ATU383 – Otsimo with Zafer Elcki


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Check out Otsimo:
Zafer Elcki, Co-creator of Otsimo:
As Tech Giants Focus on Accessibility Tools, the Equation Changes for Education:
Developing Assistive Technology Using Augmented Reality:

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ZAFER ELCKI: Hi, this is Zafer Elcki, and I’m the cofounder of Otismo, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
JOSH ANDERSON: Hello and welcome to 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 individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 383 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on September 28, 2017.
On today’s show, we have Zafer Elcki to talk about the ultimo app. We have a fun story about developing assistive technology using augmentative reality on the iPhone X. we also have a story that goes along with a theme we’ve been seeing lately about democratizes, and it talks about as those big tech giants start building accessibility tools, how that is changing things in education and special education. We thank you very much for listening today and we will go ahead and get on with the show.

Do you ever find yourself sitting around, having questions about assistive technology? How would I fix this? How would I do that? How can I get this possibly to work for this individual? Or, I bought this and it doesn’t work? Do they make anything that does it? These are all great questions. If you like asking questions or like hearing a group of colorful characters try to actually enter them, check out our sister podcast, assistive technology frequently asked questions, ATFAQ. You can find this anywhere that you find your podcast. If you want to make our host Brian Norton actually happy, you should send him a tweet with the hashtag ATFAQ. He doesn’t get many of these, and he asks for them all the time. If you want to make our sister show and Brian Norton, a great host of the show, happy, check out ATFAQ and send him a tweet at hashtag ATFAQ. Check it out wherever you get your podcast.
As I’m recording this episode, it’s actually the day after Apple has announced a new iPhone’s. But we are not going to talk about that. We are going to talk about a story over at High Tech News Daily written by Rennie Bradshaw. We are going to talk about the iPhone X. And something the iPhone X was it built in augmentative reality hardware, a framework called AR Kit. A bunch of 3-D sensors, true depth cameras, some of the things. It uses this to make the phase ID feature where you can unlock by just looking at it. Some folks over at eBay have started using this. They are making it to where you can start controlling the entire phone by moving her head. Think of eye gaze systems. Think of had mice. Think of all these things we’ve used as pieces of assistive technology, but they are actually trying to build that in, perhaps an app or something like that. They are calling it had gaze right now, still in the works, but they are making it open source and leaving that open to folks. I believe we will continue to see more stories of this type. We see more stories about augmentative reality being able to help folks who are visually impaired such as Iris vision and a few other things, some different apps out there. We are seeing artificial intelligence being able to help folks with things like seeing AI, Microsoft translator and other things like that.
These amazing technologies are actually being unleashed to help those folks with disabilities. Very cool stuff, really can’t wait to see where this all leads. It seems like the sky is the limit on this. I will put a link in the show notes to the story and hopefully we’ll see more and more of these kinds of things happen.
It seems like over the last few weeks, and for a while, we’ve been talking about the democratization of assistive technology, the differences between these devices becoming more mainstream. I found a really good article over at It was written by Patience Wait. It’s “As Tech Giants focus on accessibility tools, the equation changes for education.” In her article, she goes through essentially talking about Apple, Google, and Microsoft. You have to realize all these companies are competing to be in schools. That is a big money maker, to get these things into schools and get kids learning them. But they are building and a lot of accessibility, everything from the immersive reader’s to Microsoft translator to other things we’ve talked about on the show. But really just talking about how some of these things are built in. She has a good quote from Gordon Knopp, director of technology at Laramie County School District in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He said, “we’ve been trying to avoid Teacher A using Product A, while Teacher B is using Product B. occasionally there is still that student who has a unique need and unique solution is needed, but when it comes to the majority of assistive tech, the goal is to make a universal.”
That universal design seems to be getting easier as more and more of these items are actually built in. It goes even deeper about how it’s getting rid of that stigma of special ed. Because a lot of these things, as you think about dictation, if you think about text to speech, if you think about all this, it is really helpful how many of us listen to audible or a book on tape or anything like that in a helpful it is to be up to read that and be able to understand it a little bit easier. I’ll put a link over to it in the show notes. When I read it, it maybe think about the interviews we’ve been having lately and just a big changes happening in assistive technology, how there are some things that are being built in that can help a lot of people. The unique cases still have unique needs, as we all do, and may need a unique solution. But they are starting to become things out there that can really help folks and open up education to the masses. Check our show notes.
Folks, a lot of our kids out there today are used to using tablets and touchscreens and are perhaps more technologically advanced than even some of us adults. Our guest today noticed this and built an app to associate learning for individuals with autism and other learning disabilities using a tool they are already comfortable with and disguising learning as fun games.
Zafer Elcki is cocreator of ultimo and was nice enough to come on our show today to tell us more about himself and the ultimo app. Zafer, welcome to the show.
ZAFER ELCKI: Thank you. Welcome.
JOSH ANDERSON: Before we get started talking about ultimo, can you tell me a little bit about your background?
ZAFER ELCKI: I am a computer scientist. I graduated from college and computer science degree. At the first years of the college, I worked with some of the NGOs, creating games for children like teaching green energy. Also I volunteered in doing education work for disabled kids or the other kids who need education and who couldn’t reach that education. This combines well with my computer science degree, and I came up with the idea of ultimo.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very nice. Tell us a little bit about ultimo.
ZAFER ELCKI: Ultimo is an educational application for children with special needs, especially autism, Down syndrome, or mentally challenged children. In ultimo, we have two different components in just one app. It is child and parents. The child component, we’ve got more than six big games. These games are well designed for children with special needs. We are working with psychologists and also educators on that side. Every game focusing on different skills in ultimo.
On the parent side, we collected on the child like Google analytics or any other platform. You can see your child’s improvement or track your child’s progress on the parent side. Also you can personalize the game because we know that every child is different. When you are coming up with special kids, they are much different [Inaudible] and they need special solutions. Because of that, we have personalization and we also have some of the educational materials for parents also. That’s combined in one app called ultimo.
JOSH ANDERSON: Tell me about the games. What are they like?
ZAFER ELCKI: For example, we have games for reading and writing. Also we have core skills, learning colors, shapes and so on. Every game focuses on different scales. For example, when you come up to writing a letter game, we have lots of different games in a category. You start with recognizing letters, and you learn small letters and capital letters and so on. After that, we start drawing shapes, drawing lines. That combines withdrawing whole letters, learning the whole letter.
We have categories, and every category we have different games to teach different concepts. For example, we have live concepts, learning the items, household items, or money. For example, children with autism need to learn pennies and so on. We have games for that also, not just on the cognitive and academic side. We have life skills on our application.
JOSH ANDERSON: I even saw it can also show emotions and things like that. Is that correct? How to recognize those?
ZAFER ELCKI: Yeah. We have emotion on real pictures. We are focusing on real pictures. Real pictures are very important for us because children with special needs need a real image to generalize that real image to learn the concept. We have real images on the motion side. Also we are focusing on creating video emotions, like people giving away emotions on the videos. We are going to release that came at the end of this month. Also, we have learning emoji games, because we know lots of people use emoji. Children also need to learn emoji to talk with their parents because of that, we also have emoji emotions.
JOSH ANDERSON: You’re teaching them a lot more than just colors and how to read, but a lot of social skills, cognitive skills, even some Occupational Therapy things. I also noticed in looking through that there is an augmentative alternative communication component. Can you tell me more about that?
ZAFER ELCKI: Actually, I can tell a little bit about my story because the AAC part is for my brother. I have a brother with autism. He was [mute] for 10 years. He started to talk at the age of 10. Right now, he’s 14. Ultimo, the idea comes up in my mind, I realized he has a special interest in smart devices. I think that with my computer science degree and the whole NGO background, I realized that I can create something for my brother. I started training a game teaching colors for him because I am colorblind. We were very hard pressed to teach a color to him before. I think maybe he is colorblind or we are very bad at teaching colors. For example, we tried to teach that concept for more than one year. I created that application with my partner. After a week, my brother learned whole colors. Thanks to that, we think we created something very impressive.
The second thing, my brother was nonverbal and I was looking for a solution for that, but the AAC’s are very expensive. We are in Turkey, and in Turkey, reaching AAC’s is very hard and not localizable. We need a Turkish AAC component. After that, I said to my partner, and we created an AAC part in our application called ultimo AAC which is free for everyone, also open source. Everyone can translate our AAC into their language.
Our AAC includes more than 1000 words. We took those words from words in English and also Turkish. Also in our AAC, you can create intensive communication sentences. For example, the verb conjugation’s, also the additions and compounds of the word. Also you can write whatever you want. We have text-to-speech module and it. You can write it and it can read a lot for you. For example, just your name is not on our AAC, but you can write “Josh wants water,” and you can write “Josh” in the text-to-speech module, and you can click “wants” and “water” in the AAC module. It is combined into just one app. You can create lots of different sentences thanks to that.
JOSH ANDERSON: You’re using some different components of AAC all in one. That’s very impressive and amazing that folks can get that for free.
ZAFER ELCKI: Think you.
JOSH ANDERSON: And when looking through, I noticed that there is a paid version and a free version. Can you tell me the difference between the two?
ZAFER ELCKI: Ultimo is a social startup, which means we are doing this for good. We have a 10 person team focused on just doing ultimo and trading games for children with special needs. After that, we realized that we need to create a sustainable model. We don’t want to get donations because donations are not sustainable. If you can’t get donations, you can’t get new versions, new games every month. We created something affordable, ten Euro per month. As little as $10 is 10 percent, hardly, for a speech therapist. You can get the whole ultimo experience.
Ultimo is a free application. The free version includes 12 games and the AAC module and it. It’s completely free, but we have gone more than 60 games in ultimo. If you would like to reach the intensive game section of ultimo, you need to subscribe to $10 per month like Spotify or Apple music.
JOSH ANDERSON: Looking at the website, I saw the ultimo can work with Amazon Alexa. Can you tell me how that works?
ZAFER ELCKI: Actually, we have an Amazon Alexa application for premium users. We would like to increase those features also. The Alexa skill allows kids to mimic sounds. For example, the numbers, the skill is like a teacher or a friend. If they do right on the sound, we had lots of different sounds. We understand that you need are right or nearly right, we said that you are doing great. Or you can repeat words or letters. In the application, you can reach out the skills for the speech therapy. Also we are developing that same application, like talking with the device. We are also creating games in our application also. They can reach out through Amazon Alexa or iOS and Android device. They can reach also in the premium version.
JOSH ANDERSON: You told me about your brother and how ultimo was able to help him. Can you tell me another story about an individual ultimo was able to help?
ZAFER ELCKI: We have lots of stories. Thank you for asking this question. For my brother, my brother learns how to read and write, also the colors, shapes, and so on from our application. Also, we have got more than 60,000 children worldwide, not just in Turkey and the US, but also many countries in the world can use ultimo. For example, last week I talked with a mother in Seattle. I don’t want to give the name because of privacy concerns. But she said that his kid learn the letters, whole letters and numbers thanks to our application. Because of that, she very happy. Also she will sent a video with us. Maybe I can share after this called — I need to ask. He learned lots of different skills from our application.
Also in Turkey, we have lots of families. We have gotten good feedback of learning how to read and write. Also from the AAC module, we are providing the free AAC module and lots of parents said that their kids did not have a meltdown thanks to our AAC and it was affordable for them. Providing that kind of solution is very important for me from my personal background because we started to do ultimo because of this. I wish we could create more stories think your podcast.
JOSH ANDERSON: I hope so too. Ultimo does a lot. It’s going to help a lot of folks just in the form that it’s in right now. But tell me, I can just tell by talking to you and hearing about you and your team, what does the future hold? What do you guys have in the works? What are your goals for ultimo coming up in the future?
ZAFER ELCKI: Right now, we are focusing on speech therapy in our application. Because on the cognitive side, we are covering core skills. Those core skills are enough right now. I focused turned to speech therapy because we realized that lots of kids need that speech therapy. Also the social skills. Because of that, we started working with a video agency. We are creating video modeling for speech therapy, also for the social skills. We took more than a hundred videos in schools and in studio to teach speech therapy skills, also to teach social skills on a tablet. Also, we think the iPad is not the only solution. Because of that, we are creating skills on Amazon Alexa. We would like to expand those skills because we know that they are very affordable and they can be a life changer. For example, I think about my brother with autism. He hasn’t got lots of friends. Also, when we talk with friends in the US in Turkey, we do a lot of research. One mother said to me that — I asked the mother, what is your biggest want, or if you had a magic wand, what would you like to change? She told me that I created a friend for her child. I realized that we needed to fix the issue also. We needed to create something to teach social skills. Also, we need to create a virtual friend may be to engage children and create a game experience.
Because of that, in ultimo, we are focusing on cognitive skill first to teach them the whole experience, core skills for the child. After that, we are focusing on speech and social skills to actually make — actually creating a better environment for them. Like if we can teach the course skills and speech therapy and social skills, they can go anywhere, and with AAC, they can say whatever they want. We would like to create that one application. They can solve whole problems for special needs children. In our future, the goal is we need to create more solutions for these children and not just in iPads, also on every platform.
JOSH ANDERSON: It sounds like ultimo is something that can file them not just her education but through life and teach them about most of the things they would need to know to help them get along.
ZAFER ELCKI: Just helping my brother, right now, we talk a lot. We are in the same home right now. I talk with them a lot. I ask him about what you need. In our team, we are working on those needs. Also, we did lots of children tasks. They come to our office, and we understand other families’ needs, so combining them, creating a solution, and it’s a solid solution for everyone.
JOSH ANDERSON: Perfect. If people wanted to find out more about ultimo, where would they go?
ZAFER ELCKI: On the ultimo website, What can they just search our application on the App Store or play store. They can find it. Free to download. Check out the free games. If it is for you, please subscribe because every subscription helps us a lot. You can see our subscription schedule on our website. We are giving the entire ten dollars to our team, not just creating revenue, but to going further and crating more games.
JOSH ANDERSON: Hopefully we can help you keep on doing that. Folks, I will put a link to the ultimo website in the show notes. Make sure to check it out on the Google play store or the App Store.
Zafer Elcki, thank you so much for being our guest today and coming on and talking about ultimo. I hope you guys keep it up. It sounds like it’s going to continue to grow and help more folks along in life.
ZAFER ELCKI: Thank you. Also I can share my personal mail for the families, if they would like to reach me out. It’s I personally answer every email. Maybe you have a problem and we can solve it with technology, I would like to hear more. Also feedback of our application is also great because we are working for you. Maybe you can also provide quality feedback for us. I would like to talk to have one often.
JOSH ANDERSON: Sounds great. I’ll put that in the show notes as well. As ultimo continues to grow, maybe in the future we’ll have you on the show again to talk about some of the new features. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
ZAFER ELCKI: Thank you for your call.
BRIAN ANDERSON: 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. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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