ATU384 – Cognitopia with Tom Keating, Ph.D.


ATU logo

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:
Tom Keating, Ph,D., Founder and CEO of Cognitopia
Telephone: 1-866-573-3658


Main Website:

iOS 12 at AppleVis:
AIRA Wegman’s Story NPR:
XL Cinema App Story:

If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email
Check out our web site:
Follow us on Twitter: @INDATAproject
Like us on Facebook:

TOM KEATING: Hi, this is Tom Keating. I’m the founder and CEO of Cognitopia, 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 384 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on October 5, 2018.
On today show, we are very excited to have Tom Keating, PhD. He’s the founder and CEO of the Cognitopia program. Time has been a guest on here before, but he’s back to talk about this new program that I think you’ll all be interested in.
We have a story on iOS 12 from AppleVis talking about just some of the new accessibility bugs that are introduced with the program. We have the story about Aira getting used in new businesses and some places actually setting up accounts for people so that they don’t have to use a bother minutes for the program. And another story about an Exel Cinema app in India to help folks get visual descriptions to move is there trying to watch. That’s gone with the show.

It is what folks might consider the best time of the year. It’s when Apple brings out all the new products, their operating systems, their new toys and gadgets and other new things. But with new operating systems usually come new bugs and unexpected consequences. It seems that in the past, accessibility has been one of the things that the new operating systems haven’t always taken into consideration. If you are relying on these accessible features such as voiceover or speech or something like that to be able to have access to your phone, one bug could really be a bad thing. I remember it used to be, I would tell my consumers are using iPads, iPhones — especially if they were using voiceover — never go with the “point zero” versions. We are on iOS 12. Don’t go with iOS 12. Go with iOS 12.1 or even 12.0.1, something like that, because they’re going to fix some of those bugs.
We are going to make sure to put a link in the show notes to our friends over at AppleVis, because they have actually already been testing iOS 12 in the beta version and now to the public. They’ve actually got a page that the accessibility bugs that are introduced and resolved with iOS 12 for blind or low vision users. There are all kinds of information here about some serious bugs considering the past coding things, some moderate bugs involving braille displays, and of the things like that. Some minor ones. And then it also has updates. They actually, some of the users will put more information and let you know some of the other bugs.
I will say that it does say when they get down to the closing part, they’ve been doing these a sense iOS seven came out, so quite a while. But they do say the iOS 12 introduces the fewest number of new books for voiceover and braille users. So very cool and very good to hear. It sounds like that’s definitely something that Apple is beginning to take into account. I’m sure they’ve had some complaints and other things of that sort. So we will put a link to our friends at AppleVis in the show notes. There’s a lot of other cool thing to check out in their website.
We’ve talked about Aira before. We’ve also talked to folks from Aira here before on Assistive Technology Update. Just for those of you that don’t know, Aira is a service. You sign up for this service. They send you a pair of smart glasses. Still have a GPS chip, headphones, and the camera in it. Think Google glass, is what you can think. I’m not sure if that’s what they are using anymore, but something along those lines. You put these on your face, and whenever you need a little bit of a sighted assistance, you call in. You touch an app on your phone, call in, and an Aira operator gets on the other side. That person is going to be able to use GPS, the camera on your glasses, the sounds around you, and anything they can access to help you access the world around you. So if you are blind or visually impaired, it’s a great tool. It to work along with a dog with a cane and find things that maybe those on going to be able to tell you about.
Aira has a monthly fee associated with it, and that’s how much you use it. Think of the old prepaid cell phone plans where you only have so many minutes. It’s kind of that way. You could really go through those minutes quite quickly if you begin to use Aira for a lot of stuff. I found an article over at The article is called, “Blind grocery shoppers access second set of eyes through app.” It’s written by Michael Rozyack — and if I mispronounced that, I’m so sorry. It talks about how Wegmans, which is a very large grocery store chain on the East Coast — think of a Kroger if you have it or Eagle. There are ones all across the US. What they’ve set up is, if you come in and you are using Aira, you can attach to their account and set of yours. What that does is it saves your minutes. You’ll actually be using their minutes the entire time. It walks a user through, talking about the different things, doing the shopping. Again, there are not using their minutes anymore. So the whole time you are grocery shopping, you’re using minutes that are essentially owned by Wegmans. So they are paying for it. They are paying for that service to make their business more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
Very cool. It seems like reading to the article that some other places are beginning to do this as well. It mentions a couple of different airports in Boston, Houston, Atlanta, Seattle that are beginning to roll this out, see how it goes. It mentions that Aira is going to be announcing that a major retailer with more than 5000 location will soon be hosting this Aira access. It seems a major retailer will be announcing the launch sometime in October. Hopefully we will see those come out pretty soon. College campuses are also beginning. So if you are a user on campus, you can go through those minutes pretty quickly, but some colleges are beginning to roll out the service. Some of those include the University of California at San Diego, Princeton University, and Indiana Ball State University in Muncie. Go Ball State for that accessibility and inclusiveness.
I’ll put a link to the NPR story in our show notes, but very excited to hear that Aira and that businesses are integrating it into their business model.
Listeners, audio descriptions are nothing new in videos. Most of the time, these are in special screenings on DVDs and are not available mainstream. You have to go to a show that has these and tap into their system. I was reading an interesting article at Ed X Live by Sharice Goh. It’s called, “With the Excel Cinema app, the blind can now watch Indian movies with audio descriptions.” This is over in India, and it talks about how a lot of folks going to the movies, you really don’t know what’s going on between the dialogue parts. You might hear an explosion or some voices or something like that, but you don’t really know what’s happening. Think of 90 percent of the horror movies. There is a little bit of dialogue, and there’s a whole lot of creepy music, maybe some creaking doors, some screaming, some running, but you don’t know that every person running away from the ax murderer goes right upstairs. Not that that is a smart thing, but still something that would help you understand was going on in the movie.
It talks about this Excel Cinema app that was developed over there. This was put together by just a couple of folks. They are going through and putting audio descriptions on the movies so that you walk into the movie, open the up, let them know what movie you’re watching, and through the headphones you have audio just if you come right to you. Reading this, it looks like they’ve done about 28 movies so far. It says, so that the blind can practically see a whole movie. It’s at the audio tracks will describe everything that is playing on the screen in between dialogue, and it looks like they are trying to add more and more.
From what I see, everything available right now is available in India. I know we have some of those programs over here in the United States as well. Hopefully this will be something that will continue to grow and go for more folks so that more can have access to entertainment. There are a lot of great movies out there, a lot of great things to see. If you have the audio description, then it can really be inclusive for all. I’ll put a link to the article in our show notes.
As an assistive technology professional, the main goal of our work is to increase independence for individuals with disabilities. Sometimes individuals end up with an entire team of people helping them with ADL, IEP, IPE, many other acronyms and may feel like they are not in control of their services in their own lives. Our guest today is Tom Keating, founder and CEO of Cognitopia. He’s here to talk about the Cognitopia program and how it can help individuals they more involved in the process and become more independent. Welcome to the show.
TOM KEATING: Thanks, Josh.
JOSH ANDERSON: This isn’t your first time on this program. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
TOM KEATING: Sure. I got started doing this work of developing web-based applications to support independence in caregiving by being a caregiver myself. I had a younger brother who has since passed away who experienced autism and moved from New York City, where he grew up, to Oregon to live with me in the early eighties. He ended up never going back to New York, and we ended up living together. I was his caregiver for many years, from the sharing a house, and then he moved into a duplex and eventually had his own apartment.
In the process, I was getting a degree in special education and was also interested in technology. Those two things came together in my own efforts to support him in daily living. It made me realize the potential, pretty early on, of what computers can do to help people be more independent and better managers of their own behavior.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very nice. Tells about the Cognitopia program, kind of what is it.
TOM KEATING: Cognitopia is a suite of web-based applications that has the goal of making individuals with cognitive disabilities more independent while providing caregivers such as teachers, families, and other people in support roles with the ability to make their own caregiving more efficient and effective, providing support when it is needed and not providing support when someone is doing okay on their own. We have designed it so that it is maximally usable by individuals who experience cognitive disabilities such as autism or intellectual is abilities, brain injury, even severe learning disabilities. It helps them manage tasks and routines at home, school, at work and around the community more effectively.
We have a number of applications that are available on our website right now that include tools for person centered planning, whether that is an IEP or an ISP. We have tools for goal management. We use a lot of task analysis and video monitoring to help people in their accomplishment of daily activities of living.
JOSH ANDERSON: You can touch on it and started talking about the three programs. That’s the My Life, the Goal Guide, and the Scan Do?
TOM KEATING: Yes. We actually have one of the program. Our website is a little bit behind the times, which is ironic for a technology company. We have an application called Routines that’s getting a lot of attention. Routines is a library of task analyzed activities that provide a personal collection of task accomplishment instructions for someone, but also makes it possible to browse a community library that other uses on the platform have created as well. You mentioned the other three applications. My Life is a tool for IEP self-direction. We’ve had over 25 students to date use this to run all or part of their own IEP meetings. That’s a huge change for most students who don’t typically take a super active role in their IEP in may not even understand a lot of what is in their IEP. Then we have Goal Guide, which makes it easy to set goals, manage them, take data on goal accomplishment and share that with your team. The concept of team is very important and Cognitopia. One of the first thing to do when you create an account is you connect with someone else. That could be a friend, a teacher or parent. This work has been funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research; among other agencies, including career education sciences. The focus of their funding has been on transition-aged individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities. It has that kind of initial use case that it prevents. It does involve IEP self-direction, but we do see people using it for adult support as well. Scan Do is really a very simple way of getting access to the goals and routines and content that you create on Cognitopia because it allows you to print out a QR code that is related to tasks. For example, if I needed instructions on how to make microwave scrambled eggs, I could print out a QR code, put it on the refrigerator, and use the Scan Do app to scan that and get a video or set of picture instructions that shows you how to accomplish that task. That sort of a good example of how that would work. The tasks to be functional daily living tasks, like cooking or cleaning, but they can also involve social skills and community participation as well.
JOSH ANDERSON: I came from the world of employment consulting, job coach kind of ways. When I look at this stuff, I can see how all of it can help in that process as well
TOM KEATING: Absolutely. And I think we are in a good place to help people who are really working on customized employment. With all the emphasis that has come with the WIOA [Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act] legislation and employment first — because really, if people are going to be in customized employment situations, then they really need tools to help them manage better. You are totally right about the application to work settings as well. If you look at Goal Guide — and we have students doing work experience and actual paid employment. We’ve used Goal Guide to remind them of the steps needed to cook, for instance. One student had an internship at a restaurant here locally where we do our testing. It was really important to him to have that tool, both to show his employer that he had a good framework for self-management, but also to help be more effective. There is lots of ways in which this work really does apply to employment.
JOSH ANDERSON: We talked a little bit about your younger brother — and I know that’s why you got into this work. Where did the idea for Cognitopia come from?
TOM KEATING: I had published an application called Picture Planner in 2009 that was a visual scheduling application that task analyzed activity planning and allowed users to create a calendar by selecting from picture arrays that represent the different categories of an activity. You would pick an image for what you are going to do, another one for who you are going to do it with, where it is going to happen, and how you’re going to get there, things to bring, close to wear, all of the things that go towards effectively managing your own calendar and that neuro-typical individuals might not have to think too hard about or to systematically about. We broke that out and made it a systematic process to help people walk through that.
In the course of getting feedback on the Picture Planner and continuing to iterate on it and make it better, it became clear that some activities that you put on your calendar were goals you might want to track over time so you could see how you’re doing. A simple example of that would be I scheduled a workout in the morning, and I want to know how many miles I walked and see how that changes over time and be able to share that with other people who were interested in how I’m doing and help me be more effective in that way.
Picture Planner led to Goal Guide. And then to have an awesome team of people working together, other ideas came up in this whole area of — I have goals, well, students have IEP goals. How much do they understand about their IEP? Unfortunately, often not a lot. So we decided we’re going to make an application that would help them understand their IEP better, transition from school to the adult world better, and in the process allow them or help them communicate more effectively about who they are, what their strengths, interests, and preferences and needs are, what kind of accommodations are needed on the job or in postsecondary education. These are all aspects of what you can use with My Life. The allocations all grew out of each other and an organic and iterative way based on this idea of how you can help people do better self-management and help caregivers and teachers and parents to be more effective supporters.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very good. I think it’s very important. A lot of times, we get a few letters after our name and we think we know best. Everybody is an individual and everybody is different. I think it helps those folks reach those goals just by being more involved in it more and know what’s going on and getting what they want out of it.
TOM KEATING: Yeah. We talk a lot about self-determination, and it’s a great goal and great construct. But I’m not so sure we do as well at getting people the tools that they need to behave in self-determined ways. In a nutshell, that’s really what we’re trying to do.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very nice. How much does Cognitopia cost?
TOM KEATING: Right now, Cognitopia is freely available on our website. Because this work was funded through generous research grants support from the federal government, we have been able to do an extended trial period while we continue to develop applications. We are going to commercialize it at some point this year because grant money doesn’t last forever and we need to figure out how to support this on an ongoing basis.
The short answer is that it is out there for free right now, but it will be commercialized at some point. Even after it is commercialized, it will be a good, free trial period, at a freemium level of access. If someone tries it, decides they don’t want to sign up, they’ll still have access to all the content that they created during the trial period. So we are trying to make it accessible, trying to get it out there. We really want people to try it and give us feedback so we can improve it and make sure that if you do sign up for it, you’re getting really good value for what you’re doing.
JOSH ANDERSON: That brings me to the next question. Since you are getting that feedback, what does the future hold for Cognitopia?
TOM KEATING: We would like to be one of the key places people go for self-management applications. We would like to continue to build a suite of tools that we are creating. This is a very generally applicable set of tools that we are creating, so it works for independent living, it works with employment. We believe there is applicability to older adults as well because many of the same challenges on independent living and team communication apply in that domain as well. We would like to continue to innovate and have a self sustainable company that allows us to do that.
JOSH ANDERSON: And all the feedback, I’m sure you’ve heard at least a few stores of some of the folks that this has helped, help them reach their goals, help them take control of the lies a little bit more. Could you share one or two of those doors with us?
TOM KEATING: Sure. We’ve worked really closely with a high school transition program here in Eugene, Oregon. We do a very embedded kind of development where students come to our offices once or twice a week and sort of accommodation of work experience, to learn about software testing and development, and also as a user group to learn the applications that we are creating and give us important designs you back on that. I mentioned earlier that we had over 25 students use the My Life application to run their own IEP meetings. That include students with significant challenges. One of the students had spent his IEP meeting the year before he started working with us just pretty much not involved at all and distracted by things that were going on outside the window. He created a My Life portfolio, and just last year, he did a solid 20 minutes of leaving the IEP team through his IEP goals. His mother was so impressed that she sent a thank you note teacher to his teacher which said, I want to say thank you because when you showed us what you are doing with this application at the beginning of the year, I thought I would ever see my son doing that. Now I just did. Thank you. That teacher contacted me immediately and said, you have to realize how awesome this is. He said, I never get thank you notes after IEP meetings. That’s not the way they roll. That’s the kind of thing that lets us know we are on the right track. That’s really what makes it meaningful and drives us to continue doing what we are doing.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very good. If people want to find out more about Cognitopia or take a look at it, where would they go?
TOM KEATING: They would go to And that’s C-O-G-N-I-T-O-P-I-A, They can also call us at 866-573-3658. We would love to hear from people. We really hoping to have feedback of all kinds, negative, positive and in between. That helps us improve what we’re doing.
JOSH ANDERSON: That’s very cool, just being able to help folks be more involved in the planning of what is actually affecting their lives, making sure they are staying on their goals. I want to thank you again for coming in here today. Listeners, definitely check out Cognitopia. They are online. I would think Tom Keating, founder and CEO of Cognitopia for taking time out of his day and being on the show. Thanks again.
TOM KEATING: Thank you, Josh. I appreciate it.
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.
***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi. For requests and inquiries, contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *