ATU472 – Accessibyte with Joe Jorgenson

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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.

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More about Accessibyte: www.accessibyte.com
Work from Home Story: https://bit.ly/30mN8em
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Joe Jorgenson:
Hi, this is Joe Jorgenson. I’m the founder of Accessibyte 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 472 of Assistive Technology Update, it’s scheduled to be released on June 12th, 2020. On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Joe Jorgenson on, he’s the founder of Accessibyte, and he’s on here to talk about the technology and all the great things that it can do.

Josh Anderson:
We’re also excited to have Amy Fuchs on from BridgingApps with an app worth mentioning. We also have a story about remote work and how this can be a great accommodation for individuals with disabilities. Don’t forget if you’d like to ever reach out to us, you can reach us by email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Call our listener line at (317) 721-7124 or drop us a line on Twitter @INDATAproject. Now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Do you find yourself a little bit more time on your hands? Maybe you’re really busy and only have a little bit of time to listen to podcast or maybe listening to this has you thinking, “Well, what about this? Well, what about that?” Well, if you’re short on time, or if you have questions about assistive technology, we have other podcasts that might just fit your needs. The first one is Accessibility Minute, this one minute long podcast gives you a little taste of assistive technology and really wets your whistle to have you go out and find out more about a piece of technology and how it might help those you work with, yourself, or maybe a friend or family member. If you happen to have questions about assistive technology, we have Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ. This show is hosted by Brian Norton and features yours truly along with Belva Smith and Tracy Castillo, as we all talk about assistive technology with questions that come in from email, phone calls, and other means.

Josh Anderson:
We also don’t always know the answer, so it’s very important that we have listeners that can help us out with some of those questions, because while we like to think, every once in a while, that we may know everything, we’re proven wrong almost daily on that one. So, if you’re looking for more podcasts to listen to, if you’re short on time and need a really quick podcast, or if you have questions about assistive technology, make sure to check out Accessibility Minute and Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
So, the pandemic has definitely changed the way that a lot of us work. I know I’m in the office a lot less, as are a lot of folks. And for individuals with disabilities, this can be an amazing accommodation, working in job placement as well as working in assistive technology, being able to work from home has always been a really great accommodation. It cuts down on transportation time and costs. It helps out the employer because perhaps some parts of their office or workspace are not accessible, and instead of having to change these, to make doors wider, kitchen, break rooms more accessible, even bathrooms, they can just allow individuals to work from home. But for the longest time, that was actually a major barrier, as most employers did not want to do that for individuals with disabilities or really for many of their employees. Issues, they always figured with productivity, with maybe some other things, always worried them, but I think the pandemic has really shown that that can change.

Josh Anderson:
So, I found a story over at the Lake Shore Holland, and it’s written by Lucia Rios and it’s called Accommodating remote work during pandemic helps shift conversation about access and inclusion. She begins by talking about reading a headline that has said Twitter employees can work from home forever, which she thought was a little bit of a joke, but then as she goes on, she talks about her excitement and thinking about being able to work from home and how other individuals with disabilities might be able to work from home as well. She talks about some of the issues that have always plagued her in working and doing things, and stairs, elevators that don’t work, entrances to the back door that aren’t accommodating, and not being able to go out and do fun activities because people assume that you’re not going to be able to get there.

Josh Anderson:
She even mentioned showing up to speak at an event only to be carried on stage while attendees stare. She says, she can’t really speak for all people with disabilities, but she’s very thankful as she began to share these experiences with the world and open up a little bit more remote access to things. Then she gets into some of the accommodations that maybe we don’t think about all the time, Uber, Lyft for transportation options, having your groceries shipped straight to your home or being able to just drive up and have them load it up in your car without actually having to get out and do the physical shopping.

Josh Anderson:
And these were definitely made not as accommodations for individuals with disabilities, but just to make life easier for anyone, which truthfully, is how any accommodation starts and moves mainstream. Now with COVID-19, we’re all moving to this contactless world, so these things have expanded, which really opens up a whole new world, as well as folks getting used to using Google Meetings, Skype, Zoom, Teams, all these other technology really can help with social isolation. So, individuals who can’t get out or maybe don’t want to get out that much, they can easily still be able to connect and talk to folks in all different kinds of ways. And she does completely go onto, what do we do beyond the pandemic? How much of this stuff will stay? How much of it will go back? Will we go back to business as usual? Are businesses eventually going to tell everyone to come back in the office and let’s go back to the way we’ve always did things.

Josh Anderson:
Myself, I don’t believe we’ll ever completely get back to that, for one thing, I know at least from what we’ve seen here, productivity has actually went up with folks working from home. You’re not having to worry about traffic, about getting someplace. You can just get up, do your normal morning routine and then sit down or standing desk, I suppose, or however it is that you work and get right to work. You don’t have to worry about all those extra things. I know, for me, sometimes folks will jump in and request a Zoom meeting. I can sit there and talk to them, or I can decline if I’m in another meeting or doing something else, as opposed to just having somebody walk by your office door and ask you a question that turns into a long conversation. I do miss seeing my team on a regular basis, but I must admit with us working all over the state and not being in the office very much, that’s not that big of a change.

Josh Anderson:
And with Zoom meetings, with other kinds of teleconferences and that, I swear I actually see them more, which makes it really nice. So, I’ll put a link to this story over in our show notes. And in fact, we may even try to get her on the show sometime so that Lucia can tell us about her experiences and where she sees this going in the future. But we’ll put that over in the show notes so that you can go check it out, but it’ll be very interesting, especially in the next few months and maybe years to see how much this pandemic actually affects the job market, what jobs are out there and what accommodations are available for individuals to be able to complete their work from home effectively.

Amy Fuchs:
This is Amy Fuchs with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s feature app is called Doctor On Demand. Doctor On Demand is a virtual visit with a team of healthcare providers that gives you access to medical doctors practically every day of the year, with one set fee for medical visits, the cost is similar to a standard copay, but they also may take your insurance. The app is a very convenient way to help with common ailments, such as urinary tract infections, skin and eye issues, rashes and minor sports injuries. To get started with this service users can download the app for the iOS or Android device. Simply register, request a doctor and meet with a healthcare provider using your smartphone or tablet. You can also log in on their easy to use website at doctorondemand.com. Within the app, users can easily access the portal where they can find a printout of the items discussed in their visit, which includes possible symptoms to look for. Lab tests, messages, and documents like excuse notes can also be found in the portal.

Amy Fuchs:
Your favorite providers can be easily located, so that you can schedule future visits with ease. Along with your initial consultation for the diagnosis of symptoms, users can also contact Doctor On Demand after any lab results, which is a useful and inexpensive way to get a second opinion on a diagnosis. In addition to medical assistance, there are psychologists and psychiatrists you can schedule appointments with for an online therapy. These counselors treat depression, addiction, some social anxiety, trauma, and workplace stress, as well as social issues. Like medical physicians, the counselors and psychiatrists can also prescribe medication. It is important to note that neither the doctors, nor the counselors, handle emergency situations, they can not replace going to a true ER or a suicide hotline. However, for non-emergency medical care, pediatric appointments and mental health help, Doctor On Demand can connect you with a qualified and certified medical professional. Doctor On Demand is available for free at the iTunes store and Google Play stores, and it’s compatible with iOS and Android devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit bridgingapps.org.

Josh Anderson:
Today’s guest is not a stranger to Assistive Technology Update, in fact, they were on the show, well, before my time on this show, back in, I believe 2016, but if we really think about technology, think about how much things have changed in the last four years, well, a lot of things has changed with them as well. We’re very excited to welcome our guest today, Joe Jorgenson, the founder of Accessibyte, and he’s on to talk about the technology, how it can help folks, some of the fun things that it can do and just some of the cool stuff available from Accessibyte, Joe, welcome to the show.

Joe Jorgenson:
Hey, how’s it going?

Josh Anderson:
It’s going great and it’s great to have you on, before we start talking about Accessibyte, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. So, I live right outside Chicago, Illinois. I’ve taught assistive technology to blind and visually impaired adults for the last eight or so years. I also do O&M sometimes, VRT, a little bit of everything in this field, that’s what I do professionally.

Josh Anderson:
And I know that you do all that training and everything, but really we’ve got you on here, let’s talk about Accessibyte. First of all, when was it started?

Joe Jorgenson:
Accessibyte was started probably about six years ago. Actually, it’s funny you ask, because just this week I had a Facebook, one of those posts where it shows you something you posted years ago, it was seven years ago this week that I made a post asking what would be a good name for an assistive technology company, focusing on blindness and visual impairment.

Josh Anderson:
Oh wow. And I bet … Now, could you go back and see everyone’s answers? Is all I want to know because I just wonder what some of them were.

Joe Jorgenson:
Honestly, I didn’t have the heart to check. I feel like, man, I’ve crammed a lot into these seven years, so I just kept moving forward.

Josh Anderson:
I don’t blame you at all. So, what exactly is Accessibyte?

Joe Jorgenson:
Well, Accessibyte is my foray into assistive technology, where I have different applications available for blind and visually impaired users. And then, in the beginning, so about that seven year mark, is when I just was dabbling with some Windows applications where I primarily made a typing tutor to meet my own instructional needs. It slowly grew into other applications, such as some arcade games, flashcards, test taking tools. Initially it was all Windows-based stuff, but as teachers started using the applications I made for myself, I started to find all these other needs, all these other platforms, Android devices, Chromebooks, different things like that. So, it all went web-based, which is about two years in, at this point.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. And with the web-based cloud platform you can access it on really any device, right?

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. And I think that is one of those breakthrough moments when I realized how I should tie all these Windows apps into just an online platform and make it fully accessible, like self-voicing, all the magnification, it’s all built-in and operates the same, no matter what device you’re logging in from or where you’re logging in from. So, a parent, a teacher, even the student user, they all get that same experience and it’s super simple. So, there’s not a lot of struggle to learn anything complex just to get these kids up and running.

Josh Anderson:
No, that’s excellent, because I know, especially, so many schools these days do supply some sort of technology, be it a Chromebook, a windows computer, a tablet, or a MacBook, but then what the kid has at home, or what they might use in college, or even when they move on to the next school might be completely different. So, that’s great that the technology can move along with them.

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. And with that, also a lot of times to get to the more advanced screen readers or even magnification apps, there’s a lot of thought and a lot of learning that goes into doing that. And I just wanted to make something easy that hits, maybe before that even comes into play, or if somebody doesn’t have another option, or like you’d mentioned, they’re bouncing around between machines or they’re at a friend’s house, a family member’s house, so they want to be able to do something. They just have that option with the Accessibyte online platform.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. Well, Joe, let’s dig a little bit more into those different kinds of apps, and since the whole thing started with the typing tutor, let’s start by talking about Typio.

Joe Jorgenson:
Okay. So, I will say, I never thought in a million years that my life would be dedicated to typing instruction, but that’s what it’s become. I realized in teaching assistive technology, typing truly is the most important computer skill there is, from that everything else comes after. So, I wanted to make something really simple and accessible, just without any complex keystrokes or combinations, something that’s just really inviting and also a little bit goofy and fun. So, when I first started with Typio, it was pretty stripped down, there wasn’t a lot to it, other than just typing lessons, you get a score, you move on. I’ve presented at the local AER conference here in Illinois and got some feedback from some teachers, and they talked about putting in all these other features, and I did exactly that. But one teacher there made a comment that really still sticks with me today.

Joe Jorgenson:
She was a teacher with kids and I had been working with adults and she had just stumbled across the really early version of Typio, which was really stripped down, no games, nothing fun, but it was effective. She said to her student called it his video games, and for whatever reason, that’s just hit pretty hard. I thought if this kid is calling this really plain, boring typing program his video game, he deserves a real video game. He deserves something really fun. So, that fired me up to make Typio just really interesting and fun and engaging for a younger audience. So, it kind of split in two directions. I still built up the Windows version, which exists and a lot of adult users use that today. But then when it came down to building Typio online, I wanted to make it just fun and funky and fully accessible. That’s the tagline I always use. And just really goofy and interesting.

Joe Jorgenson:
So, the way it works is it teaches typing. It introduces one key at a time, it gives the student a chance to practice finding that key. Once they’ve proven that, they get taken to a typing lesson, complete the lesson, they get a score. If they meet the goals the teacher set, they move on, but what makes it really interesting is there’s all different sound effects and themes. There’s a jungle theme, a hip-hop theme, some standard themes, a boxing one, a chicken theme just for having some fun. But then there’s this typing pet element and typing pets, man, when that idea struck, I thought for two years, “How do I make a game out of a typing tutor?” When you think about any typing tutor, maybe a visual typing tutor, or maybe not, really every prompt, every lesson is, typed this phrase quickly and accurately.

Joe Jorgenson:
The two goals are to do it quick, to do it accurate. The games really aren’t that different. For a visual audience they might have bubbles on the screen or candy falling from the screens, but you’re still just doing the same thing. You’re typing quickly or typing accurately. So, to make that a completely audible experience and fun, was quite the challenge, but then it hit me when I was a kid I loved Tamagotchi and all those virtual pets, and what about turning those into a typing element? So, what you do with these typing pets, is you type the lessons, but the pets voice out the keys. So, when you hit the key, you hit the letter J, the letter K, instead of it just being the TTS voice, the text-to-speech, it’s going to be that pet voicing the key.

Joe Jorgenson:
When you complete the lesson, you gain coins based on how well you did, use the coins to buy stuff to feed your pet. Now, that changes their visual appearance and the audible description, but also changes the sound of their voice. So, it gets quicker, slower, higher pitch, lower pitch. So, they just sound weirder and weirder as you go. And if you hit errors and things, they make just different sounds, so it just became this really engaging element, both audibly and giving a unique incentive to performing well with typing lessons.

Josh Anderson:
I love how you built that in because yeah, you’re right, all of them they have a little happy noise or something like that when you get it right. Or maybe even something visual, but that’s great that you built that whole other element in, to where eventually you’re just trying to take care of your pet and maybe not even realizing you’re learning how to type.

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. That’s kind of how it goes. I’ve gotten such good feedback based off the typing pet feature, from teachers, from parents, where they’re saying that it’s actually become a bit of a problem for some students for typing classes, all they want to do because they want to raise their pet and you also play games. And I got so many new features coming for the next school year, with a lot of unlockables and just restructuring the lessons to be so much more engaging. And the people that have been beta testing that with me, I think it’s going to be even more successful than before, just from a fun and engaging element. It’s all about pulling these kids in and giving them something interesting to do.

Joe Jorgenson:
And I’m going to say this, it’s a little secret to Typio, I built that as an instructor, I found that I was spending about 20 hours on average of my time per student, just reading off typing prompts and watching their progress. And I thought, “Well, that time could probably use better elsewhere, if I made this a little more automated.” So, a lot of Typio lets the teacher take a step back once the student gets going and lets the student direct themselves. So, that independence, not only is it empowering for the student, but it’s freeing for the instructor.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. And I think, when I’m trying to teach somebody maybe keystrokes or things like that, that’s great. It can really save time. But if I don’t know where those keys are then, well, it’s no help at all. And especially for folks with visual impairments, the mouse sometimes isn’t the best option or sometimes not an option at all, so knowing that keyboard is very important. So, I’m glad you can make something that not only can teach them, but can also be fun. And like you said, save up some time for those AT trainers where they’re not using all their time teaching the keyboard. And, for me, if I was someone learning assistive technology, I’d want to do as much of it by myself as possible.I don’t want somebody having to tell me everything. So, that’s great that that tool is available for all those folks and for kids, especially.

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. I’ll agree with that, that the empowering element is a big thing. And actually, that’s something that a visually impaired colleague of mine mentioned once is, he said, “Just make this stuff empowering for people and they’ll like it a lot more.” And so, I think I’ve followed that and I’ve found good use for that time that it frees up for teachers and make sure that they’re not out of the loop or anything, is they can go back and replay the typing lessons and watch and listen to the exact lesson the student performed, see every keystroke, they can check all their statistics and records and tweak their settings remotely. So, especially in today’s current world with everybody staying home, working from home, schools being closed, that remote option, I think I was a little bit ahead of that, luckily, just because there’s so many itinerant teachers in this field, they needed that. And so, then when things shifted to being fully remote, Typio and Accessibyte was kind of already there ready.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Well, let’s talk about some of the other apps and programs that are available. Can you tell me about the pro pack and what all is included it?

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. So, ProPack, I think, is really interesting. With Accessibyte, the approach that I’ve taken is I respect the teacher, I respect their teaching and they know what they need in their classroom. They know what to instruct. Sometimes they just need a tool to help that come along easier. So, ProPack is a very open-ended set of applications that the teacher can employ. They’re all accessible. I guarantee you I’m going to miss one of the apps that are in there, because there’s quite a few.

Joe Jorgenson:
So, surprise there’s going to be extras, go look at the website. There’s a dictionary. There is a note pad. There’s a calculator. A reader app where the teacher can send just the document and the student can read through it without editing that document. There is also a whole bunch of different productivity apps in there that the students and the teacher can interact with, and they’re all self-voicing and super simple. The most complex one is the note taker, and even that, there’s just a few key commands for navigating through the text, or at the very simplest, you just use up and down and type. All the other ones, like the dictionary, just type in what you want, hit enter, you’re going to hear the results. You hit up and down to move through the different definitions of the word.

Joe Jorgenson:
So, just super simple navigation and accessible because when you think about it and you break it down, for a screen reader user to get a definition of a word, I guess, now we have Siri, if you’re using Apple, or you have maybe an Android, or the Google one, which is huge, but if you’re on a computer and you’re doing that, what are the steps to make that happen? First, you need to know how to use a screen reader. Then you need to know how to navigate the internet. And then you got to be able to get to definition for that word. There’s a lot of instruction, and that might be years down the road for some of these students, but a really simple option where all they got to do is type in what they want and hit enter, they use up and down and navigate that’s it. It’s a little easier.

Joe Jorgenson:
Also, for the parents at home who may not be as tuned in sometimes to the ins and outs of all the different key strokes for a screen reader, it’s just super simple to get that information, it just makes things a little easier. So, the whole aim is just a malleable tool for the teachers and the students to do what want, that’s accessible and easy.

Josh Anderson:
Along the same lines, you also have one called Quick Cards. What’s that?

Joe Jorgenson:
Yeah. So, Quick Cards. That was actually the second application I made way back in the day when I was doing the Windows apps, but I had a lot of teachers ask, “Well, how can I add…” Well, I should explain what this is, it’s flashcards and it’s a test taker. So, I had a lot of teachers ask, “Well, how can I add flashcards to my student’s computer, if I’m on the other part of the state that day, working with a different student, different school that day in my town?” So, that was one of the first apps I thought, “Okay, this needs to be an online app, for sure.” So, in Quick Cards, teachers can send their students flashcards, a side A, a side B, put as many cards as you want in a deck, in order to navigate through these decks, you just need the space bar to flip the card and have it read.

Joe Jorgenson:
Or if you hit control to stop or repeat, then you can hit enter or the up and down arrows to move through the decks. And you put whatever you want on these, just like anything you would study. So, it’s really handy study tool for anybody, especially for visually impaired users, since that’s who it’s built for. Then there’s this test taking component of Quick Cards, that you can create multiple choice tests for your student. So, you can give it a question and give it a couple of answers, identify which is correct, and then they can take that test and get the answers.

Joe Jorgenson:
As a teacher, you can see the results in your teacher dashboard, but one really cool feature is you can just take one of your flashcard decks you’ve already created and load it as a test, and it takes the side A from the card and that’s the question. And then, it takes side B, that’s the correct answer, and it takes side B from a bunch of the other cards and it makes that the other answers to choose from. So, you can take studying from just flipping through cards and then you can turn that same material from your class into a multiple choice tests for the students, just take the studying a little further.

Josh Anderson:
That makes it very useful, and Joe, you kind of started talking about it there, but tell me about some of the tools that are available for teachers in that dashboard. Well, folks, unfortunately, that’s all the time that we have for today’s show. So, make sure you tune in next week, when we’ll have the rest of our interview with Joe talking to all about Accessibyte, some of the games that are available and some stories about some folks that have used it. So, make sure to come on back next week to hear the rest of our interview.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, 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 www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update, I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.