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JEFF GARDNER: Hello, my name is Jeff Gardner and I’m the CEO of Irie-AT, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Welcome to episode number 327 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on September 1, 2017.
Today I spent some time with Jeff Gardner, the CEO of Irie-AT, to talk about what’s happening with the Guide Reader Tablet. Also I spent some time on my own prognosticating about what the iPhone 8 announcement that’s coming up here very shortly might mean for users of assistive technology.
We hope you’ll check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com, sent us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line at 317-721-7124.
Rumor alert: we love to follow Apple products here and it is rumored that on September 12, 2017, Apple will announce the iPhone eight that will have a lot of different features. Again, this comes from MacRumors.com, so it is inherently rumor based. But when we get this close to a release date, usually people are pretty good about predicting the things that are going to happen. I wanted to spend a minute talking about what that might mean for the world of assistive technology and accessibility. In general, people are expecting some big changes with the display in the iPhone, a faster processor, a glass of body, ad edge to edge display – meaning a rounded edge on the side of the phone – perhaps facial recognition to replace Touch ID, no physical home button, wireless charging, and then a couple of models of phones – three actually – one which would be OLED and two models that would be standard LED, so different kinds of displays.
When I look at this, I think of a couple of things related to accessibility. The first is the possibility of facial recognition. In the past you’ve either touched and the display to put in your code to unlock it, or you use the fingerprint recognition. I think moving to facial recognition might be a good thing for folks with disabilities, especially if you mount your iPhone to your wheelchair or if you have physical trouble getting your hands on the button for the fingerprint recognition. The facial recognition technology could be great.
They are also talking about a display that should consume less power. That to me hopes for – at least when I hear that I hope for more battery life. That’s always great if you can run the thing longer without charging it. In terms of charging, they are talking about induction-based wireless charging. That would mean setting your phone on a pad or something to charge instead of plugging it up. This is one less physical time you have to pick up the phone and connect something to it. That could be a great thing for accessibility as well.
One other thing that seems to be – I don’t know, mushy, in terms of my understanding, is they are talking about a front facing camera that has 3-D sensing capabilities that might allow it to find the location and depth of objects in front of it. While that is not specific for accessibility right now, when I think about some of the services that do object recognition for people who are blind or visually impaired, that could be pretty cool if there is enhanced features.
One of the negative things as they are saying the iPhone is expected to cost as much as $1000 which is more expensive than previous models. That’s never a good thing for accessibility, but then again I have found a value when I buy Apple products. Usually a bigger price tag means more features come more reliability.
That is a rumor-filled segment about what we might expect from the iPhone which should be announced on September 12 and my spin on the accessibility aspects of that. I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to Mac rumors. You can make your own decision about what you think might happen with the announcement.
I love books. I love to read. I love e-books. I’m somebody who is a sighted myself, but in the last few years I really love the fact that I cannot pack my suitcase full of books. I take my E reader and have all my books right there in a very convenient way. I also have a lot of friends who like to read as well but might be struggling with a vision challenges or blindness. Today we are going to spend a little time with Jeff Gardner who is the CEO at Irie-AT talking about a number of things, but really focusing on a product called guide reader tablet that addresses some of these issues.
Before I ramble on too much, Jeff, welcome to the show.
JEFF GARDNER: Thank you for having me.
WADE WINGLER: We are going to jump into some details about the readers and the guide reader tablet product today, but before we do that, I would like for my audience to get a chance to get to know you more. Can you fill us in on your background and what your path has looked like getting to the point where you’re the CEO of this organization?
JEFF GARDNER: Like I was talking to you about before, it’s not hard to get me to talk. I got involved in the AT industry because my father is blind and also is a professor emeritus. At the time I got involved, he was just leaving the University in working on some experiments and things to create technology for blind people to better access science and math – mostly science and math. I got involved about 2000 and worked with ViewPlus for a number of years. In 2011, I started Irie-AT to distribute both blindness and low vision products throughout the US.
WADE WINGLER: That’s a good background. I can’t tell you how often I hear about people who have a personal or family connection that sort of like the spark of AT interest and that grows into a passion and career path. Tell me a little bit about the name of your company. What does Irie-AT mean?
JEFF GARDNER: We are silly people.
WADE WINGLER: I love that.
JEFF GARDNER: It was a group of us that started the company together. It was really important to us that we not only have a happy environment that we create for customers but for ourselves as well. To start with a happy team and life ourselves, I feel we can deliver a more happy product and service to the rest of the world. We named our company Irie, which in Rastafarian means “happy”, or the literal meaning means ” to be at peace with your current state of being.” That’s the way we like to resonate. We like to be friendly people. If you want to talk to us about something, we will answer the phone, provide a high level of service and try to exude happiness to the rest of the world.
WADE WINGLER: I love and respect that. I’m not sure I’ve ever talked about this on my show before. My family motto – and we even have it on a print in our living room – is Baseline Joy. We believe we start our day with joy and try to go from there. I get it. I love that. That’s great.
JEFF GARDNER: It tends to be happy people exude happiness. Unhappy people don’t. We try to start with ourselves being happy.
WADE WINGLER: We can use more happiness in our world.
JEFF GARDNER: It never hurts.
WADE WINGLER: I know Irie-AT carries a number of products. Can you give me a quick overview of the kinds of products and some examples?
JEFF GARDNER: We are a different organization. When we started the organization, we identify that there were a number of vendors outside the US who had great products, and in most cases the best products, but just didn’t have a delivery mechanism within the US. They didn’t have proper service, they didn’t have anybody to tell people about the products, to show the products. That’s why we started the company, was to bring some of the best products mostly from Europe into this market to where people could buy things and not have to worry about service in another country or even just do not know about the products. We are a weird thing where we are almost a manufacturer, because really what we do is represent manufacturers mostly from outside the US, and we work with the same distribution people that the manufacturers do. We just provide this in between service to try to get products here less expensive and with better service than would otherwise be available.
WADE WINGLER: That’s excellent. Obviously service is a big part of our industry. What are some of the examples of products you represent?
JEFF GARDNER: For braille, we focused most on index of braille for braille printing and tactile graphics. We do a lot of that with a program called Tactile View. At this point we are probably the main people in the US working on braille tactile graphics and access to STEM subjects through that. We also will soon be releasing NeoBraille from Neo Access, a new android braille note taker. Those are our focus is for braille. In low vision, we represent Rehan, another European company. They have wonderful magnifiers, both big and small. We also work with Vision Aid International in the UK. Obviously we work very closely with Dolphin. We are their main dish reader and service center in the US, working with products like Supernova and this new one we will talk about today, guided reader.
Those are our main focus is. We try to provide a full package of products for braille and low vision and any print reading difficulty you could have. We try to cover all those bases and provide people other options than they would get from just the US vendors and things that are typically otherwise available in the US.
WADE WINGLER: Today we are going to dive into guided reader and the tablet. I was fascinated when I was doing some of the preinterview research. I watched a video of some very happy smiling people who seem to be reading a book in the way they happened in the past or in a long time. Let’s talk about this a little bit. What is the guide reader tablet and what does it do?
JEFF GARDNER: It comes in two hardware forms. There is a pod form which is basically the shape of a TV streaming box. There is also a tablet version. One would not have a screen, so if you don’t want to pay for a screen, you have a cheaper option to read your books. Mostly people are using that to hook to a television and they get their audio and video through the television. It also could be working with plugged in speakers or even Bluetooth headphones or speakers. You have a lot of options of both with the pod version as well as the full tablet version that comes on a 10 inch Windows tablet.
The concept behind guided reader is to make reading available to everybody as easily as possible. It literally has features for all of levels of visual impairment to utilize the device. Both the pod and tablet versions come with a tactile remote control that’s just like a TV remote, so it’s really easy for people that might be low-tech to use. It also gives you tactile controls for people who don’t want to use a touchscreen display or otherwise need tactile access. Everything can be voiced or not voiced. Too much verbosity can be turned off, but otherwise it will announce everything to you and provide a high contrast display for the settings and everything you want to do on the device.
It tries to provide an interface so everybody is comfortable reading it whether you want to use large print with audio, just audio, however you want to access it. In terms of what you are accessing, you have immediate access to all of your providers of electronic book materials. We can plug in a USB or SD card and bring in other materials. Obviously we want to have a connection to the National Library Service, Book Share, EPUB, Project Gutenberg, and all the ones in FB News line. You can just type in your credentials and immediately download books to the device and immediately start reading them in any format that suits you for your reading preferences.
WADE WINGLER: It sounds like there is a robust amount of content available. I want to dig into that a little bit. I’d like to do that by way of example. I have a grandmother who is 86 and has macular degeneration, so she has some pretty significant vision loss. She also happen to have some dementia. But she loves to read all kinds of current events, society news, and also a lot of faith-based publications as well. If I were going to sit with my grandmother and try to figure out what kind of device, either the pod or tablet might be helpful, and what kind of content I will lure her and so I get her interested in reading again. What kind of content what I talked to her about and how would I go about the process of figuring out how to help her in this way?
JEFF GARDNER: You’re touching on a number of things. Anytime you’re talking about an elderly person – I’m starting to include myself in that group – they are just not as open to new technology as other people are. You might have a little bit of a gap between how do I get this person from a printed material to a different way to access the material. That’s one of the things that is neat about the guide reader. Since it is not purely an e-book audio reader, it also provides a visual interface, a lot of that trepidation, a lot of that difficulty from getting the person to reading print to using their ears more and save their eyes, it makes that transition easier.
In terms of accessing the content, there is always that bit when you’re dealing with people that may be adverse to technology to say you have to do this and get online or whatever. It’s not too difficult to hook up to the web service and then you can go directly – it says “go get your books.” You press “go get your books,” and your service providers are listed. If you have credentials for them, you press that button and type them in and go. To get the credentials – we talked to people about this all the time – as the National Library Service, it is really easy to sign up. There are forms available online. I believe most local libraries have them. You fill out a form, and a caretaker, librarian, doctor, somebody who would be in a position to verify this is a visual condition or the visual acuity is below the level that is required, and they need to sign off on it, and you get your credentials and off you go. The National Library Service makes it easy. You can literally go down to the library and talk to the library and demonstrate your visual acuity is below the legal limit, and I sign off and you get your credentials.
It might take a little bit of handholding with grandma just to say, let’s not strain here against this 12 point font. Let’s read something you can enlarge easily. You can easily enlarge the text on guide reader to any text you need. That way they don’t feel like you’re going to force them to use their ears to read. It is a different experience. Being someone who reads print as well as audiobooks, I imagine things differently. There is a different way. It feels different to read through audio or video then visual prints.
I think the device has things in place to make that transition easy.
WADE WINGLER: I get that. I’m somebody who read a lot of audiobooks myself and have had an argument with my wife about it’s not really reading if you’re reading in the car while you’re driving somewhere. I’m like, it is. It’s a different experience but it is still reading. Not all content do I choose to read that way, but a lot of content I think lends itself more to audio format.
My grandmother would also say – and we are going to get to the cost of the device later – she would ask, “How much of these books going to cost me if I go to through the services?” We’ve had other shows where we dive deeply into the reading services. What kinds of monthly cost are associated with these? I know some are free, right?
JEFF GARDNER: It depends on how much you pay in taxes. That’s how we pay for it. One of the great things we do in this country is provide print materials to people who can’t access it in standard form. There are services you can pay for. We are going to make a connection – or I believe they will be a connection soon to Audible and other services you pay for. But in general what we are trying to do is provide access to free material that is out there since there are heaps of it available through NLS and NFB and so many services available for free. In assistive technology, you can’t ever create a device that will go mainstream and make it so we can sell it for $100. The device has to cost something to deliver it. But want to get it, you have free books for life.
WADE WINGLER: A couple of questions about some of the accessibility pieces of it. Using my grandmother as the example, her vision is going to change over time. We fit on this a little bit. What would I say to her when she says, “My vision changed last year.” What happens if that happens again? How can I reassure her that she would still be able to read?
JEFF GARDNER: That’s the perfect thing about the variety of interfaces and ways you can use the device. Let’s say I’m using the tablet and I’m comfortable with the touch interface. I pinch and zoom to text and make it bigger and smaller executive how I want it. You can also go into the settings and do that more manually. The idea being that you can start with something that is a be smaller text and keep getting bigger and bigger. If you ever get to the point where it is ridiculously big and you don’t want to try to read that or you can’t read that anymore, you can use the audio to continue reading.
WADE WINGLER: My grandmother wouldn’t ask you this, but what about my friends who have asked about braille support? Is that available or will it be?
JEFF GARDNER: I’m tripping over that. There is a Bluetooth interface to these things and they are running on Windows. The company, Dolphin, is extremely familiar with supporting braille interfaces. I don’t actually know the answer to that. I know that hasn’t been a highlight feature, but I tell you that often is extremely accommodating. If it gets to be that people need output and were not able to provide that, I would think that that is something that often would want to provide and really already owns the other software they make. They should be able to plug that in.
WADE WINGLER: On the tablet version of guide reader, do you get access to the tablet features? Does it do more than books or is it primarily detonated add a book reader?
JEFF GARDNER: Both of them are running on Windows 10. You can physically fight your way into Windows 10. The whole idea is if people are afraid of technology or they just don’t want to deal with it, you always maintain a nice comfortable accessible environment. You are really closed into what we are providing through the device. In terms of what the guide reader itself will provide, it will read books. That’s basically the extent of it. Now, the technology itself will be extended soon. How exactly that looks, we are guessing it will come in the form of a software package that can be installed on someone’s existing device and will also have hardware packages available. But there will be something coming from dolphin where we have the same type of audio-video high contrast interface, but essentially adding apps within this environment that can do the scan and read. People want to scan and read their mail, for instance. All of the standard features, you want to access the Internet but through an accessible browser, your email, doing pictures, all of the common things people want to do on a computer will be packaging up into this nice accessible audio-video environment and made available in the same way. I can’t say guide reader itself will necessarily become something more, but this type of environment will grow to another essentially full-use computer product that is accessible and we are expecting that within a year.
WADE WINGLER: That’s one of the beauties of the hardware platforms that we have available to us today. The sky is the limit in terms of the functionality that you can include in those. Then it is balancing how complex or how many features you want to put against ease of use. I get that.
JEFF GARDNER: Dolphin has quite a bit of experience with a product called Guide. That is kind of the same concept, you will have a wrapper that goes around Windows and make it easy, talk to you can’t make everything large text. It’s based on that idea of all the main services that you would want on a computer but delivered in a way that is easy to use and accessible.
WADE WINGLER: We are getting close on time towards the end of the interview, but I have a couple of more questions I want to get in. One of the practical questions is the cost and availability question. How much? How do I get it? Those kinds of questions. Talk to me about that.
JEFF GARDNER: We have officially released, but honestly we had a couple of hiccups which should be solved this week. We should be back to rolling I expect on Monday. We will announce the release within a week or two to customers and will release both the pod and tablet version. The tablet will be $699, and the part of version will be $599.
WADE WINGLER: We are recording August 17, so very likely by the time this show releases those issues will be done.
JEFF GARDNER: Sorry, I knew that. It’s already out!
WADE WINGLER: The miracle of time travel because we record and then release.
JEFF GARDNER: In terms of availability, our website is www.Irie-AT.com. You can get information about it. You can buy it from that website, but we encourage you also – these kinds of things are always best with local support. We work with 60 dealers across the US. We have somebody in your neck of the woods who sells this and you can get from a neighbor if you want.
WADE WINGLER: In the minute or so we have left, tell me a story about somebody’s life who has been impacted by this kind of technology.
JEFF GARDNER: I wasn’t ready for that one. There are so many stories. I wish I had one about the guide reader in particular. We do maintain a store where people come in and we can get that retail experience with people. It’s in Oregon so it’s not a big store. I see people come in all the time at the point that they have given up reading. It’s not a particular story but it happens all the time which makes it worse for me. It’s exciting for me to have a device that is coming out that is easy and attractive enough to people that literally people who have stopped reading for years will get back into it and fill that part of their lives again.
WADE WINGLER: That’s awesome. Jeff Gardner is the CEO of Irie-AT and has been our guest today. Thank you so much for sharing information about the guide reader Todd and tablet and what you guys are doing over there. It’s not like you’re having a lot of fun and are being happy and getting some good work done.
JEFF GARDNER: We are trying. You have to go to work every day. You might as well have a good time doing it.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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