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.
Dan Hubbell – Microsoft’s Accessibility Technical Evangelist | http://blogs.msdn.com/b/accessibility/
How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Apple’s Siri http://buff.ly/1vMIOi0
Exoskeleton enables paralyzed groom to walk down the aisle – Technology & Science – CBC News http://buff.ly/1wo9Jik
BLITAB, the tablet for blind people now is reality – West http://buff.ly/1wo9UKq
App: Hanx Writer www.BridgingApps.org
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DAN HUBBEL: Hi, this is Dan Hubbel and I’m the Accessibility Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, 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 178 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on October 24 of 2014. Today our guest is Dan Hubbel who is Microsoft’s accessibility technical evangelist. A story about a boy with autism and his relationship with Siri. And information about potentially a new tablet for folks who use braille.
We hope you’ll check out our website at eastersealstech.com, shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line, 317-721-7124.
There’s an old-fashioned phrase called “I stood up with you at your wedding,” meaning that you’re the best man or the maid of honor. I’ve had two situations recently where standing up at weddings has been an assistive technology tank. I’ve got a friend named Ed who uses a standing wheelchair and he was able to use that standing wheelchair to walk his bride down the aisle, not too long ago, for her wedding. And then just last weekend, Jordan Bucille and Matt Facar, who are in New York, Syracuse, New York in fact, did something even more interesting. Matt is someone who has a spinal cord injury. It says in the article here that he has been paralyzed from the chest down since an accident three years ago. However, he’s been working for the last several months to use in exoskeleton that allows him to walk. He walked down the aisle to greet and marry his beautiful bride. So the technology is something that he has been working on in a rehabilitation center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The actual device is called an Ekso, and they are now in Jamaica on their honeymoon. Congratulations to the happy couple and how interesting that we have so many people using assistive technology to stand up and walked down aisles at weddings. Pop a link in the show notes and you can see a picture of the happy couple.
I’m always fascinated by the idea of a full-page braille display or Tablet computer that operates on braille input/braille output and those sorts of things. There is a new one that’s hitting the news cycle this week called BLITAB. Their tagline is feelings get visible. This seems to be a group of three individuals from Austria who are working on a device that looks very Apple-esque. In fact, on their domain website, they get a picture of it sitting next to a Mac. It has a plastic area where there are bubbles making braille above, and then an 8-key, Perkins style keyboard down below. They talk about the fact that this is going to be a device that will connect to your computer and provided braille output system or braille tablets, presumably interfacing with a computer but I’m not exactly sure. It’s one of those upsets that has a great marketing pictures and a lot of spin and finesse –, but I’m finding a little less technical information that I’m looking for in terms of this. But it’s interesting because they are taking preorders on this period I clicked on the preorder button on the website, and especially place to sign up for their email list. I’m seeing this in lots of mainstream media, and it looks like an interesting and promising concept that I’ve seen other places. But I’m going to let you make your own judgment about it. I’m going to place a link in the show notes and you can check out this BLITAB and tell me whether or not you think it’s a promising device for folks or braille readers to check our show notes.
And the New York Times, there’s a very popular article are now circulating about a young man with autism who was quote/unquote BFFs with Siri. So I, working at Easter Seals crossroads, had the benefit walking down the hall to our Autism Resource Center. I grabbed a friend of mine, Marin Oslin, who works in that program. Marin, before we talk about the article, tell folks your name and what you do here at Easter Seals Crossroads.
MARIN OSLIN: My name is Marin Oslin, and I am a licensed clinical therapist. I specialize with kids with autism providing therapy to their families and to the kids directly. We work on social skills. We work on challenges such as anxiety and depression and independence skills.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. So I walked on with this New York Times article that basically said as a young man who’s on the autism spectrum who has really started a relationship with Siri. I wanted to get your opinion on that. What did you think?
MARIN OSLIN: I thought it was really interesting article. We use technology a lot with our clients. One thing that I tend to do with client a lot is look at it to have anxiety about a specific issue, we might use the Internet as a way to look at the things that they are nervous about, see if they are having any faulty thoughts, and see if there’s some facts that can give them the truth instead of letting them feel very anxious about it. So I think the use of technology with kids with autism is really helpful. Obviously it’s benefiting this boy.
WADE WINGLER: So my question was this is a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Tell me about this particular application. Is that a healthy thing for a kid with autism to do? Or is it in between?
MARIN OSLIN: I definitely wouldn’t say that it’s not healthy. I think that there are some benefits for him. Obviously there’s some — it helps them have a chance to seek out what he’s interested in. A lot of kids with autism have specific interest that they enjoy spending a lot of time learning about, talking about, picking about. This is a way for them to do it. So I see that as a good thing.
WADE WINGLER: It’s a very mainstream, typical kind of technology that he is interacting with. It’s not some sort of an autism special thing.
MARIN OSLIN: exactly.
WADE WINGLER: So it kind of established that this is cool and this is okay, but what is this kid going to get out of this interaction? How is it going to be helpful?
MARIN OSLIN: I think it’s most likely very freeing for him because when he’s talking about something that is very interested in, that he is learning about, he doesn’t have to be distracted or overwhelmed by all the social pressures such as looking someone in the eye or reading their social cues or having good boundaries with them he can just engage in conversation and learn about what he’s interested in. It’s also really cool that he is forced to enunciate properly. So is working on his speech and language skills. He has to be polite and ask things clearly so to building on his skills as well as just being an enjoyable activity for him.”
WADE WINGLER: Marin, thank you so much for coming down the hall and spending some time with us. If individuals want to learn more about our autism programs here at Easter Seals crossroads, they can head over to www.eastersealscrossroads.org and find more information there.
MARIN OSLIN: Thanks.
WADE WINGLER: And I’ll pop a link to that New York Times article in 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 Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. Today’s app is called Hanx Writer. Hanx Writer is a cool word processing app developed by actor Tom Hanks that turns your iPad into an old-fashioned typewriter. With a clean piece of paper, and automatic slide, and a very distinct click every time you type, the F provides a unique way to write and publish documents.
Hanx Writer is an excellent addition to the language arts curriculum. They can also be used with students that struggle with handwriting and/or have week weak fine motor skills and to teach keyboarding skills. Students with autism spectrum disorder and nonverbal individuals will enjoy using this app to communicate in a fun way.
One of the great features of this app is that it removes the auto capitalization and autopunctuation functions of typical word processing programs, forcing users to be more mindful of errors. The user also has the option of disabling the modern delete key and setting it to place a large ax over the mistakes instead of erasing them.
Documents created on Hanx Writer ink-like typeface of a typewriter and can be exported as PDFs via email or cloud services. The modern word processor features available on the app are the iOS spellchecker and the ability to purchase additional features. Upgrades let you add pictures, create title pages, aligned text on the page, and change ribbon and background colors, as well as manage multiple documents. You can also buy additional type of the styles or the writer’s block bundle which includes two typewriter models and additional features.
Hanx Writer is a terrific teaching tool and we tried it with K-12 students. The app is intriguing, engaging, and highly motivating, especially for struggling writers. Creative teachers will find endless uses for Hanx Writer in the classroom and no doubt, the nostalgia of this retro typewriting app will also appeal to adults who used typewriters when they were younger.
The Hanx Writer is free at the iTunes Store. This app can be used on iOS devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
WADE WINGLER: It’s hard to think about assistive technology and not think about the impact of some of the big players, specifically Microsoft. Dan Hubbel is Microsoft accessibility technical evangelist. He is also currently the president of ATIA, has been with Microsoft for about 14 years and is the writer behind the Microsoft accessibility blog, Plessy turning me via Skype right now. Dan, are you online?
DAN HUBBEL: I am, Wade, how are you?
WADE WINGLER: I’m doing really well. I want to thank you so much for carving a little time out of your day. I’m sort of excited to talk about you because I’m a little bit starstruck. I don’t know if I’ve heard anything about Microsoft and assistive technology in the last 10 or so years without hearing her name. I’m flattered that you’re taking some time to be on our show today.
DAN HUBBEL: Well, flattery will get you nowhere, by the way. Thank you very much for having me. It’s my pleasure.
WADE WINGLER: So, Dan, I know that Microsoft and its reach impacts almost everybody who is using assistive technology. I thought maybe you could give me a little bit of the background about how Microsoft has historically addressed accessibility and folks with disabilities
DAN HUBBEL: Sure. The entirety of the answer is somewhat lengthy, but I’ll give you the digest version. For those that do want the broader chronology can go on to our website where we have a lot of this documented. Basically, Bill Gates back in the 90s recognize that this was an area that really needed to have attention put on it. So it was back in 1993 actually, a little over 20 years ago, the Microsoft created its first team dedicated to accessibility within our products. At the time, that specifically meant to Windows. So it was as early as Windows 95 that we began introducing assistive technology into our operating system.
Since then, we had evolved tremendously as the technology has evolved. We got from simple tools for manipulating the keyboard — in the early 90s, obviously, we are starting the transition from keyboard-based input into more mouse and Dewey driven input in the computer. As we moved from that, there’ve been several different program interface that we have standardized on in order to make it possible for a really broad assistive technology vendors to exist in the ecosystem. We evolved from that into really driving more inbox experience for our users.
And then around, I would say, the late 2000s, 2008, I think consumer expectations have really changed, especially as we’ve seen the proliferation of mobile devices really taking off in the marketplace. So our focus has been shifting to really try and recognize that market. We’re now really getting into greater development and recognizing the mobile space.
WADE WINGLER: And I know that there’s a whole lot happening with mobile space and the future. I want to come back to that. Before I start talking about some of the things that people might know about Microsoft accessibility and some product specific stuff, can you tell us a little bit about what Microsoft does behind the scenes with developers to work on the disability?
DAN HUBBEL: Sure. We have come over the years, had different ways of interacting with teams. I would say in the 2003 had a program called the MAT VP, which is the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor Program. It was a connection — at the time, Microsoft really didn’t have a good way of integration with partner developers like the AT companies that exist in the ecosystem. So we created sort of our own specialized vendor program where we had very frequent conference calls. We brought teams of AT folks on campus here to work with us during the development of new versions of Windows.
As our product teams matured, you realize that it no longer made sense to centralize that into an AT program, but we really engaged folks directly with our product groups. So today we have assistive technology companies that are very deeply connected to our developers and groups like Office and Windows Phone and Windows. So part of our role as the central accessibility team is to help broker and facilitate those relationships.
WADE WINGLER: I appreciate that philosophy because disability doesn’t occur in tiny little boxes. It occurs all over the place. I like the fact that you guys are spreading that around amongst your business units. Adding that the smart idea.
Dan, I’m hearing a lot lately in the media and newsletters about the Microsoft visibility answer desk. Can you take me to school on that little bit?
DAN HUBBEL: This been fantastic. We’ve got a team of folks and our support group that realize that the difficulty in providing support for our own products for people who use various types of assistive technology or have various types of disabilities, to explain to somebody how to do some function within Windows or in Office, to explain the process of doing that is very different for someone who is using a screen reader or even a magnifier than for somebody who sighted. A disability answer desk was really created to say hey, you know what, we have a whole class of customers that are not getting good support, because we as a company, Microsoft, don’t really understand the tools that they are using as an intermediary to using our products.
So the disability answer desk was created really to fill a void in providing good support for people with disabilities. That team over there has just been phenomenal. They’ve expanded the answer desk to several international languages and regions around the world to essentially, if you have a disability, or if you are using assistive technology, so you yourself may not have a disability but may work with somebody who has a disability or might be a friend or family member, you can call the disability answer desk free of charge and get support on whatever you need. Obviously, it has to be related to some sort of Microsoft product, but the idea is that if you’re having difficulty using one of our products because you’ve got some disability or other product that you’re using with it, this is a line that you can call to get support for that.
WADE WINGLER: That’s phenomenal. Do you happen to know the number of the top of your head or can we pop it in the show notes later?
DAN HUBBEL: We can definitely pop it in the show notes and I can pull it up as you’re asking the question here. If you take me — if I talk long enough and say — what I’ll do is I’ll mention as I’m pulling this up that is also a chat and an email that you can do. So if you, for example, have a disability where you can speak on the phone, there’s also a chat window and an email address.
The phone number, if you want to call, is 1-800-936-5900. If you want to try the chat or email, the best thing to do is to go to our Microsoft accessibility site which is Microsoft.com/enable, and at the bottom of that page there is a link to accessibility technical support. If you click on the accessibility technical support link, it will take you to the page where you can start a chat or send an email.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. That was an excellent fill-in. We chatted a little bit preinterview about you have some radio background so I’m really impressed that you put on your DJ jobs there for a minute.
DAN HUBBEL: I can hit the post like anybody.
WADE WINGLER: There you go. So, Dan, the last time we bumped into each other face-to-face with in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when you guys are making the announcement about Window Eyes for Office not too long ago. Tell me a little bit about how that initiative is going in then maybe also a little bit about how Office 365 is going to impact people with disabilities and users of assistive technology.
DAN HUBBEL: Both great questions. So Window Eyes for Office initiative that we kicked off with the team that was formally GW Micro who now is a part of AI Squared, essentially we realize that we really need to create a compelling experience in office for our customers who are blind or visually impaired. We looked at what we are providing in the box with narrator and said we’re hitting some core scenarios, but the reality is that to really be productive in office, our inbox tools weren’t providing the experience today that we really want to see. So working with the folks in Fort Wayne there as he mentioned, for us it was just a way of providing an avenue for our users to have the best experience with Office work because you really do feel the Office is the most compelling productivity suite that’s out there. Which extends to Office 365. Part of the reason why we were in discussions with the folks there at GW Micro, now AI Squared, is the fact that they had really good support for web-based apps like Office 365 and office online set of apps.
How is that going to impact industry? As we are moving, I think it’s not just Office 365, but as a lot of products are moving to web-based interfaces of which Office 365 and our Office Web apps are one, I think that you’re going to see — what’s great about this is the portability of where you can access these things from. You no longer have to have a version of office installed on your computer for example. You can be informed of any terminal that has the access software that you need and be able to get to the tools that you use on a daily basis. This is impactful not just for people with disabilities but I think for consumers in general, which is just being able to actually take these tools with you wherever you need to have them.
WADE WINGLER: I think that’s an excellent point because you’re right. Everything is moving toward mobile and the platforms are changing. What we considered computing years ago is looking different ambient different and those kinds of things. It’s shifting all the time.
So how does Microsoft stay relevant in that changing landscape? How does Microsoft keep up with the industry and continue to do the great job that they always have?
DAN HUBBEL: Here’s how we’re thinking about it right now, which is we have a tremendous history as you alluded earlier around accessibility and understanding people with disabilities and the added user benefit of a lot of the great tools that exist within this assistive technology scope of software. So what we are thinking about right now is the fact that more and more of our computing experiences are going mobile.
Gone are the days where you used a computer in a climate controlled office where you knew what the lighting and the sound were like. You’re not in a static environment anymore. We’re carrying around our phones. We’re carrying around all tablets. We are inside sometimes where it can be in a controlled environment and you have one experience. You walk outside where it’s bright and you require a different experience because you can’t see your screen because the brightest of the screen. Or maybe you’re a student, and you’re in class and it’s too loud, and you can’t hear what’s happening on your screen. Maybe need a better captioning tool.
We’re looking at the fact that what we — while there is a certain percentage of the population that always experiences some of these symptoms, so to speak, of not being able to see the screens or not being able to hear what’s happening on the computer all the time because of their disability, as we move into a mobile environment, everybody is experiencing these. So how can we apply what we’ve learned about people with disabilities and the accessibility industry in general and the tech that has been built in this industry and apply it in ways where everybody is going to be impacted by it and everybody is going to find a benefit to it?
We’ve had some great success within the company around mapping out some of these scenarios. One example that I started to use is you’re a student and you’re in a classroom environment, maybe you’re on your phone, and you’re walking between classes under outside and you can hear conversation just fine. All of a sudden, you walk into a noisy hallway. Your phone should be smart enough to know that it’s too loud for you to actually hear the person talking on the other end of the line. So the technology exists. Why doesn’t it actually automatically transcribe a call for you so that you can continue the conversation seamlessly through a text for the call? Today, that’s sort of a pie-in-the-sky thing but it’s an example of how we can apply what we’ve learned in the accessibility and drive those experiences to a broader audience.
Was that a benefit to people with disabilities? As we drive these concepts to be more built-in and to be more mainstream around providing adaptability within the way we interact with our computer, both input and output, then you just have that many more options for a person with a disability to find their place in the spectrum of ability and find the expense that works best for them to
WADE WINGLER: I think that speaks to the concept of universal design and the fact that what’s good for folks with disabilities is often good for everybody. Dan, we’re about out of time for the interview today. Two quick things: if people want to learn more about Microsoft and accessibility, where should they start? And then if people want to reach out to you, how can I find you?
DAN HUBBEL: Sure. The best way to find out about what’s happening at Microsoft is in two places: you can go to our Microsoft accessibility website, which I mentioned earlier. Microsoft.com/enable. There’s also our accessibility blog which is a tremendous amount of content up there and hopefully will be posted to regularly moving forward as well. That is blogs.msdn.com/accessibility.
WADE WINGLER: Excellence. Dan Hubbel is Microsoft accessibility technical evangelist, has been our guest on the show. Dan, think is much for being with us today?
DAN HUBBEL: It’s my pleasure, and I look for to coming back at some point.
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.