ATU207 – Bill Coleman of the Coleman Institute and RESNA speaker, Modding Game Controllers, If I Need Help, Face Recognizing Cane for the Blind, Dragon Go, Bridging Apps


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Bill Coleman

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.

Bill Coleman & The Coleman Institute – Speaker at RESNA 2015 conference |

Modding controllers for disabled gamers

If I Need Help

A pioneering facial recognition cane for the blind

App: Dragon Go!


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——-transcript follows ——

BILL COLEMAN: Hi, this is Bill Coleman, founder of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and I’m speaking at the RESNA conference this June in Denver, and this is your Assistance 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 207 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on May 15 of 2015.

Today we have one of RESNA’s keynote speakers, Bill Coleman, who’s going to be talking about his presentation coming up at RESNA and the Coleman Institute, which is in Denver and doing some fascinating work with people who have intellectual disabilities. We have a story about a service called if I need help and also a cool new cane for someone who is blind or visually impaired the promises to do facial recognition. We have an app called Dragon Go from BridgingApps and more.

We hope you’ll check out our website at Call our listener line, give us some feedback. That number is 317-721-7124. Or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject


Can’t get enough assistive technology? Only have a minute? Head on over to one of our other shows, Accessibility Minute. Every week, 60 seconds, really cool accessibility information. Check it out.


I’m not a big video gameermyself, but every once in a while I’ll see something from that world that catches my attention. At, there’s an article about modding controllers for gamers who have disabilities. Apparently a gentleman named Ben Heck is sort of famous on YouTube for modding videogame controllers or kind of changing them and adapting them for different purposes. He talks about the fact that some of the controllers from organizations like Microsoft and Sony really do require the use of both hands out of the box. So on his YouTube channel, Ben takes and goes step-by-step through what it takes to turn a two-handed controller into a one-handed control. They talk about how he solders. They talk about how he makes changes to the circuit boards and also how he uses some 3-D printed parts to re-create some of the buttons and things that need to be used in that situation.

Apparently there is also another group called the Controller Project that’s very interested in this whole concept, and the link that I pop in the show notes will contain other links over to both Ben Heck’s YouTube videos and a link over to the Controller Project. Pretty cool stuff there happening in the gaming world and check our show notes. You can learn more about it.


RJ Cooper is fairly well known in the world of assistive technology, and recently in one his newsletters, I became familiar with a new organization and service called If I Need Help. The idea behind this is there are children and adults who have autism or other kinds of disabilities which mean that they may wander. They may be nonverbal and may find themselves in a situation where they are encountering someone, and they need help, but the person they encounter doesn’t know what to do to help them.

So If I Need Help is a nonprofit organization that sells stuff, ID cards, dogtags, and things that go on your shoelaces. It has a QR code. So for example, one of the uses says “child with autism, may not respond to commands, behavioral sensory issues, wandering risk.” And then there’s a QR code that somebody with a smart phone, either somebody on the street or an emergency responder, can scan and then it takes you to a profile with emergency contact information for that child or that person with a disability. It has a photograph so you can verify that you have the right person, and then it tells you who to call and what to do to get the person help. This is new to me. I thought it was fascinating and interesting. I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to the website where you can learn more about this If I Need Help service and a clever idea.

*** is one of the websites that I look at on a fairly regular basis to see kind of what’s happening on the cutting edge of technology. There’s an interesting story coming out of Birmingham City University, which is over in the UK. There’s a group of students who are developing a thing called the ‘XploR’ mobility cane. Basically it looks and acts a lot like a traditional white cane used by somebody who is blind or visually impaired to navigate, but it has facial recognition and GPS built in. Based on this article, it seems to me that the cane is going to be smart enough to know about where you are and then continually scan the environment for known faces, people that you know and probably have taken their pictures. Those pictures are stored on an SD card right there in the cane, and then it will tell you as you approach people, do you know this person or not, and maybe a little bit of information like on your left is your friend Bob or something like that.

Now, part of that is my supposition and part of that is the information that’s right in the article here on It’s happening over in Europe, and they are talking with people in Germany and France about some implementation related to this. But it seems pretty interesting and really, kind of makes sense that a cane would be used to do something like that. Promising, interesting stuff. I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to the article where you can read more about this XploR Cane that’s supposed to recognize faces. 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. Today’s app is called Dragon Go. Dragon Go gives users one-app access to everything they want on the mobile web using their voice. Just say what you want and Dragon Go not only hears what you say, it also understands what you want, delivering excellent mobile search results within seconds. Smart, accurate, and fun, Dragon go is a must-have app for users who have difficulty using a keyboard or spelling is a challenge.

To use Dragon Go, simply tap the button and state what you’re looking for. The following search engines come up: Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Yelp, Fandango, AccuWeather, Pandora, Twitter, and more. Depending upon what you’re looking for, you can choose the search that you need. Dragon Go’s dynamic Dragon carousel not only delivers you the best site featuring what you want, it also delivers complementary results that enable you to slide the carousel from side to side to compare information across the most relevant sites for your Dragon Go request. For example, you say, “Cowboys and Aliens showtimes.” Dragon Go delivers you directly to Fandango featuring movie trailers, showtimes, and ticket purchasing for your local theaters. The Dragon carousel also enables you to see what people are saying about the movie on Twitter and flick over to Wikipedia to learn more about the graphic novel the movie is based on.

You can also share your Dragon Go results via an easy to use pop up toolbar featuring link share options across email, text messages, Facebook, and Twitter. And that’s not all. In a place where it’s not convenient to speak, just type your Dragon Go request for the same fast accurate results. Dragon Go voice detection is fairly accurate, reducing frustration. The app is easy to use with a variety of search engines, making it a great addition to any mobile device.

Dragon Go is free in the iTunes store and is compatible with iOS devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit


WADE WINGLER: We are coming up on the RESNA conference which will be held in the Denver area in June. I’m so excited and a little bit flattered today to have a gentleman named Bill Coleman on the line who is the founder of the Coleman Institute, but is really kind of a technology pioneer. He is currently a partner at Allsop Louis which is a venture capital firm. He was the CEO of BEA Systems. And I have to get my nerd on when I realize he was involved in the original development of VisiCalc, which was the first computerized spreadsheet that kind of hit the computer industry back in the late 70s and early 80s era. I remember using VisiCalc on my TRS 80 computer. I am flattered and thrilled to have Bill Coleman on the line today. Bill, are you there?

BILL COLEMAN: I am, Wade, thanks for having me. You’re quite a pioneer yourself if you remember VisiCalc.

WADE WINGLER: Well, I never liked math and so it helped me. It was a useful tool. So Bill, I know that you’re going to be one of the speakers at the RESNA conference coming up here in June. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re going to be doing there and what your speech is going to be like?

BILL COLEMAN: Sure. Well, first, my professional background, as you already said, is 40 years in the technology field, which has really been exciting me all along. But I have a personal interest in cognitive disabilities because I believe that one technology can make a fundamental difference.

This all started when my niece, who has trisomy 13, we gave her an Apple II about 30 years ago, and there really wasn’t any software tailored, but over the next few years, it was obvious that as she got involved with games and doing little play cards and things like that, it was really helping her concentration, her dexterity. The idea hit both Claudia and I, my wife, that with what’s happening and what we expected to happen in communications and computing and especially as we got into the 90s, this could really be leveraged. This could be something that could be a fundamental change for the better for people’s lives with cognitive disabilities.

That really brought it all together for us. My talk at the conference is going to be around those trends.

WADE WINGLER: And you know, there’s a whole industry, as you know, of people who believe that and feel that the technology, especially one critical piece of technology, can really make a difference and be a turning point in the lives of people with disabilities. So tell me why assistive technology and making technology accessible today is so important.

BILL COLEMAN: Well, as I said, when we envisioned the institute 15 years ago, the fundamental feeling was that communication computing technology going forward was going to actually allow our physical and virtual lives in many ways to converge. And we are seeing that today with what’s going on with mobile computing, etc. We felt that this could actually lead to the ability — the software systems and communities to support people with cognitive disabilities really evolved. Literally this could become a prosthesis for life that could enhance our abilities and overcome our disabilities. So that vision is really applying technology to help. It can help connect us by connecting, measuring, monitoring, reporting and appropriately controlling our environments with the Internet of Things as it emerges, and things like big data analytics and machine learning that would allow the systems to adapt to our abilities and support our disabilities. This is something that will help everybody.

WADE WINGLER: I want to drill down on that a little bit. It’s kind of funny. I monitor the web for news headlines and think that kind of indicate what’s happening in the industry, and I see terms like adaptive and assistive kind of getting cross pollinated between mainstream technology and assistive technology. And I know that in your role as a venture capitalist, you probably spend a lot of time figuring out where is the technology going and what’s going to be the new thing and what’s going to drive the industry forward. Talk to me a little bit about the differences between assistive and mainstream technology. Is that stuff kind of coming together? Is it moving apart? What do you think?

BILL COLEMAN: You have a brilliant observation there. There are so many exciting things dawning in technology. But one of the most exciting for what we are talking about is what’s called the Internet of Things. You hear a lot about that on advertisements and companies, etc. But it’s really happening. As the world becomes more and more instrumented, sensors, devices everywhere, the world can and will adapt to you as an individual. That’s what makes this so interesting.

Now, what this means is that there’s an infinite amount of data — now, that data is starting to be leveraged into things — it’s called big data because there’s massive, massive amounts of it. But with analytics, with software technologies of analytics and machine learning, that’s where these things converge. It really means that the technology will enable your environment through your mobile phone, through your clothes, the world around you, to adapt to you in context to your abilities, disabilities, and the situation you’re in at the moment. Think about what that can do with people with cognitive disabilities. If the systems really can — they really can overcome our limitations and, as I said, become a prosthesis for life.

WADE WINGLER: And one of the trends that I see is kind of in the definition of disability itself. You know, 20 or 30 years ago, when you saw a person with a disability cost some stereotypical images might’ve come to mind like somebody with cerebral palsy or somebody who’s totally blind and using a white cane. But I think we’re seeing some changes in population with age-related disabilities, some of the things related to Alzheimer’s and other cognitive challenges. Low vision is much more involved in our culture these days. Are you saying that the line that divides people with disabilities and without is also moving?

BILL COLEMAN: Yes, it really is. When we founded the institute, we specifically made it for cognitive disabilities. There is a continuum of those kinds of disabilities, and for the aging — you know, I’m getting there myself — these kinds of technologies can be very, very helpful. We’ve learned so much about neural plasticity in the last 10 to 20 years. Right now, there are systems and software that have actually been proven — and you can go online. There’s a very interesting company called Posit Science that has had phenomenal results for people with dementia, with stroke, with traumatic brain injury, in rewiring the brain to literally overcome or at least vastly improve these kinds of capabilities. That is just one example.

WADE WINGLER: So let’s talk a little bit more specifically about the Coleman Institute. Tell me, you gave us some idea about the why it was founded, but tell me some of the things that go on there, maybe some of the success stories that have come out of the Coleman Institute.

BILL COLEMAN: You know, we started this really on the applied science, software and devices, but quickly when we were lucky enough to attract Dr. David Braddock to become the director, he really helped us broaden our vision. We do scientific research. We do public advocacy. We have a PhD program. We hold an annual symposium that really is the center of bringing together the academic, the practitioners, the researchers, the government, and corporations. We have about five or 600 folks come. We team with a couple of other disability organizations. Where the symposium is one day, it’s as long as three days if you want to participate in all the activities.

One of the things we are really proud of is the government has a program through Niter which is part of the Department of Education called the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center. There’s about 20 of those. They’ve been around since the 70s. But until 2005, there were none for any cognitive disabilities. It was all done on physical disabilities. We spent two years working with Niter, and then we competed, working with Kathy Boudin who will be my co-speaker at the plenary session on Saturday of the conference. For the first time ever, a center devoted to cognitive disabilities. It’s called the Center for Advancement in Cognitive Technologies. These are five-year activities, so we just won the second renewal of it. Last year, we formed a partnership to create another center for cognitive disabilities related to health and wellness for people with cognitive disabilities. This is a partner with the University of Illinois in Chicago and the University of Alabama Birmingham Medical Center.

We also publish annually the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities report. When my wife was on the president’s Committee for Intellectual Disabilities, they called this the Bible. It measures state-by-state the quality of all services for people with cognitive disabilities, and as they say in business, if it’s not measured, it doesn’t matter. You see dramatic changes when people find out that their state is 47th, as Colorado did when we published the first time, in services in this case for Down syndrome. All of a sudden, the whole state legislature was flooded, and that changed very quickly.

But the primary objective right now, something we focused on for a long time, took about five years to get started, is we and many of the cognitive disabilities organizations have teamed together to create a Declaration of Rights for People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology, Information, and Access. The unfortunate part of all this technology is if we don’t insure that the standards for operating systems and browsers and other technology take into account the ability for these systems to adapt to cognitive disabilities — the systems adapt today for many physical disabilities, hearing, seeing, etc. But they don’t for people with cognitive disabilities. We believe that this is a fundamental right for people in our society. You know, just as the right to education 40 years ago was passed after lots of hard work for people with cognitive disabilities, we are spearheading this, and we really think that it’s time. We hope anybody who is listening to this that has interest will go to our website,, and you have the ability not only to read it and see the endorsements, but you have the ability to endorse it yourself.

WADE WINGLER: You know, it’s important work. I’ve been working in the field of assistive technology for a little over 20 years, and yeah, I can tell you how to make it work in braille and how to make it work in large print and how to adjust the keyboard to fit anything, but I think we get a little bit stumped when it comes to those intellectual and cognitive kinds of situations. It’s incredibly important work.

BILL COLEMAN: We are very excited about it. The support from the community has been phenomenal. Now we are moving from the community to starting to work with governments. The state of Colorado not only passed it in both houses, but every legislature on both sides of the houses voted to cosponsor it. And now we’ve got several other states, Wisconsin, New York, and others, Kansas, that are moving it through. We want to move through the states. We are starting to engage businesses. And then ultimately we want to go to the U.S. Congress.

WADE WINGLER: It’s great. I love it when the rubber hits the road like that. So Bill, while I have you on the phone — it’s not every day that I get to talk to somebody who has quite the perspective on the technology industry that you do. I want to shift gears a little bit, and I want to ask you a question about what has been, whether assistive technology or just mainstream technology, what has been your favorite dream come true. I mean, I wanted to jet pack when I was a kid, and I still don’t have it. And I just wonder if you can give me any perspective on your favorite technology dream come true.

BILL COLEMAN: It’s the smartphone. I mean, you know, I remember when I was a kid growing up in the 60s, all the Dick Tracy phone watch and all that kind of stuff. The smartphone is the most amazing thing that has ever been developed. I call it my Swiss Army knife. I tried to lift one day all the things that it replaces that I don’t have to carry around anymore, and there’s dozens of them, every day something new. Now, just a little glimpse of the Internet of things, they are connecting with things like the Apple Watch and into your healthcare application and can monitor all sorts of stuff. This is just the beginning. We take it for granted because, especially people born in the last 25 years when it’s been around, pretty ubiquitous, at least the beginning of phones. It’s where it brings it all together. It brings the technology in a really usable and from the way to everybody. Now there’s 4 billion people in the world that have access to some sort of mobile phone, and the smartphone is quickly moving down the pyramid.

WADE WINGLER: And as we talked about those converging lines of mainstream technology and assistive technology, it has really made a big impact on the lives of people with disabilities. It’s interesting how much I see my team here in Indianapolis doing less with computers and laptops and more with smartphones and tablet computers. It really is important.

BILL COLEMAN: It really is. It’ll be transformative.

WADE WINGLER: Absolutely. Bill, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to day. Give us the website for the Coleman Institute again, and any other contact information that you would like to provide where people can learn more by you and your work.

BILL COLEMAN: Well, first, you can reach the Coleman Institute by going to the site, and then under the president’s office. But to reach it directly, it’s I guess there’s a lot of stuff of my works and talks on that site as well, as well as the histories of all our conferences, talks, videos, the state of the state’s report, searchable database. I really encourage people to go there. Once again, while you are there, please look at the declaration and endorse it.

WADE WINGLER: Bill Coleman is a partner at Allsop Louis, a real technology industry pioneer, and going to be a speaker at the RESNA conference in Denver in June this year. Bill, thank you so much for spending some time with us today.

BILL COLEMAN: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

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 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.