Square Panda (a multi-sensory learning system)

Square Panda is a multi-sensory learning system that includes interactive learning games with your tablet (IPad or Android) and a set of 45 tactile smart letters to help children learn to read. Twin brothers who were diagnosed with Dyslexia and struggled with learning while they were young developed Square Panda.

The device comes with 14 levels of phonics instruction and a cloud tracking system so that parents and teachers can measure each child’s individual progress, challenges, and preferences for game types. Square Panda offers phonic-based learning (sound to letter relationship) so it is suitable for Pre-k, kindergarten, special education, and children in an ESL program.

Square Panda

Quick Demo of Square Panda Phonics Multi-Sensory Playset
YouTube video posted by Clarence Dunn
Director of Business Development, Square Panda

Margaret Byrd Rawson, a former President of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) said, “Dyslexic students need a different approach to learning language from that employed in most classrooms. They need to be taught, slowly and thoroughly, the basic elements of their language—the sounds and the letters which represent them—and how to put these together and take them apart. They have to have lots of practice in having their writing hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together for conscious organization and retention of their learning.”

Some children may have difficulties in their vision with tracking or visual processing. Other children may find their auditory processing skills are not strong. However, each child may have a special area of sensory learning strength. The use of more of the child’s senses, especially the use of touch (tactile) and movement (kinetic) may help their leaning.

A learning system like Square Pad, which offers games on iPad (or Android Tablet) combined with the tactile letters’ activities, may help children overcome challenges in phonics and reading.

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Smart cane (Smartcane)

Canes for the blind are one of the necessities and mobility aids for the visually impaired. A blind person can travel with a cane and use the cane to detect obstacles on ground, but a cane cannot detect objects such as tree branches, hanging advertisement signs, parked vehicles (i.e. trucks). Researchers have been recognizing the blind person’s challenges and developing smart cane so that persons with blindness can avoid collisions and protect their safety while traveling independently. For example, a team from Phoenix Medical Systems in Chennai, India, demonstrated their development stories. Here is one of their stories.

SmartCane usage by a college girl (YouTube Assistech IITD) 

During the CES (Consumer Electronics show – January 2017, a French company, Fayet, introduced a smartcane called Dring. The Dring smartcane was the winner of the CES 2017 Innovation Award at this same show. The cane is currently a prototype, but it looks like the smartcane will be available to the public in the next six months.

Dring Smart Cane for the Elderly (YouTube by MobileGeeks.de)

 Dring (smart cane), features include:

*Automatic detection and alert of abnormal situations

*GSM and GPS network: this feature allows users without pairing to an additional device (i.e. GPS on the smartphone)

*Long battery life – weeks of use

In addition to the features above, the connected walking cane can directly connect itself to a GSM network and send alerts. Then caregivers can automatically receive a phone call or a text message and respond back to the user with an acknowledgement of the alert. The smart cane looks like it can detect most unusual situations.  I hope that this smart cane will be available in the near future at an affordable price for the blind.

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iBeacon (Beacon) Technology

The term iBeacon and Beacon are often used interchangeably. iBeacon is the name for Apple’s technology standard, which allows Mobile Apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world and react accordingly. (The information is taken from www.ibeacon.com)

iBeacon is broadcasting a signal to a cellphone.

Near Field Communication (NFC) operates within 20 cm; however, Beacon technology has a far greater range of 50 m. Beacons, which is a low-cost piece of hardware, can be attached to a wall or countertop. Then the Beacon hardware devices broadcast their identities to nearby electronic devices such as a smartphone or tablet. According to Wikipedia, Beacons is a device which has a 1-way transmitter for sending a signal to smartphone or receiving device. Bluetooth beacons uses Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system.  What is iBeacon: Animated Guide

Beacon technology allows publishers, retailers, and branding companies to market their products and connect with consumers, but Beacon technology can be used for helping persons with disabilities. For example, Beacon technology works just like the Global Positioning System (GPS) and can be used as an indoor positioning system to determine someone’s approximate location. A specific app may need to be installed on your smartphone to interact with Beacon devices for a specific location (i.e. ClickAndgo). As the Beacon hardware is implemented more widely in cities, schools, and public transportation systems, it will help all travelers learn their surroundings without needing to ask a stranger for directions and assist persons with disabilities to travel independently.

ClickAndGo iBeacons Wayfinding 

In addition, Beacon technology can be used to monitor the conditions and the safety of persons with disabilities or the elderly. Here are a few examples.

Beacon Technology Demo (by CLO Kansas)

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The Tap

Tap™ is an eyes-free one-handed wearable device allowing you to send data into Bluetooth devices by taping your fingers on ANY surface. Tap works by associating taps with letters as well as allowing users to perform standard VoiceOver gestures on any surface.  This means that you can send text without looking at the screen of your phone or play games by tapping.

YouTube; This is Tap

The following instructions on how to put on the device are taken from their Website.

  • Put on your Tap on your hand. You can tap with your right or left hand. Make sure that the strap is at the top of your finger, near your knuckles.
  • Turn your Tap ON by tapping your thumb on a flat surface three times. Pair the Tap with your phone, tablet or computer.
  • Start Tapping
  • You can now open any application you want to type in (messenger, email, etc..). Each time you tap your fingers, you will type a character on your device. You can tap letters, punctuation, numbers and special characters.How to put on the Tap deviceHow to wear the Tap device

    Note: The best way to get familiar with tapping is to open the TapGenius app and play the game to get up to speed as fast as possible.

It is also noted that you can learn the Tap Alphabet™ in about one hour. The product will be available on the market Q2 2017 from their website. http://www.tapwithus.com.


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BLITAB – a Tactile tablet

BLITAB is the world’s first tactile tablet for blind and visually impaired people (http://blitab.com).  The Austrian innovation team demonstrated the BLITAB at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas on January 5 – 8, 2017.  In addition, the BLITAB was one of the 12 finalists at TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield. 

BLITAB produces small physical bubbles in an area above its touchscreen which provides refresh double lines of refreshable Braille display. In another word, the device creates tactile Braille and graphics in real-time by using small physical bubbles instead of a screen display. The tablet can convert any text file online or upload read large text files (i.e. books) with USB sticks or memory cards. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

BLITAB - Tactile tablet

Even now, most braille readers and braille note taker devices are expensive ($3000 and up). In addition, maintaining the devices’ hardware and software may be challenging. Some note taker devices can pair with tablets, phones or computers. However, users often have difficulties interfacing between their devices and their PCs over the years. This is because their devices may become incompatible with the frequent updates of the operating systems on the PCs. As a result, users may give up operating their old braille readers and note taker devices.

BLITAB tablet with built-in refreshable braille display can operate by itself without paring to a computer and is less expensive than other braille readers or braille note taker devices. They are scheduled to be priced around $500 and are to become available on the market in 6 months.  The company is now offering pre-order online (http://blitab.com/#contact). Soon we may be able to see BLITAB tablets in school or work to help the blind and people who suffer from impaired vision.

BLITAB First Tactile Tablet for Blind People (YouTube)

Additional information: A Tablet for the Blind at CES 2017 (YouTube)


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Encouragement and Success

Today is the last day of 2016 so instead of talking about technology, I would like to express my appreciation to the educators, rehabilitation counselors, practitioners, caregivers, parents, and their family members who are helping individuals with disabilities. I encourage everyone to acknowledge the many supporters who are working together every day for these individuals with special needs.

At the same time, as a word to these supporters, please remember that these individuals may be very thankful for your support, but they may not have the ability to express their appreciation, so please continue to be a part of their team to help their future.

You may be supporting adults or children with disabilities who are visually impaired, hard of hearing or deaf, amputees, suffer from spinal cord injuries, afflicted by multiple sclerosis, head injury, cerebral palsy, autism or other related intellectual disabilities.  I would like you to see the following YouTube video about Dillan to demonstrate how technology is helping to bridge communication gaps and how a person with autism like Dillan can achieve and maintain successful, active lifestyles.

(Dillan’s Path – Taken from YouTube Science & Technology 2016)

Happy New Year!

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Lifetone Fire Alarm Clock

The Lifetone HL™ (HLAC151) Bedside Fire Alarm clock with low-frequency sounder and a bed shaker alarm (optional equipment) offers multisensory alerts (audible, visual, tactile). This alarm clock placed by a bed may help alarming children, seniors, and persons with hearing loss while they are sleeping.

Lifetone Fire Alarm Clock - How it works

Lifetone Fire Alarm Clock

According to a few YouTube postings, it looks like this Bedside Fire Alarm Clock has been available to public for the last 5 years.

Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (with an ASL  interpreter)
YouTube video by rockridenhour (2011)

Most residential building codes require compliant T3 smoke alarms since 1999. According to the manufacture, Lifetone, this bedside fire alarm and clock can detect the T3 pattern from a fire detector alarm and activates a loud, low (520 Hz) multiple frequency alarm for 10 minutes or until it is turned off. In addition to the alarm, the word “FIRE” will appear and flash on the screen. An optional tactile Bed Shaker may be helpful to alert deaf individuals in their beds.

A few helpful maintenance and troubleshooting tips are:  if the optional Lifetone Bed Shaker is used and becomes unplugged, this alarm clock offers a few warning indications. You will see the word “bedS” and a flashing bed shaker icon on the screen and will hear a low-frequency chirp will sound every 5 seconds.  When the batteries are installed or not charged for 24 hours of battery operation, you will see the word “BATT” on the screen and will hear a “chirp” sound. You will feel the bed shaker “twitch” at one minute intervals when a bed shaker is used.

For more information:

Lifetone Fire Safety Company Website: http://lifetonesafety.com/

Additional installation information (video): Lifetone Fire Alarm Clock

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Smart light bulb

Smart light bulb may be a product you should consider not only for making your daily routines easier for turning on and off light switches in the house, but also as an option for persons who have difficulty reaching a standard height light switch. In most cases, home automation systems require a hub or a controller, but some smart bulbs do not even require a main hub or a controller to operate.  By using Smart bulbs with wi-fi and a free app, you can control your lights from anywhere in the world with your Smartphone or tablet. If you do not have wi-fi at home, but your smartphone has Bluetooth, you may be interested in the bulbs that work with Bluetooth like HomeBrite Bluetooth Smart LED Light Bulb  and sell for $14.97. This particular one only works within the Bluetooth though range.

TikTeck LED  (http://www.tikteck.com/products) looks like one of the most affordable smart bulbs on the market. Their $9.99 for white bulb and $11.99 for colors gets you a color-changing bulb you can control with a smartphone or tablet without the need for a hub.  Instead, their free “Tikteck Wifi Control” app offers features to control a single bulb or a group of bulbs to control them remotely. Unfortunately, it looks like it is in high demand so you need to pre-order the smart light bulb.

Tickteck Smart Bulbs

TickTeck Smart bulbs (White, colors, and speaker lights)


TickTeck Smart Light – YouTube posted by  Zachary Anderson

More smart bulbs from different companies can be found here. By clicking each product, you can determine if the bulb you selected needs a hub or not.

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Ease of Access (Narrator in Windows 10)

If you use assistive technologies, you may still have a chance to upgrade your computer to free Windows 10. I am not sure how long this free Windows 10 for assistive technology users will be available, and also it will depend on the minimum system requirements for Windows 10. In addition, you want to be aware that you may require some adjustments after the upgrade. In my case, after installing Windows 10, I needed to make changes on the display driver to get the brightness control working by installing the Microsoft basic adaptor instead of the original driver installed on my laptop.

Here is the link: Windows 10 free upgrade for customers who use assistive technologies.

As far as assistive technology features on Windows 10, those who are familiar with Ease of Access Center in the previous Windows, you may immediately notice a slightly different screen (see the picture below) when you access the Ease of Access by using the shortcut keys (Windows key on your keyboard and U) or from the Windows setting link.

Ease of Access in Windows 10 when you access by shortcut keys (or from Windows settings link) – screenshot


Of course, you can still get to the Ease of Access Center screen that you are already familiar in Windows 7 or 8 through the Control panel (Right click Windows icon on the task bar/Control panel/Ease of Access/Ease of Access Center).

Ease of Access Center Windows 7, 8, and 10 – screenshot

Ease Of Access Center Windows 7, 8 & 10

For this blog, I only focused in the Narrator features in Windows 10.  There are a few ways to open the Narrator in Windows 10.  You can access Narrator from the Ease of Access center, but one of the easiest ways to start, press Windows key (on your keyboard) and Enter. To stop, press Caps key and  Esc.

I think the Narrator in Windows 10 is easier to use and read texts on-screen than the previous Windows 7 or 8. Narrator in Windows 10 offers a better narrator voice and provides faster text to speech speeds. Some other features I liked are: when you start entering a search word in a search box, you may get suggestions based on what you are searching, and with Narrator you will hear a verbal hint with an audio indication when these suggestions are available. Scan feature is also nice for persons with low vision. You can access the Scan mode by pressing Caps and Space keys. For example, you can find each header in the browser with H key to find the next header and shift + H to find the previous header in the browser. Scan mode will turn off by pressing Caps and space key again.

Narrator Keyboarding Updates from MSFT Enable

To find out additional shortcut keys, press Caps + F1 (Note: A laptop user may require to use a function key (Fn) when you press F1)  The partial screenshot of the shortcut keys is below. and more details about Narrator keyboard command and touch gestures can be found at this link shortcut keys info.

Screenshot of shortcut keys

We certainly hope that Microsoft will provide more documentation and video based user references for caregivers and educators to assist persons with special accommodations.


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Smartglasses for the visually impaired

A few years ago when a smart eyeglass product called Google Glass, a wearable computer with a head-mounted display, was introduced, many users liked the features such as taking clear high definition pictures and videos with their free hand, sending messages, getting directions and much more. However, persons who are legally blind or visually impaired have found great difficulty in using these glasses. It is a real challenge for researchers and developers to create a device that can provide an experience of sight for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Microsoft Cognitive Services has been developing Intelligence Application Program Interface (API) which runs on a wearable Pivothead smartglass. The smartglass product is not available to the public yet. One of Microsofts’ engineers is legally blind and working on this project (The video link is below).  The smartglass will analyze and translate the image in front of the person and speak when the user swipes the touch panel on the glass to take a photo. It is exciting when the device translates not only the image to speech but also describes what the person is doing, what they are wearing, their gender, age, and especially what emotions they are expressing at that moment.

Microsoft Cognitive Services: Introducing the Seeing AI project

Another wearable glasses for the visually impaired are OrCam (http://www.orcam.com/). The company will soon launch OrCam MyMe, a wearable personal assistant. The price may be quite expensive for general consumer.

OrCam: See for yourself


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