ATU334 – Internet of Things (IoT) with Brian Norton


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Internet of Things with Brian Norton
Internet of Things with Brian Norton, director of assistive technology |

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BRIAN NORTON:  Hi, this is Brian Norton, Director of assistive technology at Easter Seals Crossroads, and this is your Assistive Technology Update

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Welcome to episode number 334 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on October 20, 2017.

Today I’m going to spend some time with my good buddy Brian Norton who is our director of assistive technology here at Easter Seals crossroads. We will have an extended conversation about some new technology that we are exploring related to the Internet of things:  home automation and healthcare and navigation, all kinds of interesting things that are devices plugging into the Internet and increasing accessibility for people with and without disabilities. It’s a fun conversation. Brian, who hosts ATFAQ, is always great in the studio.

We hope you’ll check out our website at, give us a call on our listener line at 177217124, or hit us up on Twitter at INDATA Project.


So I’m so excited today to have somebody in the studio. A lot of my interviews are done over the Internet and Skype and those kinds of things. I’m excited to have somebody in the studio. I’m also excited based on who that person is because it’s my dear friend Brian Norton, who is the director of assistive technology right here at Easter Seals crossroads. He heads up the INDATA Project in our clinical assistance technology team and is an all around good guy. Plus, if you are familiar with one of our other shows, ATFAQ, assistive technology frequently asked questions, then you are familiar with Brian because he hopes that. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN NORTON:  How’s it going?  You’re too kind.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m trying to be nicer to people and I’m starting with you.

BRIAN NORTON:  Excellent.

WADE WINGLER:  Thanks for coming in and hanging out with us today. You and I were talking recently about some new technology that we are spending time on. I sign off on a lot of expenses here, and I’ve noticed we’ve been buying some stuff lately that falls into a new category. Overall, we are calling that the Internet of things. That is a pretty popular topic in the world these days. It certainly has some assistive technology implications. I thought it would be fun if we sat down this morning and went through what we are buying and why and all of that.

Don’t worry, I’ll let you talk. Before we jump into the technology part, tell everybody a little bit about you and your role and what you do and how long you been here.

BRIAN NORTON:  I’m currently the director of assistive technology. I oversee the INDATA Project, which is Indiana’s Assistive Technology Act. I also oversee our clinical services which are the services where we are in the weeds with folks cut their homes, schools, workplaces, doing assessments, one-on-one training, troubleshooting, trying to figure out what technology might meet their needs and help them be more independent in those settings.

I’ve been here for 20 years.


BRIAN NORTON:  Yeah. My first job out of college. I really enjoy the people, the place, and what I get to do day in and day out.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s unusual for somebody to work anywhere for 20 years.

BRIAN NORTON:  People tell me that all the time.

WADE WINGLER:  We’ve been here a long time. I think it says a lot about the organization. That’s enough with the lovefest.

We’ve been ordering new stuff lately. We order stuff mostly to have in our lending library. Can you talk about that library and who uses it and what it’s for?

BRIAN NORTON:  It’s a part of the INDATA Project. We had a loan library where folks can come in and, either in person or through the Internet, take a look at what we have. We have about 2500 items available for loan. If you can imagine going to the library and checking out a book, just think of it in the same way with technology. Our library has a bunch of technology in it. It could be a computer with adaptive software. It could be a device, like a braille display for somebody who is needing to get access to the computer and is blind or visually impaired. They can borrow it for 30 days to try it before they buy it. It gives an opportunity for folks to be able to say, hey, I think this will work for me because I’ve had a chance to use it, instead of just hoping and wishing that it does, and when you get it, it doesn’t really fit the bill for you.

WADE WINGLER:   That’s not unique just to Indiana. For our US listeners, there are lending libraries throughout the country. If you wanted to find one close to you, what’s the website address?

BRIAN NORTON: That will give you a directory of every assistive technology act project across the US. There are 56 programs like ours in every state and territory. You would be able to plug in your location and figure out who you can contact to figure out more about that in your state.

WADE WINGLER:  We can’t say that every AT act project will have everything we talk about today, but every project does something to help you gain more exposure to assistive technology. A lot of them have lending libraries and some of them may have the stuff. Your mileage may vary. is the place to find your local lending library.

So what are all these PO’s I’ve been signing?  I know it’s Internet of things – and we are going to talk about different disability categories – but take me to school because I’ve already approved these practices.

BRIAN NORTON:  Thanks for doing that, first and foremost. I went to a national conference last January. A lot of it was focused on this whole Internet of things type of technology that is out there. It’s what is coming down the pike and how everything is interconnected, and that uses the cloud and devices talk to each other and are interoperable between each other.

We started looking at that and have bought a lot of different devices. That could be things like intelligent personal assistance like Siri or Google Voice on your phones or Amazon echo or the Google home device, or hopefully once the Apple HomePod comes out, we will be purchasing that as well. Those devices will actually connect to lots of different things. It could be an appliance plug where you plug appliances in and, through your voice, control them by turning them on or off for a adjusting settings on those devices. Also, things like healthcare things, medical devices, glucose monitors, EKGs, things that we use a phone app to be able to measure those important vital signs for folks and be able to directly report those back to doctors or family, friends, other folks who are interested and concerned about your health day in and day out.

I think for folks with disabilities, I think it’s vitally important not just for the medical stuff that is out there, folks with disabilities obviously may have some significant medical concerns and may want to monitor those with their doctors, but also being able to control your environments, turn lights on and off, be able to check and see who is at your door, with things like Ring doorbell you can see folks at your door, or nest cameras for security purposes when you are letting people in and out of your home and are not able to get to the door. There are lots of different devices. Those are the types of things we’ve been adding to our library so that we can start talking about those in getting people’s hands on. There is space for that in the technology we deal with day in and day out.

WADE WINGLER:  You know as well as I do that our audience is going to want some specific examples about the particular kinds of technology. Let’s run through some of those things that we’ve been buying recently. Let’s talk about some of those.

BRIAN NORTON:  Obviously those intelligent personal assistants, Amazon echo, Google home – Apple HomePod will get here shortly. I believe it will release in time for Christmas this year.

WADE WINGLER:  They are saying December 2017.

BRIAN NORTON:  The other things we’ve purchased, smart plugs, Insteon, WeMo controllers. Those are things that are modules you can plug into the outlet in your wall and plug in an appliance. Google home and Amazon echo will communicate with those to be able to turn them on and off. We’ve been doing a lot with fitness trackers, Fitbit, Garmin, smart watches as well, Apple Watch, Pebble, things like that. Health devices like glucose monitors, heart rate monitors. The Kardia mobile is a heart rate monitor that does EKGs. We also have the iHealth glucose monitor systems. Withings blood pressure monitor. Different types of future monitors so you can take your temperature. Smart scales, being able to track your weight. Smart locks, I think you put on your front door to open them remotely, things like Kiwkset or Schlage. We bought some smart cameras like the Nest, Ring doorbell, other things for security purposes for folks. Just a whole lot of things.

Included in that you’re going to find apps are also a big part of it. We purchase lots of different apps that help folks. If you are visually impaired, wanting to know what things are, recognizing different types of things, apps like Seeing AI, Be My Eyes, Tap Tap See, other types of apps like that. We also bought some iBeam modules, these things you can put in and around your workspace or environment and allow you to be able to, through an app, give directions or information about where you are and what’s around you. There is a lot we’ve done to be able to expand our knowledge base and our resources in that area.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m imagining someone arriving at their home, and there is a camera on their front door, and there is a doorbell, and you might go in and tell your home automation assistant to play soothing music. You work out and track your health and take your temperature and blood pressure. That’s a pretty connected world. Why are we thinking about this for people with disabilities?  These are or aren’t specifically assistive technology. Talk to me about that a little bit.

BRIAN NORTON:  It’s the interconnectivity that is there for folks and be able to provide real-time information about how you’re doing and what you’re doing day to day. I think of a medication reminder. For me, taking medication is not something I remember. I often walk out the door with something on my mind and I don’t do that. Taking the medication that I take it’s really important for me to be able to be healthy and maintain my lifestyle. These apps allow you to communicate.

The one app I use is called MetaSafe. It allows me to connect with a meta friend, so if I don’t take something and don’t actually tell my app I took something, it notifies my wife and next me until I take it. It’s great. If I don’t take it, I’m not going to be doing well.

WADE WINGLER:  So do you go home then and take your medicine?

BRIAN NORTON:  Now I’ve started to place it around everywhere. I have some in my back, my car, everywhere. I think it’s really important when we think about just how folks with disabilities put themselves out there. When you have a home health aide helping you get up in the morning, your trusting that they are going to walk in the door. You’re giving them a key to your house. You don’t know what they are doing in and around your house or who you are letting in in the morning. Being able to see who you are letting in through either a ring doorbell or nest camera from your bed, that’s a security and safety standpoint really important.

Just the fragility of health in some situations. Being able to provide real-time information to folks who love you, care for you, health professionals who need to know the information, can provide a more solid foundation for you to be healthier and have a knowledge base.

WADE WINGLER:  Talk to me a little bit about the underlying technology, some of the requirements you would have to have to use some of these things. I have to assume you need Wi-Fi and a device of some kind. What’s the platform that somebody needs to have or be accepting of before they can use this kind of technology?

BRIAN NORTON:  You had to have some familiarity with technology and not be afraid of it because it all is very technology-based. Reliable Internet is a must. Wi-Fi is definitely necessary. I would say significant bandwidth with that. You can to be doing dial-up or lower bandwidth. All of these are using resources and bandwidth when you are connecting them.

The other thing I would suggest with the technology is a lot of times they are interconnected with apps. Having some sort of tablet device, smartphone, or device like that would be helpful as well.

WADE WINGLER:  Obviously you have some underlying technology. You have to be interested in this stuff. Are these systems generally consumer-grade DIY things?  Do they require professional assistance?  A little bit of each?  Knowing I’m asking somebody who gets paid to do assistive technology. What does it look like in terms of the complexity of these things?

BRIAN NORTON:  I’m a realist too. A lot of this stuff is very intuitive, and I set up is not complicated. They really provide you step-by-step guides for how to get connected to something. Of course I would want to come out and help you with that, but I’m not saying that’s necessary. A lot of those things are pretty intuitive at their core. I don’t think you necessarily need a professional to come out and help you.

WADE WINGLER:  You and I cut our teeth in the world of assistive technology on blindness-related technology and screen readers and braille and those things. It makes me wonder about the accessibility of the apps. Each one of these devices has some sort of app that controls it, or most of them do. What are you finding in terms of accessibility of those apps on your smartphone or tablet?  For things like screen readers and other kinds of accessibility, are they doing okay?  Is it hit or miss?  What does that look like?

BRIAN NORTON:  It is hit or miss. Not all apps are as accessible. There is accessible and then there is user-friendly. I think at the baseline, most of them are fairly accessible, but some of them could improve their usability. I’m finding hit or miss with certain apps in general.

WADE WINGLER:  For users who want to try a Nest camera or Ring doorbell or a smart plug, if they want to try those but rely heavily on assistive technology, is there any way to figure out what the accessibility might look like before they make an investment and that technology?  Are there web resources?  Or is it pretty much at this point you have to try it or rely on someone else to tell you?

BRIAN NORTON:  I’m not sure there is a lot of resources. Some of the places I might look for resources – and for folks who may have tried these things before, it might be a place like AppleVis, a place we go often. I’m not sure what their resources are in terms of the Internet of things apps. I might check there. As far as things we have in our library, you can borrow something and try it out and play with it a little bit before having to make that investment. A lot of times it is trial and error, digging out what does and doesn’t work.

I’ll jump back a little bit. We talk about that a professional need to be involved or not, are they pretty intuitive. I would suggest it comes down to the complexity of what you’re trying to do. What are you trying to control?  What do needed to do in your home?  A lot of times the more complex it gets, professional advice on exactly what devices to get and what would work well in your particular situation for your needs and what you’re going to do, might be a situation where you might want to involve someone who has good knowledge of what does and doesn’t work.

WADE WINGLER:  My experience has been a lot of the apps that come with these hardware devices are free, and you can download them whether or not you have a device. Sometimes you have to create an account and log in, and the main network without the hardware device. Especially for screen reader users, I think you may be able to get some idea and by just downloading whatever app control the smart plug and play around with a little bit. Do that controls seem to be labeled, and can you navigate things with swipes and gestures. I think you may be able to get some indication of what the interface is like whether or not you buy the hardware, just for playing with it.

Your intentional or unintentional plug of your local AT act is another one that is good because you may call them up and they may have expense with it or have it in their lending library and you can borrow it and play around with it to see what that accessibility is like. If it is not accessible, you should send an email to the vendor. Hey, I’m an assistive technology user. I would like to be a customer but your stuff isn’t right. Here are some resources on where to fix that.

BRIAN NORTON:  And taking advantage of some of the other services that are often provided through the AT act. Many of them are required to do demonstrations as well. You can invite them to do a demonstration just so you can see what it does and if it will work. They can bring that out. It’s a 20 to 30 minute test drive of a piece of equipment. It’s not a full evaluation. They are not going to make recommendations at the end of the demo. But you can at least see the basic functionality of what you’re trying to capture.

WADE WINGLER:  While we are shamelessly plugging the AT act, I promise that wasn’t what we were going to do today. It is That will give you a list of your local AT acts.

Obviously we seen a lot of changes happen in the last several years related to Internet of things and are still learning as we’re going. Some of the technologies we are still on boxing and figuring out how it works. I also know you have an Apple Watch on. You have an iPhone in your pocket. You have a Mac on your left. We are unapologetically Apple fan boys. What do you see as the future for technology and Internet of things?  It is changing. What do you think the trajectory will look like going into the future for 3 to 5 years?

BRIAN NORTON:  I think a lot of IoT is mainstream focused. They are trying to automate things in people’s homes and make things easier to keep up with our fast-paced lives that we have. I think for folks with disabilities, I can only imagine as those things continue to develop, we are going to see technology continue to develop and change and be more accessible for folks who need a screen reader or need to be able to turn on and off things in their environments. I can only imagine that’s going to get easier and there will be more powerful tools developed for us to be able to more easily control our environment in the future.

WADE WINGLER:  I think you’re going to see more integration between those things. I know sometimes you may not be able to get your smartphone and smart app to work with your smart appliance exactly right. There might be some sort of duct tape solutions to make that happen. As somebody who lives with assistive technology attached to him – I have an insulin pump that keeps me as healthy as I can be. There is a lot of interoperability. I had a blood sugar sensor that talks to my pump and give me the right amount of insulin based on the moment. I know there are plans to integrate that with an app on the smartphone so that my wife can you let me for eating cookies. I think one of my predictions to go along with yours as we are going to see more compatibility, more interoperability, and probably more seamlessness happen between those technologies. My illustration earlier about pulling up, the garage door opens automatically because it knows it is me because of my phone being close and unlocking the door, and turning on the music automatically that I like and those kinds of things. I think we are going to see more of that stuff. And also lower cost is another production I have.

BRIAN NORTON:  That’s a great point. Right now I use the If This Then That to help me with some of those things. If I’m in a particular location, based on that location do these different things or you might be of these things I have to do. That will become an integrated part of what these apps do and how they function together.

WADE WINGLER:  A couple of quick plugs we need to do here. This has turned into a plug show. I think it’s helpful. The first one is we are going to be doing a holiday show. We do it every year. I think this is our sixth or seventh year. That will come out on November 24 and December 1. On Black Friday here in the US, which is the day after Thanksgiving and is famous for everyone going out and doing holiday shopping, our show for Assistive Technology Update will be a two-parter and will focus on all kinds of holiday gift ideas for people who use assistive technology. I happen to know that we are going to cover some of the things you have been talking about today.

BRIAN NORTON:  Absolutely.

WADE WINGLER:  The other plug I will do is we have started – and we had just a couple now – some downloadable files from our website that are infographics that have information about particular kinds of assistive technology.  One of the first one we’ve done is an Internet of things downloadable. How would people find that?

BRIAN NORTON:  If you go to our website, on our main menu bar there is a resources link. If you click on that, you go down to downloads and you will find different resources and downloadable PDFs that talk about Internet of things. Not just as a general category, but also specifically talking about different disabilities. If you have a mobility impairments, how IoT might be useful for you; or vision impairment how it might be useful for you. You will find that under resources and under downloads.

WADE WINGLER:  I know people are going to be tired of me and will want to hear more about you. If people wanted to reach out to you or listen to ATFAQ, where what they find you?

BRIAN NORTON:  There are a lot of different ways to do that. You can subscribe to the ATFAQ podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcast. If they want to learn about me in other ways, there is more information about me under the staff page at, or you can reach out to us at We would love to have a conversation with folks if need be.

WADE WINGLER:  Your ATFAQ hashtag on Twitter is something we tease you about because you want to be treated and people do. If you tweet anywhere and use the hashtag ATFAQ for assistive technology frequently asked questions, that will ring your bell.

BRIAN NORTON:  I monitor that all the time for questions to come across.

WADE WINGLER:  Brian Norton is the director of assistive technology here at Easter Seals crossroads and has been our guest talking about the Internet of things. Thanks for being with us.

BRIAN NORTON:  Thank you.  Have a great one.

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 Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi.  For requests and inquiries, contact***