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.
163-07-11-14 – National Braille Press – Follow up on Full page Braille Displays – Brian Mac Donald
Show Notes: Brian MacDonald, President, National Braille Press | www.nbp.org
Virtual reality room helping people with autism overcome crippling phobias | Mail Online http://buff.ly/1xGZ6s1
Simple: Enlarging Text in OS X | ATMac http://buff.ly/1tgd45x
Testing for accessibility in Windows Store apps http://buff.ly/1tg5isf
App: Sago Mini DoodleCast www.BridgingApps.org
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BRIAN MACDONALD: Hi, this is Brian MacDonald, and I’m the president of National Braille Press, 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 163 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 11 of 2014.
Today my guest is Brian MacDonald who is the president of the National Braille Press and we’re going to spend some time talking about some new developments they have in terms of braille displays and a full-page braille and tactile tablet. Some information from the UK about a virtual reality room helping folks with autism overcome phobias, and easy way to make larger print text on your Mac computer, a new on-screen keyboard called Click2Speak, and some tips on making your window store apps more accessible.
We hope you’ll check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124. Give us your questions, your comments or your feedback, or shoot us a note over on Twitter at INDATA Project.
From Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, they are talking about a thing called the blue room. The blue room is a 360 degree controlled environment. It includes screens that go from the floor to the ceiling and they will project information or an environment on the screen to help somebody with autism overcome some of their phobias. Examples of the information that gets projected on the screens are a busy bus, somebody crossing a high bridge, or somebody going shopping and interacting with a clerk in a shop.
The idea is that individuals with autism or other intellectual disabilities can spend time in this room adjusting to these environments and a very controlled way and maybe use some relaxation techniques or other kinds of techniques to deal with that and overcome some of the fears that they might have dealing with some of these places. Dr. Jeremy Parr, who is a clinical senior lecturer and specializes in pediatric neuro-disability, talks about parents and the effects are felt much later after the therapy is done. He says, “Parents told us that they can see the difference in the children over the course of the four session program. Pictures and are now much better at coping with the situation that they want found distressing. 12 months later the children are still able to cope.” Pretty interesting virtual-reality situation. I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to the Daily Mail so you can learn more about this room that’s helping people with autism overcome their fears.
ATMac.org is a great blog that is subtitled, “Empowering Apple Users with Disabilities.” They have a lot of helpful hints over there come and the one that I found this week that I thought was worth mentioning is how to enlarge text in OS 10. If you’re using a Mac, in most applications you can type a command plus and that will enlarge the text size and most of your OS X applications. Conversely come a if you do command minus, it will shrink the text back down a little bit. It doesn’t work in every application but I found that it works in most of them. It’s something that I use all the time. If you’re on a Mac and you want to make the text a little bit bigger, try command plus. Make it smaller, command minus. Check our show notes and I’ll have a link over to ATMac.org and you can learn more about the details on how to do that.[Inaudible Speaker]
WADE WINGLER: What you’re hearing there is a voice of Gal Sont who is the cofounder of Click2Speak. It’s a new on-screen keyboard program. He was interviewed by the BBC about computer access. Click2Speak is powered by Swiftkey which is a very popular on-screen keyboard. It’s available for Windows and has some cool features. It includes the support for more than 60 languages, it has some amazing and award-winning word prediction, it floats over other application. So much like on your smartphone when the screen doesn’t allow you to input information, the keyboard is gone, but when you land on an area that does allow you to input information into your phone, the keyboard will pop up. In this case on your computer. It has the ability to do auto spacing, auto capitalization, different keyboard layouts and different sizes. It also has a dwell that will allow you to initiate a mouse click by hovering. It’s supposed to work with eye gaze or other camera-based tracking systems. I can’t find information about the cost, although the press release says it will be low-cost and seems that there is a lot of questions about exactly how Click2Speak is going to work. I’m going to pop a link in the show notes. You can navigate over there and check out for yourself. There’s even a button to download it and try on Windows. Check out the show notes to find more information on Click2Speak.
Are you a developer of window store apps for the Windows platform? Or are you a user of assistive technology who wishes that a particular app was a little bit more accessible? I’ve got a blog post here from Windows.com that talks about how to test apps for accessibility in the window store. It goes through some of the details talking about using standard controls and templates, using a tool called the UI accessibility checker, it also talks about how to make sure that your keyboard accessibility is in place. How to make sure that narrator works a little bit better. Even how to access the W3C color contrast analyzer to make sure that the colors in your app are going to be accessible to people who might have trouble with their vision. It’s a whole long list of things a developer can do or uses of apps can directed developers to do to make sure that those ones apps I’m accessible. I’m going to pop a link in the show notes and you can learn more about testing for accessibility in window store apps.
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.
>> This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps and this is an app worth mentioning. Today I’m going to share an app with you called Sago Mini DoodleCast. It’s a really super cute and fun digital storytelling app for younger students to express themselves artistically and verbally. This app is great for preschool, elementary, and speech therapy students.
Users are presented with a partial drawing and correlating question sentence underneath it. This is the story prompt. The narrator reads the sentence and users can begin with a first drawing or they can scroll through and choose another topic. When they are ready to begin, the user taps the screen and the displayed image increases to a full screen with a color palette and drawing options at the bottom. At the top is a timer display to show recording is in process that can be paused and a checkmark to touch when the story is complete. The student draws their picture and verbally chats about it as they go.
After the student finishes, they are taking to a new screen with they can view a mini movie of their drawing. The movies are safe to file where they have the option to watch, download, and share it. There are 36 partial drawings within the app to tell a story with. The option is available to capture images with the camera within the app and draw and record original stories.
Our students really enjoy this app and amaze us with their creativity. Some are even singing with their stories as they draw which is really cute. Students with autism spectrum disorder are communicating their feelings and conveying messages via their digital stories. Students are learning to self-correct by listening to their recorded voice.
BridgingApps teachers and students love Sago Mini DoodleCast. Sago Mini DoodleCast is $2.99 at the iTunes Store, and this app can be used on iPads and iPhones. For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
WADE WINGLER: I spend a lot of time keeping up with what’s happening in the world of assistive technology. I have a personal passion for braille. I’ve been working with folks were blind or visually impaired for a little over 20 years now and think that braille is important. I’m excited to have a return guest on our show today. Brian MacDonald is the president of the National Braille Press and is a strong advocate for the use of braille. Very knowledgeable and has some updates for us in terms of some new technology that’s happening. Before we jump in to all of that, Brian, are you on the line?
BRIAN MACDONALD: Yes, I am, Wade. Nice to talk to you again.
WADE WINGLER: Thank you so much for coming back on the show. I know you are a busy guy. I know it’s a busy time of the year and there’s a lot going on. I’m really interested in hearing about some of the new technology developments, specifically with Braille 2 Go and a tablet and some things you guys are talking about. We have some new listeners in our audience. I thought it might be useful if we started off just with a quick reminder of what is National Braille Press, how you got started, what things you guys do on a daily basis.
BRIAN MACDONALD: National Braille Press is a nonprofit. We’ve been around for ages seven years. We were founded in 1927. Our focus and primary mission is providing information in braille for both children and adults so that it impacts them from a school and education perspective but also for lifelong learning. We produce books for Library of Congress and we do a lot of applications for our own magazine. We also provide a number of books on technology and other subjects that we write with blind authors for our audience that are very popular like how to use iOS and the iPad and the iPhone and different types of applications. That’s a quick update.
WADE WINGLER: That helps a whole lot. To lay the groundwork just a little further for the conversation, why is braille so important?
BRIAN MACDONALD: Braille is our middle name, National Braille Press.
WADE WINGLER: Right. Literally.
BRIAN MACDONALD: NBP.org for those who want to look us up. Basically in our perspective, braille is pure literacy, the true way of defending literacy for a blind or visually impaired person. If you think about it, yes there is audiobooks and different types of screen reading technologies that are very supportive, and we certainly believe in having multiple modal opportunities for reading ,but when you look at the idea of trying to learn grammar and sentence structure and creative writing and spelling, all of those factors really rely on the capability of rereading and reading words and how they are spelled by braille, by visually feeling them with your fingers. That can’t happen with audio. If you look at the complex part of learning, massive science applications, it’s very difficult to listen to a very complex geometry layout or a complex massive science technician or equation without having the ability to be greeted and go back over it in review it. Your learning is engaged more actively with your fingers than just passively listening. We think braille is really critical for lifelong learning, independence, and for employment opportunities.
WADE WINGLER: It harkens back to a long time when I heard a presentation by gentleman who was reading Shakespeare in braille with all kinds of denunciations and those kind of thing. And then hit play on a screen reader and let it read Shakespeare and there’s a sharp contrast just in that situation about the benefit of braille. Not only that but scientific notation are the kinds of things I totally get.
Brian, I know that we are both interested and enthusiastic about technology, especially as it applies to braille. I’ve been doing some research in my personal life related to braille recently so I’m gaining an even more significant appreciation of the technology behind electronic braille. I know that you guys have some efforts there on your Center for Braille Innovation, Braille 2 G, and some things about a tablet. Can you give us some updates with Braille 2 Go specifically?
BRIAN MACDONALD: Sure. The Braille 2 Go, which we call B2G, we’ve been working on for almost 4 years now. It was born before that but four years of hard research and development. It’s been a long haul. We’ve raised almost $1 million for it to get to where it is today. We spent $1 million. We are now ready to get to that production level and I’m happy to say that we received funding to put it into production so we’re gearing up now and doing a lot of scrambling to meet with the contract manufacturers and update certain information on user interface so that this product can finally come to market. We’re really excited about that.
It is an android version, a 20 cell portable computer, really like a portable laptop computer braille display. Even with a phone built-in so you can make it a GSM or CDMA network with your service provider, Bluetooth obviously to talk. That’s going to be built-in every B2G whether you want it that way or not. A lot of people obviously have different types of phones and we’re not trying to make it replace all those but it has that capability built in.
We are excited. It’s a very versatile product. What I think is unique with a B2G compared to traditional notetakers that are out there today is that it’s an open-source platform with android. For the first time I feel that, as a user, you take control of this device. You Taylor it the way you want. You make the home screen you want, the apps you want. You have freedom to go to that Play market and download accessible apps that benefit you whether you’re a child who wants to do games or word games or something, or an adult in the workplace that was things applicable to them. I like the freedom that it provides in a device that I don’t think has been available today.
WADE WINGLER: there is a lot of exciting stuff going on there. I have a couple of questions. One, I know that costs and affordability something that you guys are focused on. That’s question number one. The other one that I’ll throw iin there, because I’ll probably forget if I don’t is calm a what was your advice for people who are looking for accessible apps from the Google Play Store? Cost and then how to find accessible apps.
BRIAN MACDONALD: Right. First on the cost. The reason we founded the Center for Braille Innovation five years ago is because the cost for these devices is extremely prohibitive. I just met someone who just retired from the EPA who is blind and she always had a device given to her from the government. She retired and now she saying wow, I need one. I can’t live without one but it’s $6000. That’s always a challenge.
Obviously we wanted to find a way to make come a in our opinion, a better mousetrap. A device that has all of the bells and whistles people want but at a much lower cost. With B2G we haven’t set a final retail price yet but is not more than $2500 and we’d love to get it closer to $2000. It will probably settle around for a $300 or I don’t know exactly. We have to haggle with the contractor. That’s one important factor. I’m not saying $2300 is cheap. That’s not. Our goal is obviously to find new technologies which will talk about in a minute about the future of braille and e-braille technologies that can really lower the cost even more. We felt that in the meantime we could make a difference in the market. If schools are trying to buy devices, they can maybe by three of these instead of one. It helps individuals as well maybe be able to afford one of these. We want to make a difference now and as soon as we can and then look for future technologies for the world.
Android, the Play Market, the good news about open-source things like android is its open-source and you can go anywhere you want. The bad news is developers make whatever they want and they aren’t always accessible. I know we’ve worked very closely with Google in our development of B2G and they’ve been supportive of us. I know the former head of accessibility at Google was talking about having a rating system on the play market just like you do for how good an app is, we would also have a rating of accessibility. I think that would be a great improvement to have in the future.
But as we develop our B2G and get things out there, we are certainly going to do our own reference to apps that we think are very good and accessible and give guidance to people as to ones that we think are pretty good and versatile. Obviously you’re going to have that landmine where you might download an app that you want to try and it might not be accessible. You can delete it. That’s the world as it is today. The good news I say is still, you have the freedom to do whatever you want and look for whatever you want. That’s still a nice thing to have. Improvements will come with that and we certainly want to provide an accessible app guideline to that for android ultimately.
WADE WINGLER: That the question is going to ask. Are there resources out there for developers to learn how to do that the right way and is that something that National Braille Press is working on, teaching developers how to make accessible apps?
BRIAN MACDONALD: What’s interesting is we’ve been invited to the Google I/O of conference every year. I was there when they actually did a development class, like 5000 developers that go to this event, and their whole purpose of it was to say if you just know a few think something different as you develop that first app, it’s just like universal design. If you right from the beginning thought about that, you could make your app still as effective and functional as you want but also make it totally accessible.
They are making a really proactive effort to get developers to understand that. These developers are all over the world and not just at the Google I/O conference so there’s always that challenges spreading the word about that. We haven’t done that directly yet but it think we’d love to be involved in making sure that that can happen. One thing we are doing is we have a Touch of Genius award we give out every year thanks to the Give Me Family Foundation that funded it. We focus much more on apps in reference to blind and low vision issues of course, but also accessibility, so I think in our own effort we are trying to promote that more. I think it will eventually grow organically as well. That’s a good thing.
WADE WINGLER: I think it’s important and I’m glad you guys have that on your horizon. Brian, what’s happening with the tablet and what’s happening in the emerging world of technology as it relates to refreshable braille and tactile graphics and all that kind of stuff?
BRIAN MACDONALD: This is really good timing because I spent last week in a couple of meetings in Louisiana for the National Conference on Student Assessments, NCSA, that just occurred. We demonstrated there a full page, graphic and braille display. It’s using a shape memory alloy. Basically it had five rows of braille, 40 cells across, and then a graphic area about it that is basically closely pixilated pins. Not in a braille layouts, just really closely pixilated, so you can have an image raised up by the pins to feel a line curve or things like that.
This was a proof of concept prototype. It’s not a finished product so I don’t want everybody to get all excited like this is solved. We did prove that we can make it work. We had some hangups to. One of the parts that we used wasn’t finished a proper way so some of the pins were getting hung up. We know what it was and we know how to fix it. We’re pretty pleased and excited that the methodology worked and was reliable in that way.
It’s one approach to providing a full-page graphic, especially in this digital world we are facing now with digital textbooks and digital test assessments. The SATs and SATs and the common core initiatives all want to go digital at some point. We want to make sure the blind and visually impaired students can have the same test item live with them as you would for a cited. Taking the test. That can’t happen today. You have to have molds made to make replications of graphics. They have to look them up as they read a problem and go back and forth, back and forth. It’s a little more cumbersome. We’re excited about that.
There are a lot of methods. The key to all of this is the cost. What is the best, reliable way and low-cost way to raise a pin or a dot? We’re working with our shape memory alloy method I just described, but we’re also working with partners through our Center for Braille Innovation on other technologies that a really promising to. We’re working with Michigan on a microfluidic technology, basically having very small tubes of fluid that can pop up a braille dot. Squiggle motors which are kind of cool. They wobble but they can effectively move up and down quickly. Electrostatic haptics I think is very promising as well which is taking a true tablet, a glass surface tablets. Instead of having that current that you touch to open an icon, it reverses it and tricks the nerve in your finger to feel something that isn’t really there. You can feel a square or a line or a tick mark on an XY graph on a glass surface when it’s really not there. That shows a lot of promise to. We’re working with Disney research people on that and a company in Finland. Educational Testing Service presented with us in New Orleans last week at this conference. We’re working with them as partners to try to solve these things.
It’s pretty exciting. We don’t care with method is the best. We really want to find the most effective and most cost-effective way for delivering this. We are really excited that within a year to three years we think this will be ready to go for mass-market which would be fantastic. That might be a little optimistic, but I feel pretty good about the technologies and the people we are working with.
Another big player and partner is MIT. They have a new material they just discovered and created that has 10,000 times the force of a traditional piezoelectric braille display which means theoretically it could be 10,000 times smaller and still be as effective. If all this pans out, it could be pretty exciting times in the next couple of years.
WADE WINGLER: Well. I think you’re absolutely right in being excited and enthusiastic about that. A quick technical question. I’ve been thinking about this a little bit and I know the prototype you’re working with now have a traditional piezoelectric array of cells along the bottom and then a graphics array above. Will it’s come to the point where you don’t need separate kinds of cells to do that? Where the higher resolution cell will also make braille? Or do you think that people are accustomed to refreshable braille in the form that it is that it’s here to stay?
BRIAN MACDONALD: I think the issue with that will be how close you can make those pins together, because you want to have a good cluster to make a graphic output, but you have to stay within the true definition of a braille cell by dimensions of space between each dot. So if you could do that properly, you could have both on the same device on electric mechanical version. Now, on the types like an electrostatic haptic, that approach using a tablet can’t do braille right now. If you a dot for an A for instance, they will repeat across a grid because that material that makes that output to you is a great layout and it just repeats it across the whole screen. Ultimately they think that in second or third generations they could make braille work on it. In that case, you could have one device that just builds in all of that.
In the meantime, we know that we can make multiple lines of braille really efficiently now. We did it two years ago and now we are able to demonstrate it now. We’re thinking we could have a multiline braille display to read a complex math or science question or complex problem for a test and then have that still integrated into a glass tablet if the braille isn’t ready or not. Or if MIT’s version of a very small way to actuate a braille dots or a pin could be done, then we could have braille incorporated into the same layout and just have different pins read the braille layout that you need but also have more pixelated pins to do a graphic at the same time.
We’re looking at all of those things. Height is also a factor. How high do you want to make it like for geography. What can be done. We’re looking at all of those factors and will be doing a lot of focus groups to study on it in the near future. We’re excited about it.
WADE WINGLER: Well, this is an exciting topic. I’ve always been fascinated with braille and find it to be very valuable. I’m always digging what’s happening in this area. I think we need to probably agree to have this conversation occasionally because there’s just new stuff happening all the time and I’d love to have you back on the show.
BRIAN MACDONALD: That sounds terrific.
WADE WINGLER: In the meantime, plug your website again. Let folks know if they want to become part of this conversation or if they want to learn more about what’s going on with National Braille Press and the Center for Braille Innovation, where the look online?
BRIAN MACDONALD: If you go to NBP.org, that brings you to our homepage. We have five or six bars at the very top and one of them is the Center for Braille Innovation. You just click on that and it will have a bunch of options on braille technology, the B2G, products in development and so forth. NBP.org will take you there. I will also give my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, because I answer all my emails and people often want to know on their own time frame what’s happening. We’re always open to that as well.
WADE WINGLER: Brian MacDonald is the president of the National Braille Press and an advocate and this year in the world of braille. Thanks, Brian, for being on our show today.
BRIAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Wade. Enjoyed it very much.
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. Looking for show notes from today’s show? Head on over to EasterSealstech.com. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.