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- YEVGEN BRODIN: Hi, this is Yevgen Broden, and I’m the CEO of Charmtech Labs, the creator of Captivoice, 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 309 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on April 28, 2017.
Today I have a conversation with Doctor Yevgen Broden about their product Captivoice. We have a little story about what’s happening with accessibility over at Uber. And an app review from our friends at BridgingApps.
We hope will check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com, give us a call at 317-721-7124, or hit us up on Twitter at INDATA Project.
I live in a place where there is not a ton of public transportation, but when I’m traveling, especially when I’m in Washington DC, I like to use Uber or Lyft or those kinds of services. I’ve always wondered about the accessibility and I’ve even reached out to the folks at Uber and haven’t got them on the show yet. I saw an article at ClosingtheGap.com that I thought was kind of interesting. It’s called, “Accessibility at Uber,” and it’s written by Megan Turek. Before I jump into her article, I know there is a lot going on with Uber in terms of some difficult situations related to discrimination and some things happening. I like to look for the bright spots in situations, and I think part of the accessibility things discussed here are relevant.
Megan spends time talking about things that makes Uber more accessible. For example, she has a bullet point list. One of the categories is “Riders who are blind or have low vision.” She talks about the fact that the Uber app works well with voiceover on iOS and talkback on android. It’s an accessible app that will allow people who are blind or visually impaired to access rights and make payments and those kinds of things. She talks about the fact that cashless payments as part of Uber is a way to simplify things, less money to handle. The fact that it’s an on-demand transportation system, unlike some of the paratransit system that might require subscription rights or time notice well in advance of the right time. It’s an on-demand thing. She mentions the fact that it’s an equal access for all, that the passengers are automatically matched to a nearby driver which might reduce opportunities for unlawful discrimination. She mentions the fact for folks who are blind or visually impaired, but I think this works for everybody, that you can share your route and estimated time of arrival information with friends and family or whoever you’re going to, to see as part of your Uber ride. You can let folks know where you are which helps with security and convenience.
She has a whole section about riders with ambulatory disabilities. She mentions specifically a couple of programs. One is called Uber WAVE, which is wheelchair accessible vehicle options, and Uber Assist, which is a voluntary suite of additional information or materials offered to drive her on how to assist writers with disabilities and to do accommodations. It talks about the fact that they are piloting different programs. It looks like that’s an interest of area of focus. She also talks about the fact that they have a lot of driver partners with disabilities — they call their drivers “partners” — and they are specifically focusing on working with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. They mention that in 2016, Uber was recognized by the Ruderman Family Foundation is one of 18 companies that are leading the way in supporting people with disabilities.
They have some specific features in the app like a flashing trip request or the ability for the driver to indicate that there is somebody who is deaf or hard of hearing so that the passengers knows that they can communicate via text message instead of telephone calls and those kinds of things. I’ve seen several stories about Uber drivers who are deaf and enjoying that part-time job or career because it has a natural accessibility put in.
One of the last thing she talks about is they do have a service animal policy that says, state and federal law prohibit driver partners from using the Uber driving app from denying service to writer with service animals or because of service animals or otherwise discriminate against writers. They talk about the fact that Uber drivers shall not discriminate against people who have service animals. I’ve seen things in the press where these things have been issues in the past.
It’s a lot of good information. I would encourage you to check out the link in our show notes over to closing the gap, and look at this long bullet point list of some of the things that have to do with Uber and accessibility. Again, I’m not picking on Uber particularly in the story or not trying to, but I think as we talk about this gig-based economy and how the transportation system is changing in this way, accessibility is certainly an issue we need to look at, and this is one opportunity to do that. Check our show notes.
Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps cost so here’s an app worth mentioning.
AMY BARRY: This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. This week I am sharing the LinkedIn app. You’ve probably already heard of LinkedIn, so in this segment I’m going to share six of valuable LinkedIn tips.
Great for adult users of all abilities, LinkedIn connects you with people that matter in the professional world, including potential employers. Use LinkedIn to build relationships and keep in touch, tell your story, and build an online professional brand. Also, get updates for your industry and interests.
Social media plays a huge role in building your brand, and is one of the most overlooked items to accomplish on the way to a new career. There used to be a saying: is that what you know, it’s who you know. Well, that’s been updated. Now it’s, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. Here are six helpful LinkedIn tips.
Tip number one: to be professional, you have to look the part. No selfies for your profile picture.
Number two: have your peers add you and give you a recommendation. No one hires someone with five connections on LinkedIn.
Tip number three: your network is your net worth. Start soaring with the Eagles and ditched the magpies.
Number four: write an article that showcases your talents. It will also improve your web SEO.
Number five: watch a YouTube video on how to write your profile and set smart goals.
Tip number six: slow and steady wins the race. Check for errors and refine, refine, refine.
LinkedIn is available for free at the iTunes Store and Google Play Store and is compatible with iOS and android devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
WADE WINGLER: As I keep an eye out for products that happen in the world of assistive technology and accessibility and special education, I’m always looking for things that are new or different or just interesting in general. It seems to me that recently I’ve heard a lot about a product called Capti or Captivoice. I had to reach out to the folks over at Charmtech Labs and find out what’s going on with that. I’m super excited to have Doctor Yevgen Broden on our show today who is the president of charm tech labs. He’s going to talk with us a little bit about Capti. First and foremost, thank you so much for being on our show.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
WADE WINGLER: Before we start talking tech stuff and getting dirty, tell me a little bit about yourself and why you became interested in reading and literacy accessibility.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: That’s a long story. To keep it short, I was doing my PhD in computer science, writing research papers on how to help people who are blind to interact with computers more effectively. I didn’t see an impact on the lives of people, so I thought why don’t I start a company. We were initially thinking of creating a screen reader, were going at it for a while, but realized a small audience and going against serious competition. We killed it by asking ourselves the question: how do we make a technology that was developed for people who are blind, accessible for everybody else? So we came up with the concept Capti.
WADE WINGLER: I think most of my audience might know this, but I want to make sure we level the playing field. Tell me a little bit about why reading accessibility and literacy accessibility is important.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: We take our ability to read for granted, but it turns out that somewhere close to 20 percent of people in the world are struggling to read. Close to 10 percent of people have dyslexia, about the same number have ADHD to a different extent. There are a lot of people who just don’t know English. For them, reading English text is a struggle. There are millions of people who have vision impairments, many severe visual impairments. Reading is one of the primary methods of getting information. Of course, you can listen also, but there is a lot of printed materials, and lot of stuff as digital text that’s not necessarily accessible. We set up a company with the vision of removing barriers between people and information. Reading seems to be the most essential and first problem that needs to be solved. We’ve been solving it for several years, and I think we’ll keep going at it.
WADE WINGLER: I’m glad you mentioned the fact that sometimes we are dealing with folks who have vision or learning disabilities, but also ESL, or English as a Second Language, is another population you are targeting. Is that right?
- YEVGEN BRODIN: I had to learn English myself. I’m originally from Ukraine. I had to use books and tapes. That wasn’t as efficient as now with technology like Capti. I was trained as an ESL teacher originally before I switched to computer science. I see this overlap between the method you can use to help people with print disabilities to read and people who are learning English. Even with in print disabilities, there is a wide range of needs. We noticed that there are tools that help people with a very specific need, let’s say people who are blind use screen readers. But if you’re not blind, using a screen reader is a horrible experience. We are looking at a way to make reading universally accessible so that people without disabilities and who know English perfectly could also be more productive and benefit from this technology. The people who have a need, whatever their disability is or whatever their need is, they can be especially productive, that they benefit from it the most. It’s important for us to meet our technology accessible to everybody because that enables us to keep the prices down. If everybody is using it, we can charge a lot less per user.
The other thing is since our technology includes text to speech, and it relies on accessible text, hopefully that will create some pressure on the content providers to make their content accessible.
WADE WINGLER: I’m fascinated with that and I want to get into the products and what seems to be an ecosphere and some technical details. Let’s spend a second talking about the settings in which were products are appropriate, education, the workplace, or is it everywhere?
- YEVGEN BRODIN: We are considering our product to be universal in everything. If you’re using it in school, it would probably be more appropriate starting in the third grade and up once students have learned how to read. We see our product being used by all ages including seniors who may be gradually losing their site and may want to close their eyes and enjoyed listening to the latest news or some entertainment pieces or e-books. It could be used in a workplace or in the schools and by consumers. Every day we are being surprised by a new use case. For example, the truck drivers are using it. Parents who are watching kids and just cannot look at the book because the kids are going to get in trouble. There listening to the news. Our accountant is using it to listen to a tax call. Our lawyer is using it to listen to contracts. I myself, while flying or driving, and listening to the latest news. It helps me be more productive.
WADE WINGLER: It does sound like it is truly universal. Without further delay, why don’t we go ahead and talk about the product and what they do. In my right? Are we really talking about a grouping of products or a platform or an ecosphere of technology?
- YEVGEN BRODIN: We like to think of Captivoice as a platform. It is essentially one product that is available everywhere, almost everywhere. That’s the goal. It has to be universally accessible, and that means it needs to be accessible to everybody, anywhere, regardless of their circumstance, on any device. That’s what we are trying to achieve.
WADE WINGLER: Let’s get into the details. What platform does it work on? Let’s talk about the functionality cut what it does, and those kinds of things.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: Captivoice currently works on chrome books. You can use online. You can install it on Windows and Mac computers and then you can use it on off-line. You can install it on the iPad and iPhone. On android, we are working on the native application. Right now you could use it perhaps on android tablets as a web application.
At the very basic level – and this is the initial concept behind Capti – is that you can create a playlist with anything you would like to read. Playlists are immediately familiar to people, especially kids, because they are always listening to music. There is no learning curve involved. They can essentially put anything they want to listen to into the playlist, and then they can read and listen to it with a high-quality text to speech voice. You can start listening on the computer and pick up your iPhone, synchronize your playlists, and keep going right from where you left off. That’s the very basic functionality that it was started with.
In the last two years we’ve been doing a lot for education. The functionality has exploded. We are trying to be universal in everything. We support a number of different sources from which you can import content. You can take any web article. You can edit your playlist and Capti will extract the main content of the article and make it accessible for you. You can import documents from Google Drive in chrome books, OneDrive, we support podcasts, Instapaper. If you are a book share user, Capti is terrific with book share. We also have Gutenberg books which has bought 50,000 of open access books that you don’t have to have a qualifying disability as you would with book share. You have all this different content to put in a playlist.
I should also mention that OCR, which is not yet available to consumers, is part of the organization account we are providing to schools, universities, and other organizations and companies. Right now, I can take a photograph of a worksheet or a page of the book, quickly convert it to text, and you can read and listen to it on the playlist. Of course you can customize fonts and colors. There is dyslexic font for people with dyslexia. You can change the contrast, font size. You can read along, it will highlight as it reads. It has a lot more customizations that are in the pipeline that are coming along. We are very actively developing — I would say capti is the quickest developing reading platform at the moment.
WADE WINGLER: Let’s talk about that growth just a little bit. What does that look like over the last year or two?
- YEVGEN BRODIN: If we are talking about customers, we’ve had hundreds of thousands of downloads in the United States alone, obviously China is huge, and that’s just on the app store. In terms of schools, we have very recently offered the product for schools and other things we’ve added to make it useful. We pretty much started introducing it to schools and the fall, and Capti is in more than 12 states in the United States. For example, we did a webinar yesterday and the day before yesterday for universities and colleges in the US and Canada. We had several hundred people.
WADE WINGLER: That’s a ton of good growth and it sounds like it is picking up in terms of distribution. Let’s talk about the cost side of things. Tell me about the cost for individual users or organizations. How does the business work for that?
- YEVGEN BRODIN: The great thing about Capti is the basic version is free. Anybody can download it to their iPhone, iPad, or access it online, or download it on Windows and use it. The basic functionality is very usable. You can use the free voices that are available on your device. You can access a lot of the functionality. We also have premium functionality that you can subscribe to. It’s only $1.99 per month or $10 for half a year. That gives you the ability to create multiple playlists, search within playlists, add highlights, modes, and a host of other functionality.
For organizations, it is even cheaper because the cost per user per year can go as low as $.50 per user for larger districts. By far, what we’ve seen – where the cheapest and, I want to say, most powerful reading technology on the market, we just recently completed a project comparing Capti with the primary competition. We found that everybody has their unique sides, but we had the best coverage in terms of functionality. Unsurprisingly, the app Tech Digest awarded us the best special needs solution this year. It’s an award they give each year and they have different categories. The cool thing is we are not really a special needs product because anyone can use it. We see general education teachers using it in mainstream classes as well because they find it to be useful for their kids. As you may know, I would say the United States has a literacy problem right now. It’s almost a crisis. Two in three students are reading below their grade levels. If you look at the students with disabilities, they probably would account for eight percent of students, and students who are learning English maybe 10 percent. I don’t know where the other 48 percent are coming from. It’s probably students who have not been classified as having a disability. If they have mild dyslexia. Or maybe they just can’t find the time to read so they are falling behind. We are trying to change the tide and make America read again.
WADE WINGLER: Very clever. Tell me a story about an individual or somebody’s life who has been changed because of the availability of Captivoice.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: I know every time I go to an assistive technology conference, such as ATIA, I have to just come up to me and tell me that they are using the free version of capti, or maybe they are buying individual accounts. They are telling me how useful it has been for them to their students. At the recent ATIA conference, a teacher came up to me and said that every student whose quadriplegic, and the student loves capti because he using eye tracking to control the mouse. They found that capti has been amazing with the eye tracker he is using. They said the student is much more engaged in reading. That’s one story out of many. We have people writing to us daily thanking us for developing the product, sometimes asking for new functionality, and telling us how they’ve become more productive or have been able to overcome a disability.
WADE WINGLER: That’s the stuff. That’s the thing I think keeps us involved in the industry and doing the work we are doing. We have just a little bit more time left in the interview but not a lot. Tell me what’s in your crystal ball related to capti. What kind of things are in the future in terms of development or growth and those kinds of things.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: When we started developing capti, we had a grand vision and we are pursuing that mission of making it an assistant so that you can actually talk to it and it will help you find information and consume information. Again, we are trying to make it as universally acceptable as possible which means we have to provide support for students and people with specific needs. For example, we have a word challenge game that is built in only in the web version right now – actually Windows and Mac installable version as well. This game enables students to practice their vocabulary of the text they are reading. The game automatically generates questions and tries to trick students and engage them with words, to play the game and learn the vocabulary of the text they need to read for the class. We developed this for the ESL students, but it turned out that general education teachers are using it as well with native English speakers because everybody needs to learn new vocabulary. We are thinking of different creative supports. For example, we just added an assessment functionality because reading in schools is not just about reading. You need to be able to check what the student understood. We are trying to save teachers time on creating assessments and making them accessible to the entire class. There’s a lot more coming. We are developing something new and releasing new versions almost on a monthly basis. It’s developing so fast that we are not even able to keep up with ourselves. Keep looking for capti. We can look at our website, Captivoice.com. If you are an organization and would like to learn more about an organization account and how the company or school and diversity can benefit from capti, drop us an email at info@Captivoice.com. We have YouTube channel and are releasing training videos on a weekly basis seek and see what’s happening. Follow us on Facebook or twitter. We send out new announcements and press releases.
WADE WINGLER: Doctor Yevgen Broden is the president of charm tech labs and has been talking about Captivoice. Thank you so much for being our guest today.
- YEVGEN BRODIN: 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, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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