Your 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.
Show notes: Aira with Tiffany Minosh | www.aira.io
Making the Holidays Accessible with Temporary Assistive Technology http://bit.ly/2AvWEwt
App: FlipWriter | www.BridgingApps.org
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TIFFANY MINOSH: Hi, this is Tiffany Minosh. I’m a customer care specialist with AAira, and I’m located in Sacramento California, and this is 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 336 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on November 3, 2017.
Welcome to episode number 341 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on December 8, 2017.
Today I have a fascinating conversation with Tiffany Manoj, who is a customer care specialist or an Explorer at AAira. We are going to talk about how that technology is really changing the way people who are blind or visually impaired interact with their world.
We have a story from our friends at the AT3 center about making the holidays more accessible with temporary assistance technology. We ask you to take our survey. We are trying to figure out how to make our content more accessible to everybody. That is at www.eastersealstech.com/survey. Our friends at BridgingApps talk about an app called flip writer.
We hope you’ll check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com, sent us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or give us a call on our listener line. We love to hear your questions and comments. The number is 317-721-7124.
We hope you enjoyed our annual AT holiday shopping show even though we did get them out of order just a little bit. We appreciate your being loyal listeners.
As we’re thinking about the holiday time in the US and around the world, it’s probably worth a little bit of your time to think about temporary assistive technology that might be helpful during the holidays. Our friends over at AT three center have a blog post called making the holidays accessible with temporary assistance technology. Ali Anderson, the author, talks about how you can borrow assistive technology from your local AT act projects like the INDATA Project here in Indiana. Some things she said just might be helpful are temporary ramps for visitors who might be using wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Light switch extenders that can be placed over traditional switches to temporarily lower them. Grips and lever door knob turners offset hinges to make your doors a little bit wider and easier for guests to get in. She even talks about the idea of using a lazy Susan on a dinner table to make it easier to reach. She mentions temporary grab bars, toilet rails, transfer benches, handheld showerheads, and shower chairs might be helpful for folks who are staying overnight. One of her main point is that here in the US, there are many assistive technology lending program where you can borrow this equipment on a temporary basis, many time for up to 30 days, to help with those accommodations during the holidays.
I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to the center blog where you can learn more about holiday accessibility through temporary technology and other kinds of things as well. Check our show notes.
Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an app worth mentioning.
AMY BARRY: This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s app is called flip writer AAC. Flip writer AAC is a text to speech, and it is also a speech to text app, that allows two people to communicate nonverbally. While communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, the speaker can either speak into the iPad, and Apple convert this picture in words; or the speaker can type into the iPad, and the type of speech will appear on both the typist side of the iPad and on the reader side of the iPad. The app can also be used as a standard text to speech AAC app. The user simply types their message into the app, and the app speaks the message.
This app is useful for private conversations. Each person can type on their side of the iPad, and the message will automatically appear on the conversational partner’s side of the iPad. This app can be used in loud environments due to the text features. It is designed so that the text to speech aspect can be easily activated by touching the screen. The app also has a really neat attention-getting feature built in. If the user tapped the screen twice, a loud alarm will sound.
We trialed the app in a loud restaurant with a person who is hard of hearing. It allowed a visual, textbased conversation when a verbal conversation was impossible. The app was also trialed with an elderly man who, along with having dementia, is having difficulty speaking and being understood by loved ones, friends, and healthcare providers. He was highly motivated by the ease of use of this app because his cognitive deficits cause them to have anxiety when something often looks too complex.
Flip writer AAC is available for $49.99 at the iTunes Store and is compatible with iOS devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
WADE WINGLER: AAira. AAira is a word that I have run across a ton here lately. I have had multiple people here at our agency and multiple people reach out to the show and say why have you not talked about AAira yet. It is so cool in there so much going on. There’s a lot of buzz going on in the AT industry. I was so excited when Tiffany Minosh, who is a customer care specialist, agreed to come on and take me to school about what Aira is, how it works, and why I should’ve had it on the show before now.
Before we do that, Tiffany, thank you so much for being on our show today.
TIFFANY MINOSH: Thank you, Wade.
WADE WINGLER: Before we jump into some of the technical stuff and I wrap your cluster with you. I always love to learn about my guest. Tell me about yourself and how you became involved with your work at Aira.
TIFFANY MINOSH: I am president of the national Federation of the blind for California, River city chapter, here in Sacramento California. As president of the chapter, I am always looking for new technology and assistive technology to help other blind and visually impaired people. On our listserv, there was an announcement about Aira in 2016. On it, it said if you’re going to be attending our national convention in Orlando Florida, and would like a demo, please sign up ahead of time. That’s exactly what I did. I signed up, and when I got to our convention, I got a demo in our exhibit hall and was just hooked right off the bat.
WADE WINGLER: it’s almost like those commercials about, not only do I work for the company but I’m a client, right? You are using the product and working as well.
I’m sure not everybody in our audience knows about Aira yet. Can you take me to school a bit and tell me what it is and how it works and those things?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Aira is a visual interpreter for blind and visually impaired individuals, what we call the BVI community. It provides information and also gives light and visually impaired freedom and independence to do just about anything with information they get from Aira.
WADE WINGLER: Described to me some of the hardware features of it. It’s glasses, right?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Yes. It is smart glasses, which is a camera in the upper right corner. That is connected to a MiFi provided by Aira, and AT&T MiFi, which allows users to not rely on their data but data that Aira uses. Then it connects your cell phone. There is an app you download on your phone, and from that app it connects to a live agent who is sitting pretty much anywhere around the United States. They then can take your call – you need either an iPhone or android smartphone to utilize the service. That is the hardware. It provides the camera, the MiFi, and your phone.
WADE WINGLER: I’m wearing glasses, I have a phone and hotspot in my pocket to provide the data connection. What is the user experience like? Take me through some common examples of how somebody might use the technology.
TIFFANY MINOSH: A user, which we call explorers like myself, will turn on the MiFi and the glasses and connect to a live agent. They might use it for reading a handout that was just handed to them or provide information that might be in a classroom situation where they’re looking at a board and needing the information. Pretty much the sky is the limit with Aira. Anything that they want information about that they wouldn’t be able to get because of their live visual limitation, that’s what Aira provides.
WADE WINGLER: I assume then with some guesses here, based on some of the things I’ve heard and seen it, I could use it to have somebody describe an area to me, help with navigation. What if I want to look at more than just the chalkboard for a few seconds? What somebody read a short piece of text to me? What are those use cases?
TIFFANY MINOSH: The information you can use it for is pretty much anything you can dream of. I’ve used it to navigate airports and set of requesting assistance from the airport agent. I now just to turn on the service and do it myself. I’ve gone to museums, Disney World, Arlington national Cemetery. Students have had a just read an entire chapter of a textbook for them because they didn’t have a chance to get a reader. It is providing any type of information that we need assistance with. It can even be reading your mail, as easy as that. No task is too small or too large for an Aira agent.
WADE WINGLER: I think about what this might be like to use throughout the day, just a quick pragmatic technical question: what does battery life look like with the system?
TIFFANY MINOSH: The batteries on the glasses last about three hours, and the MiFi battery lasts about 10. I typically carry around a portable battery pack so that I can charge on the go when I’m using the service.
WADE WINGLER: Can you charge and use it at the same time?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Yes you can.
WADE WINGLER: Awesome. So with a battery in the pocket, you can get through a day with it?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Yes.
WADE WINGLER: Let’s talk about cost. I assume there is an upfront cost. Is there also an ongoing cost for having an operator? How does that work?
TIFFANY MINOSH: There is no upfront cost, but there is a monthly subscription, which includes the equipment, the glasses and MiFi. There are four different plans that a user can subscribe to, depending upon how many minutes they want or think they might use during that given month.
The first one is the basic plan, which is $89 per month for 100 minutes; however, for the first three months, those minutes are doubled. Four months one through three, they get 200 minutes, and for the fourth month it would jump back down to 100 minutes. The next plan is the Pro which is $129 per month. That is 200 minutes, and once again it jumps up for the first three months and back down the fourth month. The next is the plus is $109 for 400 minutes, and the first three months are unlimited. The last is a premium plant which is unlimited for $329 per month.
With that, you also get training and support, which is available from 4 AM to 10 PM Pacific time as well.
WADE WINGLER: I assume the initial period is because you are probably using the daylights out of it when you first get it, and that’s going to calm down after a few months?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Right. That’s what has been the experience of users, is that as they are starting to get use to it, they are understanding how the equipment to work, and utilizing it to the fullest for those first three months and after that they realize, I have these many minutes, so I will pick and choose when I’m going to use it.
WADE WINGLER: Totally makes sense. I asked some folks here on our staff what questions they might have. Some of them were, where is it available? Are there geographic limitations for using Aira?
TIFFANY MINOSH: At the present time, it is only available in the US; however, we are working to expand to other countries. Hopefully within the next year or so, it will be expanded to other regions.
WADE WINGLER: What about situations where the Wi-Fi or MiFi doesn’t get enough signal? I know that’s not as big a deal as it used to be with cellular coverage, but what do you do?
TIFFANY MINOSH: There are a couple of different things. As an explorer, I have found that, depending on where I am, if I’m in a room that has a window, I will place the MiFi up against that window. Any time I have lost connection to do that, I just call back in. Other areas, if for whatever reason you don’t get a good signal right away, lots of times I will call back in just by moving to another part of the room or outside or inside can’t really depending on where you are and what the situation is. Also, sometimes one that is not good, you can also use the camera on your phone. Lots of times, if the MiFi or service or services and working well, sometimes streaming through the phone actually get a better signal. You also have the option to use the camera on the phone as well as the camera on the glasses. Connecting your personal hotspot to Aira make that connection better.
WADE WINGLER: So if you are in one of those places that there just isn’t good cellular signal but there is Wi-Fi, you can switch it over to Wi-Fi through the Aira system or by using your phone?
TIFFANY MINOSH: It is all within the Aira app. There are several tabs and one of them is a Wi-Fi tab. You set up all of your Wi-Fi profiles, home Wi-Fi, hotspot, and in the MiFi, which allows you to connect through the app to an agent. There are times when maybe the MiFi isn’t good in that particular area because it is AT&T, then switching to your hotspot might give you that letter boost and make a better connection.
WADE WINGLER: Just like the rest of our connected world, you figure it out.
TIFFANY MINOSH: Yes, you do.
WADE WINGLER: Are there situations where an explorer wants to get onto the system but the operators are all busy or on standby? Are they ever too busy to take a call?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Unfortunately sometimes, yes, they are. Recently what I do is wait a minute or two and call right back in. By calling back and, that usually frees up one of the agents to take my call. That typically isn’t too much of a problem, and I rarely run into that situation.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. With the business model you’re talking about, it makes sense that the more users, the more agents, right? That’s a problem of scale.
TIFFANY MINOSH: Right.
WADE WINGLER: Talk to me a little bit about these agents – you call them agents or interpreters?
TIFFANY MINOSH: They are called agents.
WADE WINGLER: How are they trained? I’ve done sighted guide before and I’m familiar with assistive technology. How are your agents trained?
TIFFANY MINOSH: The agents go through a very intense training. First they are trained how to use what’s called the dashboard, which is the software on their computer. Within that dashboard, they have multiple windows open at one time. I have the actual feed from the camera that is coming through, they will have Google maps, and they will also have the ability to look at each explorer’s profile, which gives information like a cane user versus a dog user, do I like to use left right versus clock directional. They really work with them on understanding and how to utilize the dashboard as an agent. That stability 3 to 4 weeks.
The agents then will work with the new agents, and they are actually paired up with an agent analyst, someone who has been an agent for many years or since the beginning – they’ve only been in existence for two years now. They will work with a group of these new agents and spend one-on-one time with them to make sure they understand the dashboard, when to use and rely on Google maps, or when to use other tools within the dashboard to assist with making sure our experience as an explorer is the best that it can be.
Once they’ve spent that one-on-one time, then the agents will work with the analyst one-on-one to do routes, making sure they can describe, okay, you have a light pole coming up or you have a trash can in your way, just making sure that they give the right information to the Explorer as well as reading materials, making sure that they can handle that as well. And then performing any task that the user may ask as an explorer.
The agents are then paired up with another agent who is working to shadow them so that they really understand the right keywords to say and the right information to provide. Once an agent has gone through that, then they are given a shift and work with us, the explorers.
WADE WINGLER: It sounds like there is a lot of training going on. I love the fact that you talk about the profile with some of those things that are related to orientation and mobility, just some of those preferences. I’m sure that makes for a happier Explorer.
TIFFANY MINOSH: Right. One thing, Aira is not a replacement tool for your cane or dog. It is just another tool in your box to assist you with information that is there.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent point. We talked about this as an open platform that can do almost anything. Are there any limitations, and then I’m going to ask about amazing stuff next. Are there any limitations you experienced related to using Aira?
TIFFANY MINOSH: Aira is amazing, cutting edge technology that is brand-new. Sometimes this leads to technical glitches and so forth, but that is with any new piece of technology. It’s going to improve as it grows and is just awesome.
WADE WINGLER: Let’s get to some of the awesome stuff. One of my favorite questions to ask you tell me about a moment of joy that you have experienced related to Aira.
TIFFANY MINOSH: One of them is I go to Washington DC every year to speak with our congressional members from California with the national Federation of the blind. This last February, myself and for others wanted to go do some sightseeing. We grab and Uber and went to Arlington national Cemetery. Arlington is mammoth, but I had spoken to an agent the day before is that I really want to test you guys tomorrow. I’m going to Arlington. They said okay, are there any particular spots you want to hit. I said yes, I would like to hit the Kennedy gravesite, but I would also like assistance getting to my father’s gravesite. We started at the visitor center. I called an agent, and he directed myself and for others all the way to my father’s gravesite, then read the gravestone. Then he went to the Kennedy Center and back to the visitor center. All on our own. That’s the freedom and independence that Aira gives the BVI community. It really allows us to do things on our own time and explore things that we want to.
From there we then went to the Smithsonian national history Museum. Everything is behind glass pick how can a blind person enjoy that? Once again we called up Aira and I got an agent. She was like a kid and the candy store. She was like, I was so hoping someone would do this. She described the stuff behind the glass, read the Packers on the front of these glass panes. We went through different rooms with the agent. Those moments are wow, this is so cool and so empowering to us.
WADE WINGLER: That’s amazing stuff. Do you have another one?
TIFFANY MINOSH: I do. The other one was just recently. As an instructional assistant at a community college in Sacramento California, and instructor asked me if I could find papers that were laid out on the table. Then I said, well, okay, what do you want me to find? I want you to find a student’s name, but then to the right of that it will say the word absent next to it. As somebody who is blind or visually impaired, there would be no way that I could do this by myself. So I called an agent. Not only can they see what is through the camera, but they can also take pictures so that they can zoom in on the material. It took three shots, and she found the papers that have the student names and the word absent next to them.
WADE WINGLER: Wow.
TIFFANY MINOSH: Once again there would be no way that I could do that by myself, but I could with the assistance of Aira.
WADE WINGLER: That’s remarkable. I’m hearing a lot of good things about it as well. Sadly, we are getting close on time for the interview today. Before we close up, if people wanted to learn more about Aira or wanted to talk about somebody about their experience or wanted to get signed up, Audi recommend they proceed, is their website? Contact information?
TIFFANY MINOSH: They can go to our website, which is AAira.io, or they can call our phone number which is 858-876-2472. Either one of those will get them in touch with Aira and get them signed up and start exploring as an explorer.
WADE WINGLER: Tiffany Minosh is a customer care specialist and an explorer using the Aira system and has been a delightful guest today. Thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you thank you.
WADE WINGLER: Before you go. This is Wade Wingler. I’m the host of assistive technology update. Thank you for listening. We are working with a group of researchers from Indiana University to make all of our content easier to find and more convenient to access. Can you help us out? We have a survey we would like you to take. It won’t take long. We’re going to ask you if you question about how you like to consume podcast, blog posts, and YouTube content. It will be open through December 2017. You can find the survey at www.eastersealstech.com/survey. We would really appreciate it if you could help us out and take a few minutes to take our survey.
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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