BRIAN NORTON: Welcome to ATFAQ, Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. I’m your host Brian Norton, Manager of Clinical Assistive Technology at Easter Seals Crossroads. This is a show in which we address your questions about assistive technology, the hardware, software, tools and gadgets that help people with disabilities lead more independent and fulfilling lives. Have a question you’d like answered on our show? Send a tweet with the hashtag #ATFAQ or call our listener line at 317-721-7124, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The world of assistive technology has questions, and we have answers.
So today I just want to welcome the panel that we having here today. Today we have Belva Smith. She’s the team lead for our vision team here at Easter Seals Crossroads. She has years of experience with screen readers and all things low vision. Belva, how are you today?
BELVA SMITH: Good. How about you, Brian?
BRIAN NORTON: Doing well, thanks. And also we have Mark Stewart. Mark’s the team lead for our mobility and cognition team here at Easter Seals Crossroads. He has years of experience with all things related to mobility and cognition. He also has his ATP. He’s a CBIS, which is certified brain injury specialist, so on and so forth. Mark, how are you today?
MARK STEWART: Really good. How are you?
BRIAN NORTON: Great. And last but not least, Wade Wingler. He’s the director of our technology division here at Easter Seals Crossroads and host of the popular podcast AT Update. Wade, how are you today?
WADE WINGLER: I’m doing good. Brian, I want to congratulate you because this is officially episode eight, and people who live in the world of podcasting know that if you make it past episode seven, your show is likely to stick. People who stop podcasting usually stop on or about episode seven, so you’ve made it past the hard hurdle here. I think your show is here to stay.
BRIAN NORTON: Excellent. Very cool. Before we jump into the questions, I just want to make sure that we give our new listeners, persons who are new here listening to the show, some information about how the show really works. The first is this is all about questions and answers, so if you guys have assistive technology questions, please let us know what questions are. You can call our listener line at 317-721-7124. You can email us at email@example.com, or you can even send out a tweet with the hashtag #ATFAQ.
Really the whole format of the show is we collect all of those questions and we send those questions out to our panel and we try to answer those questions here on the show. If you guys have questions, please let us know what they are. We’d really like to continue having a show, so we need those questions to come in so we can have content for our show. You can find our show in several different ways. You can find us on iTunes by searching assistive technology frequently asked questions.
BELVA SMITH: You can actually find it by doing just “ATFAQ.”
BRIAN NORTON: You can find it by searching assistive technology questions or ATFAQ on iTunes. You can look for us on Stitcher, or you can visit our website at www.ATFAQshow.com
BRIAN NORTON: So the first question is are there braille displays that would work with my iPad, iPhone, or Android device?
BELVA SMITH: Yes.
BRIAN NORTON: Belva looks like she has an answer. Belva, what you think?
BELVA SMITH: Yes, and the list is endless. There are more that will than what there is that won’t. But Brian, you provided two great websites. I went to both of those and checked them out, and that’s what I would highly recommend for anyone who’s interested in possibly trying to purchase a braille display. Or if you already have one, you just want to know if I get an iPad or Android tablet is it going to work, if you go to www.apple.com/accessibility/ios/braille-display.html, and if you can’t remember that, you can probably just Google braille displays.
BRIAN NORTON: And we’ll stick a link in the show notes as well.
BELVA SMITH: Okay. Because that is going to pull up a list and you’ll see that there are oodles of them that are compatible. Same thing for Android, except you’re going to go to support.google.com/accessibility/Android, and again put that in the show notes for them.
BRIAN NORTON: And I found, it’s interesting with the iOS devices, because it has Voiceover built into it, their screen reader built into it, a lot of those braille devices will work with — you actually have to have a screen reader installed for those things to work. In an Android environment, you actually have to download — it doesn’t come preinstalled. There is not a preinstalled part of the operating system screen reader built in. The one that was brought up that I kind of had seen as something called Braille Back, which is a download you can do for your Android device. It’s developed by the Eyes Free Project and will allow you to then use a braille device with your Android device.
BELVA SMITH: And if we’ve got time, I’ll take just a minute to remind all of our listeners that if you are trying to connect your braille device to your iOS device, you won’t do it under braille in the settings. You actually have to go to Voiceover to install your braille device. That’s true for your iPhone, iPad, whatever. So there’s keyboards, you won’t go there — you’re going to go to your Voiceover to at it.
BRIAN NORTON: And most of those braille devices, they are not connected devices either. They are usually Bluetooth or wireless displays as well. And you’re right, it does look like there’s probably 50, 60 listed on the website there at Apple. And then the same is true for the Android as well.
BELVA SMITH: You’re going to find way fewer that won’t — more than likely whatever you’ve got is going to work, or whatever you want to get is going to work.
WADE WINGLER: So just to make sure I understand, if you’re on an iOS device, you’re going to connect your braille display via Bluetooth, turn on Voiceover, and Voiceover’s going to send the signal to the braille display. And on Android, you’re going to do the same kind of thing but you’re going to use talkback as the screen reader and Braille Back which gets added on to talkback which puts the braille it, right?
BELVA SMITH: Right.
BRIAN NORTON: Correct.
BELVA SMITH: But you want to have your Voiceover on, and I’m assuming the same is true for Android because I’ve never actually done that. But you’re going to want to have Voiceover on before you even try to add a braille display as a Bluetooth device.
BRIAN NORTON: So it’s likely true that you need to talkback on as well as Braille Back activated for that braille display to work.
BELVA SMITH: Right.
BRIAN NORTON: This next question came in to us through email. The person’s name is Themba. Her question is I’m looking for help with the Audio Note app on my iPad. I recorded some work in the Audio Note app, and now there’s lots of records which I wish to transfer and save them to my other device like a Windows personal computer. So that’s the question.
Just to hit the answer for that, Luminant Software is the maker of the AudioNote app. They actually have in their support files lots of good information about how to actually transfer notes from an iPad or iPhone or Android device back over to Windows. That was one of the things, just to kind of hit on, there’s really kind of three ways to do that. The first way is you can use Dropbox. So if you have a Dropbox account, on your iPad, you can create and/or move notes on your iPad into the Dropbox folder, and then you can install the Dropbox client on the Windows computer and then move those files back and forth using Dropbox.
BELVA SMITH: That’s true with any iCloud saving, right? It doesn’t have to be Dropbox?
BRIAN NORTON: I believe so. The ones that they brought up was Dropbox very specifically, but you may also be able to do that with iCloud and other things. It really probably depends on what plug-ins are specifically available in Audio Note. If you go into certain apps, certain apps only allow connections to certain online sharing programs. I know Audio Note specifically does have one for Dropbox.
The other one, which is something that I haven’t tried before, but it talks about sharing files over Wi-Fi from your iPads. So you can start Wi-Fi sharing on your iPad and then you can open up your PC browser to an indicated URL. So if you turn on Wi-Fi sharing, it’s probably going to give you a dedicated web browser URL that you can plug in and can click on the title of the link for your Audio Note file and transfer that way as well. The other one is transferring your notes through iTunes. So you can turn on iTunes file sharing to be able to transfer your notes to your PC. If you go to the support page, there’s some instruction on how to do all these things. But you can turn on that file sharing and be able to transfer back and forth that way through iTunes.
BELVA SMITH: I’ve actually done that using iTunes with the Voiceover. It works very well. But I think that I also read somewhere that there is a download of a Windows desktop application —
BRIAN NORTON: There is.
BELVA SMITH: Okay. So you can transfer it that way as well. I believe then you can edit it, rename it, whatever.
BRIAN NORTON: I’ve got a client in particular who’s got a Windows-based computer. He’s also got an iPad with Audio Note loaded over there. He does that very thing. The application for the PC is about $20. You can download it through their website. It’s very inexpensive comparatively to other programs that do similar things.
BELVA SMITH: Do you know if that’s Windows 7 and Windows 8? Or does it have to be Windows 8?
BRIAN NORTON: I believe his computer specifically was a Windows 7 computer, but I would assume it’s Windows 8 compatible as well. But essentially what he’s able to do, he can just create, and that shares it over the cloud. He just basically saves it in a location, and he can access it from his computer through the Audio Note desktop application.
BELVA SMITH: So if that’s the case, would I not be able to save from, say, the school library computer, access it? Because if it’s saving it to the cloud, I can probably log in from any computer and get it.
BRIAN NORTON: I believe the only thing that would be a downfall to that is you probably need the Audio Note application on the computer that you are trying to bring it up on. If they would perhaps have that, then you might be able to do that.
BELVA SMITH: Okay.
BRIAN NORTON: And for those that haven’t used Audio Note, I guess we’re kind of talking about the program, and for some folks they might not even know what the program does. The program really is for note taking classes or just general notetaking in meetings and other kinds of places. What it allows you to do — it’s a pretty cool application — it allows you to record audio, see you can record classroom conversations or meeting conversation. But it will allow you to type, and on an iOS device or a tablet device, it’ll also let you use a stylus to let you write on the screen, so you can either write or type with a Bluetooth keyboard into the app while it’s recording and it links everything that you write or you type to the audio itself, so that when you go back and listen to the conversation, you can jump around very easily from point-to-point depending on what you wrote. You can just tap on a word in the screen, it will jump to that point in time when that word was written and bring up the audio from that particular moment in time. It’s a really neat app.
The other thing it will allow you to do, especially on tablet devices which I find extremely useful, as it allows you to use the forward facing camera on those devices to be able to go up and snap a picture of something that may have been written on the whiteboard or maybe on the chalkboard, and then it directly inputs that into your notes. So instead of just trying to capture everything maybe the teacher or your boss is writing up there in front of you, you can simply take a picture of it and insert it into your notes and be able to capture things much more quickly.
BELVA SMITH: A lot of the folks I work with use the little handheld digital recorders to remind themselves about upcoming appointments and phone numbers and their grocery lists and that kind of thing. They can use Audio Note to do the same type of thing. The good thing about using Audio Note to do that is that once it’s transferred to their PC, they can manipulate that information easier than if they have it on a digital recorder. So it’s quicker to access.
WADE WINGLER: And as of now, we are recording in the middle of June 2015, it’s available on both iOS and Android and is about five dollars.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s right. And if you do want the PC application, that’s a $20 download.
BELVA SMITH: Still then you’ve got $30 in it instead of, what, probably the cheapest digital recorder that you can get nowadays is going to cost you $50, I would assume. And if you want one that’s going to connect to your PC, you’re probably going to pay little bit more, probably $79. A little less money, one less device.
BRIAN NORTON: Right. I feel like it came out of the LiveScribe pen arena.
BELVA SMITH: I agree.
BRIAN NORTON: You start out with the digital recorder that does some really neat things for you, then you move up to a LiveScribe pen where you can handwrite and link the audio to the handwriting, and then you can then move to the Audio Note app which takes it a step further by allowing you to not only write, but you can now type and insert pictures directly into your notes. So those are the steps forward you can take with that type of technology if needed.
BRIAN NORTON: Next question is what happens when you can’t magnify printed materials to a level that is comfortable for you? Are there technologies that someone can use then? As I was reading this question, I wasn’t sure, and I know we’ve talked about this before, getting as much information as is helpful for us as we try to handle the questions. I wasn’t sure of the question was necessarily referring to printed materials or to specifically computer access. I thought we could address both of those. Let’s start with the conversation about printed materials. If you can’t magnify printed materials to a level that’s comfortable for you, what can you do to be able to handle those things?
BELVA SMITH: I’m taking the question as the user is asking how can they get access to printed material when they can no longer magnify it using a CCTV to a size that’s comfortable for them.
WADE WINGLER: Meaning they can’t get it big enough.
BELVA SMITH: They can’t it a big enough. They can’t get the contrast set right. That’s the way I’m taking the question. So for me, the answer becomes you access your printed material through a computer with a special software that is open book or Kurzweil where you basically would scan the information into the PC, and have it converted using OCR, which is optical character recognition, so that the computer can then read it back to you. Or if you want to do it using your iDevice, you can do the same type of process. You take a picture and have an application like the KNFB reader app which can then convert it so that it can be read to you. That’s the way I’m interpreting the question.
BRIAN NORTON: Belva, there’s also standalone devices as well. Is that right? Clear Reader and some of the kinds of things?
BELVA SMITH: Yes.
BRIAN NORTON: So maybe if you don’t have the computer, you can still maybe move away from a CCTV and use a more standalone device in its place?
BELVA SMITH: Absolutely. I do a lot of work with older individuals — when I say older, I’m talking 80’s plus — who have maybe never ever used a computer and have absolutely no desire to use a computer, but they would still like to be able to go through their own mail or perhaps read a newspaper article. To do that, then we use those standalone devices like the Clear Reader where you simply lay the printed material down, push a button , it captures it and immediately begins reading it back to you. Most of those types of devices, or the easier versions of those devices, don’t even save the scan. They just scan and read. There are ones that will save it, and then you get a little more complicated because if you’re saving it, then you’ve got to know how to name it and where you’re putting it and how to pull it back up and read it later.
BRIAN NORTON: And for folks who aren’t familiar with those devices, is there a particular name of a product in that area, the standalone devices?
BELVA SMITH: The Clear Reader is probably the easiest. Then there is that Ace Pal.
BRIAN NORTON: And then SARA Scanner from Freedom Scientific.
BELVA SMITH: Which SARA stands for — oh, what is it? Wade, you know this.
WADE WINGLER: Scanning And Reading Appliance?
BELVA SMITH: Oh, yeah, right. I was thinking of TWAIN.
BRIAN and WADE: [In Unison] Technology Without An Interesting Name.
BRIAN NORTON: Scanning And Reading Appliance. Is that what you said, Wade?
WADE WINGLER: Yeah.
BRIAN NORTON: Perfect.
MARK STEWART: Belva, certainly I’m setting you up here. You’re the one to answer. That conversation about the functional nature of how high you can go with magnification before it becomes cumbersome to read, and you may need to switch to something else, it’s sooner than a lot of people might think, right?
BELVA SMITH: Well, you want to remember — and I just had this situation with an evaluation I was doing on Friday, in fact. I may be able to increase the size of the information to a level that you can see it, but if you can only see two or three letters of a word at a time, you have to think about how effective are you going to be and how efficient are you going to be and what kind of headache you’re going to have at the end of the day. One of the things I try to stick to my folks is save that vision that you’ve got to look at a picture of your grandkids or something. If you’re trying to work eight hours in a day, and you want to be effective and you want to be efficient, then if you can’t see a whole word, we probably want to look at a different method. I noticed that — Brian, one of the things you and I agreed on many years ago when we met right off the bat was if someone’s using a screen magnifier for their computer, if they are at the level of 5 plus, we probably want to be moving away from a screen magnifier and moving into a screen reader. The lady that I was with on Friday was really struggling with that because she wants to hold on and use which she’s got, but at the end of the day I just don’t think it would be very effective.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s one of those very sensitive topics for folks because, you know, I could only imagine if I had low vision. I’m going to use what vision I have until it’s completely gone. But when you start looking at it from our perspective, about productivity what you’re trying to do day in and day out, we’re really looking at how you can be the most effective, how you can be the most productive at your job.
BELVA SMITH: And stress-free.
BRIAN NORTON: If we can move you from a magnifier to a screen reader, a lot of times we can make you a lot faster. It’ll take time. It’s a huge transition for folks because you’re not using your vision as much anymore. It’s just one of those things. We always keep the user’s preference in mind, but we try to push them along in that way if we can, and if they are willing to. We’re not going to force anybody to do anything they don’t want to. But really, when you get to that level of magnification, you’re just not seeing as much and it’s really going to cut down your productivity which makes it challenging in a competitive job market like we have these days.
BELVA SMITH: And very frustrating individually because you’re sitting there looking back and forth and up and down for a checkbox that you know is on the page somewhere. You’ve seen it before. You’ve checked it before. But maybe they moved it. I hear that all the time. They change things up and it’s not where it’s supposed to be, when, if you would let go of that and use a screen reader, you can push two buttons and be at the checkbox know matter where it’s been moved to.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s an interesting conversation when you talk about computer access, because you’ve got magnifiers and you are kind of quarantined to a certain size monitor and you kind of have to work within those constraints. When you talk about printed materials, that just brings up a whole another slew of questions and problems, because when you’re trying to find a checkbox on a printed piece of paper, you probably want to use a CCTV or video magnifier to be able to look at those things, because a lot of the things we talked about earlier, the things that actually scan in something to the computer and the computer has to interpret it, it removes a lot of the formatting —
BELVA SMITH: Not necessarily. You can do it in exact view and still see your checkboxes. So if it’s a form, for example, that you’ve got to fill out, you’re not going to be able to do it with Clear Reader because all’s going to do is read it to you. But if you’re using one of the computer based ones, then you’ll still be up to find that checkbox and get it checked as needed.
MARK STEWART: And we are talking really about an assessment kind of thing, considering vocational goals and what have you, because we have digitized technology now that can magnify effectively up to 36 times or what have you, and yet functionally we are perhaps talking about having the person transfer off of that technology at five or six times magnification.
BELVA SMITH: That’s five or six times on the computer screen magnifier. If we are talking CCTV, it’s not five or six times.
BRIAN NORTON: It’s a whole different animal.
BELVA SMITH: I’ve never really gotten the difference, but it’s a huge difference. Someone could be using 10-times magnification level on a CCTV and it’s really not that much.
WADE WINGLER: I think it’s subjective. Different devices are going to be different. I’m not sure — we talked about whether or not we know the vision is degenerating. If we know the vision is degenerating, that might also kind of figure into that decision as well. Brian, you said it. It’s always about making sure we respect the user’s choice and their desires and their needs and try to coach them and help them understand what the long-term looks like so they can make good decisions about where they’re going. It’s a tricky one.
BRIAN NORTON: And to hit on it, I kind of mentioned it earlier, that we would handled both printed and computer access stuff, we talked about printed material things, by scanning them into the computer using OCR, but what about computer access as well? Obviously I could probably answer the question. You talk about when you’re using a screen magnifier on the computer and you can’t get it large enough or you’re getting to the point where you’re being less productive, the things that you would traditionally move to would be screen readers. And there’s a variety of different screen readers. We’ve talked about that before. But those are JAWS, that’s made by a company called Freedom Scientific. Window Eyes is made by a company called AI Squared. They also make a screen magnifier called the Zoom Text which is a pretty great screen magnifier. There’s also NVDA which is a free version. It’s non-visual display access. I think there’s a couple of different ways to look at that acronym. NVDA is a pretty good product that’s free and you can download it for free. Voiceover is what you would find on a Mac. There are other ones out there, different variations of screen readers for folks.
BRIAN NORTON: The next question came to us through email. This is a pretty long question so hopefully I can paraphrase a little bit. I think you’ll get the gist of it as we go through it here. She says I’m writing about my disabilities, and I’m looking for a stool or something high like that that can be used both high and low. This particular person basically has some circulatory problems and had a below-the-knee invitation and is in a wheelchair. She mentioned that one of her favorite things to do before her amputation was to cook and bake. She’s essentially looking for some sort of stool where she can have a stool that is as low as a wheelchair so that she can go from the wheelchair to the stool, or basically transfer from the wheelchair to the stool, and then raise up about six or 8 inches, but also have wheels on the stool so that she can move around the floor back and forth on the counter to the table and to the fridge and oven. So she’s looking for a stool that’s about the same height as a wheelchair so that she can then move around her kitchen from different places, so she can still do cooking and other kinds of things.
MARK STEWART: I’ll start off by just making the point that the first thing that comes to my mind is interdisciplinary team. Not being there with the person, being able to ask certain screening questions, the first thing that we need to make sure is in place is that everything is appropriate medically. What would the physiatrist say? What would a physical therapist say? What would an occupational therapist say about balance and sensory feedback? Does she have a prosthetic for the below-knee amputation? What kind of a prosthetic is it? How often does she wear it? So everything about balance and safety and function from the medical standpoint.
So having said that, just starting to move forward with technology applications, there’s a lot of different stools out there that use a hydraulic cylinder that you flip the lever just like everybody can picture on a traditional ergonomic chair, but the cylinder is taller and the range may be longer because it’s made to go more from a high sitting to a semi-standing kind of position. So just picture that pneumatic cylinder being able to make those adjustments also to have a little bit of a spring involved.
Now we are talking about subtleties with regard to the type of stool, what type of padding, what type of angle, what type of ability for the device to translate, manipulate, either dynamically or by locking it in and unlocking it. Does it have any type of backrest? There are lots of different options. Jumping right in and playing off of this question, possibly a best answer might be a saddle stool of some type. The hip angle is open a lot more. There’s usually a lot of good things going on there medically when that’s the case. There’s more abduction. The legs are further apart, just a tiny bit of external rotation of the femur, more inherent lumbar lordosis, and just kind of much more of an approximation of neutral anatomy and good biomechanics, even without a backrest.
Now, from an environmental, functional standpoint, so if the hips are open more or the knees are extended more, if the feet are still nicely spread and on the floor, you’ve got the center of gravity coming right through the person, in concept, right through the cylinder so they can move around nicely with their feet and navigate without losing their balance. That open hip angle, that knee extension, means that they can go right up to the things like the oven, like the countertop, and not have to bend over nearly as much as they would have to if they were in a different type of a stool, maybe even a high stool with a ring around it. The knees would be sticking out more, and you’d have to lose that lumbar lordosis and fall off of your center point and tend to cause more strain on your back, and it would take more effort. So that’s not as ideal biomechanically and ergonomically.
So with the saddle stool concept, again aside from a lot of potential biomechanical advantages, just allowing you to be kind of semi-standing but maybe supported, allows you to get up close to things without changing the position at all, and that the real advantage is that I’ve seen. Salli.com is the home site for the Salli line of saddle stools. That’s the company that I’ve worked a lot with, that we’ve worked a lot with. They have a number of different types. One is the multi-adjuster which kind of allows you to do the most things. And then it’s interesting, playing off of that, you can put a little backrest on it. You can put a wraparound armrest on it. But you don’t necessarily need those things as much as an ergonomic chair, for example. It’s a whole different type of concept. It sets the body up differently. In a sense, it’s used differently, right? As Brian set up this question, this is not an all-day thing, yet it is a thing that involves a tremendous amount of movement, and so different than, for example, someone needing an ergonomic chair to sit behind a desk. So in a sense, we may not need to tack on that little backrest because we may not be using it. It may actually get in the way and encourage the person to lose that lumbar lordosis and push into it when that’s not the point. There’s another one that I think may be worth looking at. It’s by Ergonomic Accessories. It’s called the Spine Saver Saddle stool, little bit of a different design, but that’s a good one as well.
WADE WINGLER: Mark, let me jump in with a follow-up question and a comment. First of all, I love it when your kinesiology degree pops up at work and you can use the lingo in a way that makes me think, wow. But here’s the other thing. We’re talking about somebody in the kitchen with a raised center of gravity where there is a hot stove, and I’m envisioning a knife, pointy dangerous kinds of things. Does the raised center of gravity and the more slippery, more inherent dangerous nature of the kitchen come into play there? What you think about that? Because she’s talking about using the stuff in the kitchen.
MARK STEWART: Different ways to approach the answer. You don’t want to be too low, you don’t want to be too high, right? Kind of that leg spread nicely, feet flat on the floor, knees partially extended, hips partially flexed. You can picture a lot of that control there. Even if the feet are still touching the floor, stretched out too high to stand and maybe being pushed up by the stool, could almost be throwing the person off a little bit. And then I think sitting down and any type of reaching is an issue.
Getting things closer to the center of gravity is, biomechanically, going to be much more efficient. These are going to weigh less relatively. You can just use your muscles and everything in a much more efficient type of way if you can keep it close to you and you can keep things close to the center of gravity and keep yourself well-balanced. So it’s kind of a halfway in between thing from a biomechanics standpoint, that semi-standing position.
The other way to answer the question is speculative, but it’s an interesting conversational way of answering the question, which is going back to how the person described themselves. Circulatory issues, peripheral neuropathy, we are speculating. So now we’re talking about potentially issues with sensory nerves that have been damaged that also have to do with balance and those sorts of things.
BRIAN NORTON: And below the knee amputation’s also going to do that.
MARK STEWART: And the weight or lack of weight of not having that part of the limb, and how does that affect the rest of the body for balance, and how does the body respond to that. And we are all — this is the way we roll, sorry to say that, in this room, very ready to say, hey, Mr. Physical Therapist, hey, Mr. Occupational Therapist, have you consulted? Should we bring you into consult to make sure about those things?
WADE WINGLER: And working under the advice of a physician and keeping safety in mind. We’re talking about an environment that inherently can be a little bit tricky. Just being safe in that situation.
BELVA SMITH: I’m envisioning — because the piece of the question that I saw was that this person is also visually impaired — the placement of everything on the countertop is going to be huge.
BRIAN NORTON: Right.
BELVA SMITH: The level of the countertop is huge, but we may not be able to adjust that, but we can certainly work with the organization and placement of the different tools that are needed for cooking and baking.
BRIAN NORTON: There’s a lot going on in that particular situation.
BELVA SMITH: She would probably love to have us all sit in her kitchen for a couple of hours.
WADE WINGLER: She said she’s a good baker, right?
BELVA SMITH: Exactly.
BRIAN NORTON: Let’s go.
MARK STEWART: And what if the medical team has some concerns safety wise, and the consumer, client, patient, whichever title they want at the moment, is fine with that consultation, and the advice is that they are simply concerned about them getting out of the wheelchair? Then coming back to technology stuff and assistive technology in the power mobility arena, there are power elevating seats to the wheelchairs. How high can you go? Eight inches a lot of times.
BRIAN NORTON: Not much more than that.
MARK STEWART: Not to be quoted exactly at this point, but Invacare, Pride Mobility, you can look those things up and see what’s currently available. But when you think about somebody who, from kind of a safety and functionality standpoint, needs to not leave the wheelchair for ADL’s, you can’t safely — even if the technology could exist, you can’t invent technology that lifts the person up 5 feet. Things are going to become unstable. So there are some limitations there. That can be one of the first things to break as well. There may be a question with regards to funding, whether the funding sources see that as a medical necessity or not. But simply from the standpoint of saying what technology is out there, we can simply elevate the seat of the wheelchair sometimes. A lot of times that’s the approach for somebody who can’t leave the wheelchair and wants to get around in the kitchen better.
BRIAN NORTON: Perfect.
BELVA SMITH: Great question.
BRIAN NORTON: So the next question, is there a voice input program that is compatible with Linux? Linux is an operating system for the computer system. I’ll go ahead and chime in on this particular question first. There are Linux compatible speech recognition programs, voice input programs. That’s not something that we here in our day to day working typically run into. Most of what we do are job accommodations or folks going to school where they use more traditional computers, either in Apple computers or Windows-based computers. But we did do a little bit of digging, and it looks like there are quite a few different speech recognition programs for Linux. In fact, if you go and look under Wikipedia, you’ll be able to find some different things out there about different programs that are designed for that environment.
One of the things I found most often, though, is that not necessarily using a particular speech recognition program designed for a Linux application, but more people using either a virtual window or virtual machine on a Linux box to be able to use the NaturallySpeaking as a solution for themselves. NaturallySpeaking is a Windows-based program, so essentially what they do is they load a virtual machine, a virtual Windows machine, onto Linux and then use voice input that way.
BELVA SMITH: So then I really wouldn’t be accessing the Linux because I’m just accessing Windows through —
BRIAN NORTON: Correct.
BELVA SMITH: Okay. That’s interesting.
BRIAN NORTON: In fact, a couple of ones that were brought out there in terms of which virtual machine to use, there’s a free program from Oracle called Virtual Box which is kind of easy to set up. The one caveat to be able to load a virtual machine is you need a copy of Windows. Finding Windows may be a problem because most folks are using Linux because it’s free. They don’t want to go pay. So finding a version of Windows for a few hundred bucks may not be something they are open to. But it does look like that’s the way to go as far as what most people think as far as using voice recognition on a Linux machine.
WADE WINGLER: I guess I want to reach back to the audience and ask people who are listening to the show to push back on us a little bit with this particular question. I don’t know about you guys — we used to have somebody here on staff who was heavily into Linux and kind of kept us up to speed and pushed the open source Linux vibe quite a bit. We don’t have the in-house anymore, so I don’t know if my perspective is tweaked and skewed or not, but I’m seeing less by the way of Linux these days. I’m hearing less about it. I’m seeing less people use it. I’m hearing less about assistive technology in the world of Linux. I don’t know if that’s your perspective as well, but I don’t think we came up with an answer here except run Windows and stick Dragon inside of it, right?
BELVA SMITH: Exactly.
WADE WINGLER: And I’m not trying to call you out, Brian. It seems like there might not be a magic answer here.
BELVA SMITH: But I agree with you, Wade. If we’ve got listeners that might know something, then send us a tweet or send us an email and let us know. We can certainly take a look at it. It’s funny that you talked about our past employee, because that was my first question, where is he, because he would know.
MARK STEWART: And if you’re going to call Brian out, I’ll jump into the fire. Simply from skimming the research on some links that Brian sent me, I guess there are some things. Carnegie Mellon Institute has done some things. There are some open source initiatives to develop speech engines from scratch. Why was that just a matter of researching to give the answer during the show and stir up conversation there for us? I think there’s good reason for that. We work in vocational settings. We have referral sources that are job-based or formally scholastic based, so they are formally running OS X or Windows. So we should play off of those platforms. It would actually be inappropriate for us to say, hey, here’s this free version. Your workplace uses Windows 7 and we’re going to have you use a Linux because it happens to be free or we think it’s cool. It’s appropriate for us to play off of what they are going to be using most often. Now, for example, even if I might prefer or wish in a situation that I had a certain version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking to work for a person, if that vocational setting or scholastic setting is Mac-based, then I adapt and move forward with everything I can to help them plan off -of that platform. You just don’t see Linux in those types of settings as much.
BELVA SMITH: Do you think that Linux is becoming less used or less popular because the Windows-based PCs have come down in price so much?
WADE WINGLER: Possibly, interesting.
BELVA SMITH: Because I know when Linux was really big, we were paying eleven, twelve hundred dollars for a Windows PC. Pretty much now you can get one for $299 if you look.
WADE WINGLER: Right.
MARK STEWART: I’ll come at this from another angle — and I guess now the listener knows that I’m not totally saturated with having been able to experiment with every type of speech engine developed out there. I’m sure there is some good stuff going on. But, man, I’m a fan of Nuance’s speech engines for Dragon NaturallySpeaking. They’re the ones that are pushing the envelope on getting 99% accuracy. There was ViaVoice out there from IBM battling with them a decade or so ago around numbers, as far as the years back and what have you, and Nuance has just done great stuff with voice recognition accuracy. When you’re talking about a situation — whether it’s Windows, Mac, just simply from the standpoint of recognition accuracy, when you’ve got software currently that, with the right microphone, if we’re talking about a person who is quite articulate or with just a little bit of training can learn to speak with a bit of variation in their voice to where the software likes it the best, and so we are now in that situation with that setup, sound voice control, good microphone, good processing unit, Nuance’s speech engines, you are pushing the envelope of 98-99% recognition accuracy. That doesn’t make you want to run around and try to find other types of speech engines. That’s pretty darn effective and pretty darn useful.
BRIAN NORTON: Right. And to go back to fill in some of the blanks that Wade put in my initial conversation, as far as there being some Linux-based speech applications, one is called Free Speech. Another one is called Simon. These are things that we haven’t used, but they are out there. But again, we just don’t deal with that a whole lot, but we will stick a link in our show notes to the Wikipedia insert there that talks a lot about speech recognition software for Linux. You can take a look at some of those things. They’ve got a pretty comprehensive list of different software packages for that.
BELVA SMITH: If we’ve got that listener out there that’s using Linux every day with his speech recognition, just give us a ring and let us know.
BRIAN NORTON: We’re just talking about our reality. We love open source, we love three, we love developers and all that stuff.
BELVA SMITH: Right.
WADE WINGLER: And now it’s time for the wildcard question.
BRIAN NORTON: So our next question is the wildcard question of the week. This is where Wade gets to spring a question on this at the last moment, one we haven’t even had the chance to prepare for. Wade, what do you have?
WADE WINGLER: You guys are used to that. I spring stuff on you guys all the time with no chance to prepare. So the question I’ve got this time is, we are just wrapping up a lot of the major assistive technology conferences for the year. In fact, we are recording like right after RESNA has changed in Denver in 2015. And everybody in this room has been to at least one, probably more than one, major assistive technology conference in the past. I know there are people in the audience who wish they just had gone to the conferences and couldn’t get funding, couldn’t make it happen, or whatever. My question for each one of you is, what is your advice for a first-time attendee to a major assistive technology conference? And then, if somebody can’t attend, like we can’t always go to AT conferences, can somebody get that same info? What is your advice to a first-time major AT conference attendee, and then what’s your advice for somebody who can be one of those attendees but would love to be?
BRIAN NORTON: Let me chime in first because I know everybody’s chomping at the bit and may have the same answer I have. For a first-time attendee, I remember when I went to my first major assistive technology conference. It was Closing The Gap. I then followed that up by going to ATIA for several years. I believe for a first-time attendee, if you’re just getting comfortable with assistive technology and what it is, spending time in the exhibit halls is probably the most valuable piece of all the AT conferences that I have gone to, because I get a chance to really talk to vendors and I get to talk about what their current devices do, what they’re thinking for the future, and get my questions answered about what their products can do, and then really have a great, wide look at the different kinds of things that are out there for the folks that I serve day in and day out. So I would say spend a lot of time as a first-time attendee in the exhibit hall and learn about the different devices that are out there for folks.
And for those folks who can’t attend, I would say most of these assistive technology conferences now, throughout the year, have small little seminars and things like that through Go To Meeting, or Go To Training, different things like that. They have lots of different opportunities where you can attend certain things online. I know in particular here at Crossroads through INDATA, the Indiana Assistive Technology Act, we have quarterly trainings. We stream those. A lot of content that we may present here also gets covered in certain ways through these major AT conferences. That’s where I would start.
WADE WINGLER: I guess I should’ve put this quick disclaimer as I asked the question. We aren’t promoting one particular conference over the other. We’ve been to all of them. We love all of them. We work closely with all of them. We think they’re all great and they cover their different missions. Just generally when we’re talking about AT conferences, Mark, Belva, what would be your device?
BELVA SMITH: Wear comfortable shoes because you’re going to be on your feet all day long. Take plenty of business cards with you. Get plenty of business cards. Just venture as much as you can.
BRIAN NORTON: I just don’t wear shoes. I don’t wear shoes to conferences.
WADE WINGLER: That would be the best way to go. And then if you can’t get there, I second what Brian said, but then also check your favorite podcasters, because there’s lots of podcasts covering different events that are going on at all of them. You can get some real good hands on information to the podcasts. Pack an extra bag.[Laughter]
MARK STEWART: Wow. I don’t even need to tell the story.
BELVA SMITH: Yes, you do.
WADE WINGLER: Oh, yeah.
MARK STEWART: You guys can tell it.
BELVA SMITH: We were with Mark at his first one, and he had to buy a suitcase to have his stuff shipped home in because he collected so much material.
WADE WINGLER: Every brochure, every printout, everybody uneaten bagel.
MARK STEWART: So the first one, I had a duffel bag full of CDs and pamphlets and business cards and everything. The next one was nothing, nothing like that at all, a few business cards and just links to things. Hey, I can just go to the manufacturer’s website once I get home and get the same information. More seriously, I would say to network, to put a face with a name. Nurses, for example, all the wonderful work they do, there are lots of them around the world. It’s a big family. It’s a smaller family with us. If that question was directly targeting — I’m sorry if you said the exact words, assistive technology conferences — yeah, you did, ok. Yeah, we are a pretty small family and we are spread out around the world. Try to keep it personal.
BELVA SMITH: It’s pretty exciting to be in one place with so many people that have the same interests that you have and that know about new technologies that are coming that get you excited and pumped up. I remember flying home from the first one that I went to, so excited about what was going to happen, what all these great things are that are coming out and being able to share that information with my clients and consumers, to say this is going to be happening.
MARK STEWART: Maybe that came out clear, but I was coming down from being sort of embarrassed about a 50, 60 pound duffel bag full of pamphlets and CDs. The point about the nurses was in comparison, that that’s not us. There are so many of them and so many people to meet. We are a much smaller family. Let’s try to find out who we are all are.
WADE WINGLER: One of the pieces of advice that I always have, because I’ve been to many of the conferences and have presented at them and spend a lot of time there, I agree. Go to the exhibit hall and find out what’s happening with each of the vendors and what’s happening new there. I also recommend to look at the sessions. Look at the program and see if there are sessions that you want to attend. I can’t overstate the importance of what Mark mentioned, which is networking. Go to the lobby of the hotel where the conference is, or go to the bar and restaurant and don’t hesitate to say to somebody else there, hey, tell me about yourself. Tell me why you’re here. You don’t know when you’re going to be sitting next to one of the developers or presidents of one of the main companies, enjoying a beverage and hanging out in the evening and getting to meet people at a very personal level, because we are such a small and intimate industry. You’re able to get insight and make connections that are going to serve you well.
MARK STEWART: I didn’t yet answer that part of the question about if you can’t attend. It’s going to the manufacturer’s websites, it’s going to RESNA. To an extent you can stay current by going to — I don’t know. Help me out here, guys — AbleNet.com. Again, we don’t represent one in particular. We always peruse all of them. There are a number of different companies out there that specialize in assistive technology, sometimes with a certain lean. A lot of them try to do as much as they possibly can from a global perspective. Just going to those websites and trying to visualize and think in pictures and turn the object upside down and watching the videos and everything as much as you can, can go a long way, especially these days, to helping you stay current. It still is great to be able to put her hand on something, but —
WADE WINGLER: I guess the last thing I’ll say is very self-serving, we have a lot of that content. One of the reasons we do a YouTube video every week, one of the reasons we have blog posts, three or four of them a week, and one of the reasons we do this show and Assistive Technology Update and Accessibility Minute, is an effort to try to take the information, that industry information, and push it out in a way that is distinct and reliable and free and useful. Go to our website www.eastersealstech.com because we have a lot of that content there as well.
BRIAN NORTON: Great. Thanks everyone. Again, for those folks who are trying to find our show, here’s how to find it. You can search assistive technology questions or ATFAQ on iTunes. You can look for us on Stitcher. Or visit our website which is ATFAQshow.com. Also send us your questions by calling our listener line at 317-721-7124, or send us a tweet at hashtag #ATFAQ, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want your questions. In fact, without your questions, we don’t really have a show castle be a part of our show. Have a great day.
BELVA SMITH: Bye.
MARK STEWART: See ya.
WADE WINGLER: See you later, everybody. Happy summer.
WADE WINGLER: Information provided on assistive technology frequently asked questions does not constitute a product endorsement. Our comments are not intended as recommendations, nor is our show evaluative in nature. Assistive Technology FAQ is hosted by Brian Norton; gets editorial support from mark steward and Belva Smith; is produced by me, Wade Wingler; and receives support from Easter Seals Crossroads and the INDATA project. ATFAQ is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more of our shows at www.accessibilitychannel.com.