistive robots have been developed to assist the elderly through social interaction and designed to help with the caregiving of the aging population. Robots could ask questions like a nurse, exchange conversation, and help to improve the mood of individuals. Robotic assistants numbers will likely grow extensively because there will be a shortage of nearly 450,000 caregivers by 2025.

Assist robots range from small sizes, such as Mabu (a 15-inch yellow robot), to human size. Another type looks more like a small, modular lamp than a robot. A typical conversation may include how a person feels. Modern robots can ask questions, both verbal and text on a screen and can expand into other areas, such as examining or screening for anxiety and depression. Then the information can be analyzed by sending data to the user’s health care providers. Additionally, assist robots can enable strong relationships between people and offer social support to help elderly live independent lives. However, many people may develop a Luddite complex with all the advances that are currently being made in the robotics field. The issues of privacy and interaction with robots that report their analyses of the health of their patient may cause their owners to be very apprehensive of using these robots to their fullest potential. .

Berka,CEO/Co-Founder of Advanced Brain Monitoring states “We foresee the potential for the robot intervention to be used alone or in combination with other treatments for dementia.”

Hanson and his team, based in Hong Kong, have created human-like A.I. robots (Sophia) which has more sophisticated intelligence, advanced abilities such as reading faces, communicating with variety face expressions with emotions, and understanding the nuances of language. We may see more sophisticated assistive robots helping people in the future.

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Online Education Tips

Many schools shut down due to the COVID-19 all across the world. Education has changed dramatically and has been forced to teach students remotely on digital platforms.There are many challenges in delivering education remotely. Without a computer equipment, technology, and reliable Internet access availability, a student cannot participate in digital learning. The gap is large between the income brackets. Students with disadvantaged backgrounds and students with disabilities are struggling to access the education and keep up with their school work in today’s virtual learning environment.

However, some students who can access to the education through online have found it effective because they can access more learning materials and faster. Another advantage is they can learn at their own pace and review materials repeatedly to understand the concepts.

If you are planning to design learning materials, some advice from educators are:

  1. One important teaching principle is to focus on the topic and concepts, not on technology products that can actually distract from the core curriculum.
  2. Try to make the course asynchronous (time independent) so that the student can learn as his/her pace vs having to keep pace with other students. This can be a big benefit of online programs.

    One of the most important tasks is to design and make courses inclusive of all students (Universal Design in Education).

20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course


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Talking Calculator

You may find calculators be very useful when you need to work on basic or repetitive mathematical calculations. However, it may be difficult for persons with low vision or learning disability to use calculators independently.
If you are looking for a calculator with additional arithmetic features for persons with low vision and learning disability, this Double Check Talking Financial calculator can be helpful.

Double check Talking Financial Calculator

The features include: calculate percentages, extract square roots, raise a number to a given power or identify the reciprocal calculations. It also offers conversion features and use different preset factors in calculating volumes, length, weight, temperature or currencies.

The Double Check financial calculator has a reminder feature and alarms. It has big and clearly arranged keys with 10-digit-display and clear and natural speech output. The results can be announced by either be as a total number or digit by digit. Earphone jack is available so that you can use a headset. The price ($99) is expensive compared to a basic talking calculator, but it is far less than other advanced calculators.

If you have a student with low vision in classroom and need to have a calculator with scientific, statistical, and trigonometric functions, Low Vision Talking Scientific Calculator and TI Orion TI-34 may be helpful, but these advanced scientific talking calculators cost $459 – $650.

Low Vision Talking Scientific Calculator

If you do not need special features and only need a talking calculator on basic calculations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, you can find these basic calculators around $10 – $20.

Some of the basic calculators are:

Basic Talking Calculators

LS&S Talking Calculator, Reizen 12-Digit Jumbo Talking Calculator, Desk-Top Talking Calculator

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Exoskeleton – wearable mobile machines

According to the data from Brain Injury Association of America, every 9 seconds, someone in the US endures a brain injury and one of every 60 people in the U.S. lives with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) -related disability. Additionally, factory workers suffer injuries caused by slip and falls, use of repetitive heavy machinery, falling objects, etc.

Powered exoskeleton may be an option to help patients stand and walk during rehabilitation. Powered exoskeleton also prevent injury from heavy lifting or repetitive use of machinery because it supports human body (i.e. shoulders, legs, hips), reduce errors from fatigue, and assists movement when workers need to lift and hold heavy items.

Exoskeleton (also known as power armor, powered armor, powered suit, etc.) is a wearable mobile machine that is powered by a system of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, hydraulics, or a combination of technologies that allow for limb movement with increased strength and endurance (from Wikipedia).

Most of the challenges in designs are in the areas of weight, power supply, cost, joint actuators, power control, human size variations, and Joint flexibility. Poor design of Mobility aids leads to frequently abandoned or discarded systems due to lack of usability and safety concerns. However, we hope that continue growth and application of engineering development will lead to better designs and affordability.

These exoskeletons can help prevent worker injury
(YouTube from the Verge Dec 5, 2017)

Robotic Exoskeleton Helps Paralyzed Man Race Marathons
(YouTube Premiered Aug 7, 2019):

Additional information exoskeleton:

Rewalk Robotics:

Posted in Assistive Technology, Mobility, Sensors, Transportation for wheelchair users, Wearable Computing, Wearable devices | Leave a comment

Challenges in remote education

School districts have need to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. However, during this Covid-19 pandemic, educators face great challenges to deliver education to their now remote students including those with disabilities.

Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology will struggle to participate in this new digital learning environment. Often Blind students’ learning materials from the digital learning environment are not compatible with screen readers. As a result, these students will have difficulty to navigate course materials or identify images. Most likely there is no feature options to transcribe them to Braille.

Students who have a learning disability (i.e. dyslexic or autism spectrum) require features such as text to speech, voice recognition, or additional writing tools when they participate in the online learning environment.

Students who are deaf have challenges to participate in online discussions or listen to the recorded materials if any supplemental materials or options are not provided.
Students with physical disabilities often face computer access challenges. These individuals most likely have limited hand mobility and require a special keyboard and mouse.

Here are some of the resources which you may find helpful (Please note that some information or interactive sites may not be accessible to all).

Accessible Education Resources

Special education and accessibility resources for remote learning

8 must-have interactive learning sites for the digital classroom

eLearning Resources

Home Learning Resources

Mental Health

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Narrator (Ease of Access feature – Windows)

Text-to-speech technology can help people with vision impairment and learning disabilities. Third-party applications include advanced features such as converting speech into MP3 files or converting text into Braille (Jaws), but if you are not looking for the advanced features, the built-in Narrator feature on Windows computers can read aloud the text and elements on your screen.

For example, converting text into audible words using Narrator can help persons with learning disabilities comprehend words on a computer screen better. Narrator can help them read a paragraph, document or articles in a web browser window. Narrator can also read pop-up windows that contain messages.

How to start Narrator in Windows 10.

Option 1:
Press Windows logo key + Ctrl + Enter together to start Narrator.
Press these keys again to stop Narrator. If you would like to change the voice of narrator, you can change it from Add more voices.
After you start Narrator, you will see the following pop-up Window.

The pop-up windows read as below.

Heads up Narrator keyboard changes.
We’ve updated the Narrator keyboard layout so it more closely matches the experience you may have had with other screen readers.
If you want Narrator to tell you what commands are associated with the keys you’re pressing, you can turn on input learning by pressing Caps lock + 1. To turn it off, press Caps lock + 1 twice. To learn more, press Ctrl + Windows logo key + N to open your Narrator settings and access the online user guide.

If you do not want to see this pop-up window next time, you can stop this pop-up windows by clicking the check box, “Don’t show again.”

Option 2:
Press Windows logo key + Ctrl + N to open Narrator settings, and then turn on the toggle under Use Narrator.

Narrator Turn on/off and start-up options

If you would like to turn on Narrator to start before or after sign-in, check the selection boxes, “Start Narrator after sign-in for me” and/or “Start Narrator before sign-in for everyone”.

Settings: you can change the narrator settings such as a narrator voice, voice speed, pitch, volumes, etc.

Quick References:

A Web page, document or file:
Move your cursor to the section of text you want Narrator to start reading
Press Caps Lock + R keys will start reading. Press Ctrl key to stop.

Narrator + Ctrl + Plus sign (+) or Narrator + Ctrl + Add (numeric keypad) to increase volume
Narrator + Ctrl + Minus sign (-) or Narrator + Ctrl + Subtract (numeric keypad) to decrease volume

Complete Guide to Narrator:

Get started with Narrator screen reader in Windows 10 | Microsoft
(YouTube by Microsoft May 22, 2018)

If you use a Windows 8 or 8.1 system, you may find the following resources to be helpful.

Narrator on Windows 8:

Posted in Accessibility Features, Assistive Technology, Blind, Technology in Education, Windows | Leave a comment

Virtual Assistant – Cortana

You may be familiar with using Siri and Google Assistant as your virtual assistant apps. Cortana is Microsoft’s own virtual assistant app. It is similar to Apple’s assistant Siri. In Windows 10, you can use Cortana with voice commands to do many things such as open files, programs, search files, call people, send SMS and email, take notes, etc. You can use Cortana on Android devices and Windows 10 computers. If you have a Windows 10 computer and would like to try it, you can enable Cortana with the following steps.

How to enable Cortana by voice on Windows 10
Right Click Windows logo, select Search on your taskbar, or use the keyboard shortcut Windows + S. Type Cortana in the search box.

Click ‘Cortana Permissions’ setting. Click ‘Talk to Cortana’.
Turn the ‘Hey Cortana’ toggle on to select the voice command option. Turn the Keyboard shortcut toggle on.

Select Talk to Cortana and Turn on voice command option, “Hey Cortana”

Cortana can display information based on your interests such as news, sports, shopping etc. After enabling Cortana and checking your microphone’s volume, try the following example.


Press Windows logo + C or say “Hey Cortana” and say, “Weather in New York”. Then the Cortana displays the weather in New York.

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Cortana dictates what you said, “weather in New York” and displays the weather in New York.

You can enable Cortana in the MS Edge browser by enabling Cortana from Advanced settings. However, if you use Chrome/Firefox, it looks like you will need to tweak the setting to use it (here is the additional information:

For Android phone, go to Play store and Search “Cortana”.

Cortana apps for Android

If you have a MS Account and would like to expand the capabilities of Cortana, the following websites provide you with additional information.

Microsoft Build: Cortana + Alexa Demo (Youtube 2018 posted by Microsoft)

Microsoft build: Cortana + Alexa demo by Microsoft, 2018

Of course, not only Cortana, any other virtual assistant apps may bring up privacy issues concerning what information can go to the third party companies that control virtual assistants and how this data may be used. As far as Cortana, you can disable Cortana or clear the search history. You may also check more information about the “Permissions and History” tab because Cortana can access a lot of information about you and your device. If you need more privacy settings information in Cortana, you may go to:

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Speech Recognition (Ease of Access)

Do you know that you can use the Speech Recognition feature in Windows by using your voice for dictation on your computer without buying any special speech recognition software? Admittedly, you may find the accuracy of voice recognition varies depending on your microphone, environment (i.e. noise), and local dialects (or accents) that you may speak.

It is always best to check your microphone setting on your computer before you start using the Speech Recognition feature. Most new computers come with a built-in microphone, but you may need to use an external microphone if your computer lacks a built-in microphone.

Microphone settings and troubleshooting

Windows 10:

You can follow the Microsoft support page to set up your microphone and Speech Recognition.

Or manually set up as follows.

Check to make sure your audio devices aren’t muted or input and output devices are correctly selected. Right-click the Speakers icon on the taskbar, and then select ‘Open Sound settings’.

Speaker icon
Sound settings

Then you should be able to verify that you have the correct Input and Output devices selected.

Sound Output/Input device example

If you still have additional Sound problems, go to the Microsoft support page below.

The following instructions describe how to start speech Recognition on Windows 10 and Windows 8 system. If you do not know which operating system you have on your computer, right click Windows symbol on the taskbar (normally at the left corner bottom on the Windows desktop) , select Search, type ‘System’, and you will find the operating system (OS) information in the pop-up Window of your computer. You can also find the information in the File Explore, Right click ‘This PC’ and click Properties. Then you will find the operating system under the Windows edition. Follow the instruction below depending on your OS.

Windows 10 OS:
You can enable Speech Recognition feature in two ways. You can use Keyboard shortcuts or go to the Speech section from Settings > Ease of Access > Speech.

By using Keyboard Shortcuts:

Within a word processor or notebook program (i.e. Microsoft Word), type
Windows logo key & H

If you see a pop-up window shown below (a microphone icon and Listening),you can start dictation.

Microphone icon (when it is ready to dictation)

Or Turn on Speech Recognition by Windows logo key + Ctrl + S

Speech Recognition – on

You can stop or start your dictation by saying ‘Stop listening’ or ‘Start listening’ as long as the speech recognition is running.

You can also turn on Speech Recognition by going to the Ease of Access. To access Speech Recognition, Windows logo key + U, go to Speech under Ease of Access, and click turn on the Speech Recognition.

Turn on/off Speech Recognition
or press Windows logo key + Ctrl + S
Talk Instead of Talk and Cortana(digital assistant) settings
Online speech recognition setting

Windows 10 has additional speech recognition features, you can talk to Cortana and other apps that use Microsoft’s cloud-based speech recognition. Additionally if you turn off online speech recognition, you won’t be able to speak to Cortana or use dictation. We will cover Cortana feature in a different blog next time.

Windows 8
Check to make sure your audio devices aren’t muted or Recording device is correctly selected for dictation. Right-click the Speakers icon on the taskbar, and then select ‘Recording devices’.

Speaker icon
Recording devices
Sound and Microphone settings

Verify the default Microphone is working and click Configure, it will bring up Speech Recognition options in the Ease of Access. Note: you can also get to this screen from Control Panel > Ease of Access > Speech Recognition > Start speech recognition.

Ease of Access / Configure Speech Recognition experience window

Configure Speech Recognition experience

From this screen, you can set up microphone, start speech recognition, speech tutorial, train your computer, and open Speech Reference card.   Open Speech Reference card will show additional help information and videos on how to use Speech Recognition.

Speech Recognition commands:

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Windows On-Screen keyboard

MS Windows 8 and 10 have several ways to use the On-Screen keyboard feature. The following is one method to start the On-Screen keyboard. Using shortcut keys: Windows logo key + Ctrl + O to start the On-Screen keyboard (press all these keys at the same time).

Windows log key, Ctrl key, and O

Then you will see a virtual keyboard on your screen. If you have a touchscreen laptop, you can now use your finger. Or use a mouse, headmouse or eyemouse for typing with this Virtual Keyboard.

On-Screen Keyboard

Once you enable the On-Screen keyboard you can activate the Options key, and select which options you want to use.

Options (On-Screen keyboard)

Options are:

  1. Use click sound – You will hear a sound when you press a key.
  2. Show keys to make it easier to move around the screen- You will see the key to light up when you click or hover over on the key.
  3. Turn on numeric keypad – show a numeric keypad
  4. Click on keys – click or tap the On-Screen keys to enter text.
  5. Hover over keys– By using a mouse or joystick to point to a key, the characters you select will be entered automatically when you point or hover over to the selected keys.
    Note: make sure to check if the setting of “show animations on Windows” is on when the Hover over keys option does no work.
  6. Scan through keys – Select a key from the option, initiate scan mode, and it will highlight areas by using the shortcut key. Using a switch input device, or using a device that simulates a mouse click, you enter the character.
  7. Use Text Prediction -This option will suggest words as you type so you can select the word without typing the complete word.
Turn on “Show animations on” to make the Hover over option work

Another way to start the On-screen keyboard:
Press Windows key + I and go to the Ease of Access, under the Keyboard section, turn on the On-Screen keyboard.

Another method:Turn on the On-Screen Keyboard from Ease of Access, Windows Settings

Other ways to start On-Screen keyboard:

Other types of On-screen keyboards:

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Windows Magnification features

Online education has many advantages for students with disabilities by allowing these students access to digital format materials remotely and attending classes at a flexible time. While printed textbooks are still popular, the world of education is becoming more digital every day. When you visit your local library, you will find fewer printed books on the shelves but see more computers so that people can access a larger distribution of digital eBooks or internet information. Additionally most libraries make digital materials available to check out from home.

However, persons with disabilities and elderly face challenges in using computers. So this year I will focus on finding options on how people with disabilities and elderly can use the computer and mobile devices easier.

Today, I will discuss magnification option (one of the Ease of Access features) on Microsoft Windows system (Commercial magnification software is excluded in this blog). There are a few ways to increase magnifications and many instructions are available for Windows, but the following steps can be used as a quick reference on both Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 computers. You may need someone’s help initially. If you still have a Windows XP computer, please let me know and I will find the information.

Magnify, fonts, and File Explore.
Windows 10 (Home):
Once you log on your Windows 10 computer,
Press Windows logo key and U.
This will bring up the Ease of Access Windows settings.
Under Display, Make text bigger, drag the slider until the sample text is easy to read.
To make everything bigger, change the magnification percentage.

Make everything bigger

Windows 8.1 (Pro):
On the desktop, Right click. Then you will see the pop-up shown below.
Right click, Screen resolution.

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Screen resolution

Click ‘Make text and other items larger or smaller’.

Make text and other items larger or smaller

This will bring up ‘Display’ option where you can change the magnification level.

Magnification level (percent)

If you want to change only the fonts (Text) size, use the ‘Change only the text size’ option. As you see, the menu in the MS Word is enlarged.

Change only text size

Additionally, Microsoft Windows offers a ‘Magnifier’ .

Using Magnifier
Windows 10 (Home):
Windows key and U brings the Setting of Ease of Access.
Click Magnifier.
By clicking ‘Turn on Magnifier’ on, the pop-up magnifier.

Then you can use a few keystroke combinations to control the magnification level.

Windows logo key and + (plus key) to enlarge (Zoom in).
Windows logo key and – (minus key) to reduce the magnification (Zoom out).
Press and hold Ctrl and Alt key and rotate the wheel on your computer mouse to zoom in and out.
You can change the increments so that you can control magnifying gradually or you can set once you find out your prefer magnification level.

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Change Zoom increments
Start Magnifier automatically after sign-in

You can use Magnifier in three different views: full screen, lens, or docked.

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different Magnification options

Windows 8.1 *(Pro)
Press Windows logo key and U, and follow the instructions in the Windows 10.

Start Magnifier

Google Chrome
When you are using Google Chrome browser, you can use the following combinations to adjust the magnification.

Ctrl and + (plus key) to magnify (Zoom in)
Ctrl and – (minus key) to Zoom out
Ctrl 0 (zero) to reset go back to 100%

Note: If you use Ctrl key and +, it only magnify within Chrome, but Windows key and + will magnify everything on the desktop.

Use a TV screen as a monitor
Another option is to use a large screen TV to be used as a computer monitor by using your computer’s HDMI or Displayport. All laptops should be able to hook up an additional monitor, but if you are using a desktop computer, you may need install an additional video card for driving a second monitor.

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