ATU473 – Part 2 – 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.

Show Notes
More about Accessibyte: www.accessibyte.com
Accessible Online Learning Story: https://bit.ly/2MBU4Mu
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Joe Jorgensen:
Hi, this is Joe Jorgensen. I’m the founder of Accessibyte, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, the 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 Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 473 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on June 19th, 2020. On today’s show, we have part two of our interview with Accessibyte founder, Joe Jorgensen. We’re also happy to have Amy Fuchs from BridgingApps back on with another app worth mentioning. We also have a story about making learning accessible while distance learning, some of the challenges and different things presented by that. We thank you so much for listening to our show today. So, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
So last week we had a story about how everything changing with the pandemic could actually open up a whole new world of accessibility by allowing individuals to work from home. Well, conversely, it’s also opened up maybe some issues as everyone moves to learning from home.

Josh Anderson:
For some individuals, online classes and online learning materials are great. It makes it to where they do not have to go to the classroom and they may actually learn better in their environment.

Josh Anderson:
But for other individuals, it can pose some major challenges. So I found a story over at the Ubyssey and it’s titled Remote Learning Renews Calls To Make Classes More Accessible. It’s written by Matthew Asuncion and it really dives deep into some of the issues kind of affecting online learning.

Josh Anderson:
Now it does start off very well by saying the transition to remote learning has challenged students and instructors alike. And I would say that even for individuals without any sort of disability, online classes and online learning definitely did present some major challenges. I know personally I have an 11 year old stepson at home, and I know he had a lot of challenges just staying on task or not trying to rush through it to get it done as fast as possible. Also, anytime that he actually needed more instruction, it wasn’t always easy to find.

Josh Anderson:
And I don’t know if any of you have young ones, but a few years ago they changed math. So I even have a hard time helping him with some things, because while I might get the right answer, I’m not doing it correctly and he makes sure to let me know about that. But that’s for someone who does not have a diagnosed barrier. That’s for someone who is just a student. And I always feel for the teachers as they try to move to that online platform as well, when they’re not used to teaching that way and they weren’t really set up to do that.

Josh Anderson:
So the story goes on to talk a little bit about the leeway that’s included for some students, including those with disabilities, but how meeting the needs for each student has a challenging risk. I’m talking about policies that are in place in order to keep accessibility to the classroom available. But these new circumstances, they need new approaches, new ways of going about them to ensure that these things are still very accessible for folks. It even says here that everyone always wants to do the right thing. Just trying to figure out exactly what that is, can be really hard.

Josh Anderson:
Much like anyone distance learning, stay at home orders, doing everything remotely, can really kind of lead to social isolation. And it says here that that can also inhibit students with disabilities from engaging in discussions, performing well on tests, collaborating in groups and doing all these pieces because actually asking for a little extra help can be a major challenge.

Josh Anderson:
Said that while providing the course materials online offer some solutions for folks, it also has challenges for some disabled students. So, let’s say if a student would rely on lip reading in their day to day classes, or maybe even recorded lectures with captions that can still cause some problems because whenever the new video content comes up, it takes time to get transcription. So that video that every student got on Monday may not be ready for the other individual till a Wednesday, a Thursday or Friday, even the next week. So they’re going to have a lot less time to study that for the test, a lot less time to complete their assignments and a lot less time to get those things done.

Josh Anderson:
And, of course, there’s also YouTube and automatic transcription services, but as we all may or may not know, those are not always completely correct. Also, just imagine if you’re an individual who, in order to really get good understanding, relies on visual cues. So facial expressions, inflection, some other things like that, that aren’t going to come through in a worksheet, that maybe aren’t even going to come through in a phone conversation, or that maybe can’t come through on the screen because you just can’t see them that well because of bad bandwidth, because of all those things.

Josh Anderson:
Also, if you think, if we’re all sitting in a classroom together and I notice that the student next to me is struggling and needs some help physically, mentally, cognitively. A lot of times you can pick up on those cues and perhaps maybe offer them help as a teacher, as a peer, as a classroom attendant, as any of those kind of things.

Josh Anderson:
But when we’re separated digitally, you don’t see that. You don’t always see that need popping up until maybe they already performed very poorly on a test they may have done well at if they were in person. So just think about all of those things.

Josh Anderson:
Of course, there’s also the issue of accessibility. And the issue has always kind of been there in education and in everything online of making sure these materials are accessible. Are teachers taking the time? Most of these teachers may be making online content for the very first time. So, they might not even be thinking about accessibility or know how to test it, or what’s actually needed for those kinds of things.

Josh Anderson:
Instead of just reading the entire story to you, I’ll put a link to the story over in the show notes so that you can go and check it out for yourself. But it gets into how to find solutions for today and moving forward.

Josh Anderson:
But it’s going to be really challenging for everyone. I mean, as I said, my stepson goes to a pretty small school in a pretty small town that really didn’t even have e-learning days or anything like that. So they just weren’t set up to be able to offer really good content. And he’s a pretty smart kid, gets pretty good grades, but they dropped a little bit because of this, which just shows that that in-person instruction is very important for some individuals.

Josh Anderson:
The folks we work with on my team are usually, they’re entering the work world or perhaps they’re starting college. Now’s about the time of year that usually we start getting a lot of folks that will be entering college in the fall. And there’s just a lot of unknowns out there.

Josh Anderson:
I know for them, as we prepare, make recommendations, and complete training with folks, we’re planning on even if the student wants all in-person classes, that there may be an online component to that, maybe months at a time, maybe days of the week, maybe just portions of the class are going to be online and figuring out how to be able to use that and effectively get the student to where they can be, where they need to be, and have the supports in place to be successful in that online learning environment, if that’s what has to happen.

Josh Anderson:
And for colleges, most of them do have disability services. Most of them do have someone there or someone to help them make their content accessible. For high schools, for middle schools, and for elementary schools, that individual might not be there. Hopefully, we’ll definitely see some changes.

Josh Anderson:
I mean, again, this pandemic took everyone completely by surprise. No one knew really what to do or that all of a sudden schools would become remote. So, of course with anything new, accessibility is not always the first thought, but let’s hope that here over the summer, as these schools get ready to ramp up for next year, whatever that might look like, that they really take accessibility to heart and really make sure to work that into all their lessons plans they’re testing in order to help all their students be more successful. Because as with anything, accessibility, while it may have been made to assist an individual with a disability, it usually has greater potential to even help individuals who maybe don’t have a disability.

Josh Anderson:
So we’ll put a link to this story over in our show notes so you can go check it out. I’m sure there’s other ones out there about this, but it’s definitely going to be a topic of conversation over the summer as we get closer to schools opening back up, and as we try to figure out what exactly that will look like.

Amy Fuchs:
This is Amy Fuchs with BridgingApps and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s featured app is called Google Duo. Video communications with friends and family, whether they are in your backyard or miles away is now easier using Google’s new app, Google Duo for voice and video calls. You can connect Android devices and iOS Apple devices with video calling using this app. Google Duo is a free download and available on your Android or Apple phone or tablet. You can even set up Google Duo on your computer.

Amy Fuchs:
Both parties have to download the app to begin chatting. After you set up Duo for the web, you can use Duo on your computer without your phone being turned on or even nearby. Google Duo also supports video calling for groups of up to eight people.

Amy Fuchs:
To sign in, you just need a phone number or an email account. Google has now made it possible to make Duo calls on the web without needing to link to your phone number.

Amy Fuchs:
Google Duo has several features that we really like. Among these are the ability for the caller to leave a video or voice message and the receiver to check that message when they are ready. A feature called Knock Knock allows the user to see a live video of the person calling them before they answer. And Duo has even added some filters and live effects to video messages and calls.

Amy Fuchs:
Just like other video calling apps, you can switch camera views to show yourself or what you’re looking at in front of you. They have also introduced other features like auto-framing and portrait mode, which can enhance the image quality even better. For unwanted calls, you can block a phone number from calling you.

Amy Fuchs:
We trialed this app with veterans and seniors who were wanting to connect over distance. We were able to have a face-to-face call with minimal technology issues.

Amy Fuchs:
Overall, Google Duo is a great option for keeping in touch with friends and family. Google Duo 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:
Folks, on last week show you might remember Joe Jorgensen came on to tell us all about Accessibyte. He told us about some of the cool things that it could do and some of the tools that were available, but as you may also remember, we ran out of time. There was just way too much to talk about. So luckily, we’re very happy to go ahead and bring you the second part of our interview with Joe Jorgensen talking all about Accessibyte.

Josh Anderson:
So let’s go ahead and get back into the interview. Tell me about some of the tools that are available for teachers in that dashboard.

Joe Jorgensen:
Yeah. So the teacher dashboard, it compliments the student side of Accessibyte Online. An individual user may sign up just with a student account and that’s it. There’s no teacher, so they don’t need that stuff. But schools and teachers, or even a parent teaching from home, they may need to be able to look back at all the records from that student, kind of see the results of everything they’ve been doing, tweak their settings, and that’s what you can do from a teacher dashboard.

Joe Jorgensen:
So if I were to log into my teacher dashboard, I get a list of all my students. I can see all the recent activity between all of them or I can break it down and see any sort of recent or historic activity for any one student. So if I went to Typio, I can see all the lessons they typed this week, get their scores, get the average, like words per minute, accuracy, all of that, I can also go back to any stretch of time to look up those records, which is great for IEP goals, different documentation needs by the teacher, by the instructor.

Joe Jorgensen:
I can also tweak their settings remotely. So if the student got a little crazy with their settings and screwed up the voice or something, I can just hop on there real quick with a few keystrokes or clicks of the mouse, fix that for them.

Joe Jorgensen:
Also, I can send them custom assignments. So for Typio, I just type in a few things, give her name, hit the confirm button, and within seconds, the student has a fully accessible typing lesson based off whatever material I sent them.

Joe Jorgensen:
In Quick Cards, you can send them tests and flashcard decks. In ProPack, you can look at the students’ notepad files to see what they’ve been typing, so you can give them a writing assignment or you send them a reader document or a to-do list. That was the other app that was in ProPack. You can create to-do lists for your students, which is real helpful for academic content. And then in Accessibyte Arcade, you can customize some of the games like Hangman and we can talk more about Arcade in a moment.

Joe Jorgensen:
But the other thing with the teacher dashboard is you can kind of store your own files for all of that stuff. So if I send every student the same typing lesson, I would store that for myself and then just share it with all my students as they sign up. You can also block them from changing settings. And you can also turn off the games element of Typio if you’re really cruel, or maybe, I’m just joking there, but if your student just maybe played too many games in there, you can kind of lock them out of that and keep it cordoned off so they can stay on track.

Joe Jorgensen:
But it’s all about just giving teacher control both with the data so they can drum up different reports and things and with the settings so they can maybe help the student out if they need it. And also just tools to help keep everything on track for everybody.

Josh Anderson:
I don’t want to just talk about teachers and learning and that kind of stuff, but luckily you already led into it. Tell me about the Arcade.

Joe Jorgensen:
Okay. So Accessibyte Arcade, it kind of goes back to that quote from that teacher before where they had said that really early version of Typio was their kid’s video game. I wanted to make games for blind and visually impaired users from that point forward and probably even before then, too, but that’s really what got me moving.

Joe Jorgensen:
And I realized that you can make them, but schools aren’t necessarily going to get them for the students if it’s just games. So I tried to incorporate some different learning elements into it and also include the games as part of an overall package of all these apps so students do have access to them.

Joe Jorgensen:
The games that are included, again, I got to make sure I don’t forget any, but we’ll talk about each one quickly. There’s Samurai, Echo, Canteen, Hangman, Wizard’s Tower and FutureBot, nailed it. That’s all six that are available right now. There’s a few more being built. Those games represent a gradient of complexity, as far as the control of the game, complexity of the mental mapping and the systematic approach to how you play, and also kind of some elements of computer use.

Joe Jorgensen:
The simplest game is Samurai. The way that game works is you can choose a difficulty level. And I’ll say the reason there’s difficulty levels to all these games is I want all players to have fun.

Joe Jorgensen:
The easiest mode, it doesn’t focus on challenge. It just focuses on having fun. Then the hard mode, it’s hard for me and I built this game. So I made sure that I wanted everybody to pick what sort of approach they want to take, just fun, just playing around, or does he want to be challenged.

Joe Jorgensen:
So Samurai, there’s 10 rounds. You want to make it through all 10. Each round, there’s this anticipation phase where you hear like a heartbeat or the wind. And then there’s the Samurai Shout. When you hear the shout, hit any key on that keyboard to slice and it’ll say like, “Oh, there’s broccoli,” and you slice it and the broccoli gets split in half. If you’re too fast, you lose. If you’re too slow, you lose. As each round progresses, that open timeframe gets tighter and tighter. So really it’s like a response system. “Hey, you need to hit a button,” hit the button, so that’s the simplest of all the games.

Joe Jorgensen:
Oh, and that one you can play two players as well. So one student has one half of the keyboard. The other one has the other half. So they have a game they can play together.

Joe Jorgensen:
The next game complexity-wise would be Echo. It only uses four keys. So we went from one key in Samurai, one key, any key, to four specific keys, which are the arrows, up, down, left, right. In Echo, the easy, medium, and hard modes, it’ll say, “Press up,” you press up. Say, “Press up down,” you hit up down and that grows and grows and grows, but it’s kind of random each turn.

Joe Jorgensen:
Then there’s Endless Extreme mode, which it’s the same sequence with one more added on every time. So it’s a bit of a memory thing. So that game represents here’s these specific keys, we’re just going to play with these four. Hit them in the right order at the right time, but the timing is not so important as the memorization of which keys you hit.

Joe Jorgensen:
The next game in the list, complexity-wise, it kind of takes a bit of a spin from here, I would say is FutureBot. FutureBot is really cool. It asks you a series of 10 questions. They’re just totally random. I had to come up with thousands of these questions and answers and oh man, was it work, but it’s fun. They’re so goofy and weird. That’s why some of them are so weird.

Joe Jorgensen:
So FutureBot will ask you a bunch of questions. For example, have you ever met a celebrity? Yes or no? You just use up and down and enter to make the choice. Or it’ll ask you true false questions, multiple choice questions, weird stuff. Which is worse? Getting stung by a bee or losing a dollar? Weird questions.

Joe Jorgensen:
But your answers will help shape your future. So at the end, it reads out your future and just like a weird wacky little future. So FutureBot’s just kind of a fun game. There’s no win or lose state.

Joe Jorgensen:
The next game complexity-wise would be Canteen, which is a shop simulator. You’re running a Canteen stand during the summer. You have 30 days to make money. Each day, you either open your shop or you buy new inventory to sell in the shop. There’s different themes for each day, rainy days, book club day, things like that. So different items sell better. So that game, it’s the same skills as FutureBot, up, down, and enter for a menu system. But it’s got two layers to the menus. You choose what you do that day. Then you choose what you’re doing within that either buy or sell phase. And you’re also plotting ahead with your money. So there’s some strategy going on there.

Joe Jorgensen:
Then there’s Wizard’s Tower, which is kind of a role playing battle game, if anyone’s familiar with those. You can choose a rogue, a warrior, a wizard. I loved these sort of games as a kid. And so you choose one of those classes and then you choose a difficulty and you battle your way through the wizard’s tower. As you go, you gain power-ups for your character. So the wizard can learn new spells and the rogue can learn different techniques like backstab and different things like that. And they all just operate differently.

Joe Jorgensen:
You only have so many points. You can use each round for your attacks and your abilities and heal yourself, and the enemies just get harder and harder as you go. So that one’s more like strategizing each turn as you go. And also just really open ended. It’s a lot of fun, the Wizard’s Tower.

Joe Jorgensen:
Then the last game is Hangman, which is the standard Hangman game, but made accessible and it just requires keys on the keyboard for typing. The cool thing with Hangman is it comes with a bunch of default word lists, but there’s also, the teacher can send lists from their teacher dashboard, maybe spelling words, something to do with the class, whatever makes sense for them.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. So the teacher can actually get involved, but I can see where a lot of those games, like you said, could have some definite learning objectives. I mean, really just using the keyboard, thinking through things, problem solving, all that kind of stuff. So very, very cool. I’m glad you worked those in there. We don’t want to just have students work all the time. They got to have a little bit of fun and still be able to get used to listening to the computer, using the keyboard and that kind of stuff.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Joe, we’re in the midst of COVID-19 and things like that. You’ve actually made your technology free during COVID-19? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Joe Jorgensen:
Yeah. So again, being someone who’s involved in this field, both as a developer and as an instructor, I realized right away when these schools started closing, honestly, like days before, there were teachers online were just kind of scrambling saying, “What remote options do we have for our kids? Everything’s going remote. We need accessibility. They don’t have a screen reader at home or they do, but the parents aren’t familiar with it, or we’re just not at that point yet. What options do we have?”

Joe Jorgensen:
And I had this online platform and it’s there. People have been using it. I thought might as well make it free for everybody. Let’s make this easier on the teachers. Let’s make this easier on the kids, too. They need a distraction and just need things to be running smooth and so I made things free just to help things along.

Joe Jorgensen:
And it’s been a really good reception. A lot of people have hopped on board to use the apps and hopefully it’s made things easier for everybody and that’s the goal right there is just help move things along for the teachers and the students.

Josh Anderson:
Joe, can you tell us a story about someone’s experience with Accessibyte?

Joe Jorgensen:
Oh, man. So I get emails every so often from teachers or from students. Just recently, a parent emailed, I guess don’t get emails from students, I meant to say parents. So a parent emailed me recently and they said that while the apps were free, they found out about them and they paired up their student with Typio and with Arcade. And the student was so excited to play it. They had to leave it logged in and ready for them in the morning so they could keep sleeping when the student ran down there to play. And so then their kid also burnt through Arcade and said they’ve been playing these games nonstop.

Joe Jorgensen:
And the cool thing is this parent, she is a coder in the past and we had some really cool discussions about directions to take this stuff. And it’s really great feedback on what’s worked and what hasn’t, given me some cool quotes from that kid. In Wizard’s Tower, I never thought anybody would pick up on this weird character that’s in that game. So Wizard’s Tower was developed along with a lot of the Arcade games with me and my development partner, Tyler, who is actually my oldest pal. We grew up together since we were infants. Our moms were friends, our grandmothers were friends. So, of course, we were too. And we made games when we were kids.

Joe Jorgensen:
I hit a point where I said, “Hey man, I’m balancing out four different apps. Do you want to hop on board and help me with one of them? You know video games on a level that few people do. Help me out.” So he came on board and started helping me develop Accessibyte Arcade. And one of the characters he put in the Wizard’s Tower, the enemy that you fight, is just called Big Boot. It’s just a boot. There’s nothing to it. It’s not a skeleton. It’s not a suit of armor that you’re attacking or like an evil anything, just a boot. And that kid and her mom loved that boot character. And so me and Tyler got this huge kick out of it because we thought we were the only people that would like that thing. So, kind of weird computer nerd humor, but that’s how it goes.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, I love it. I love it. Well, Joe, what does the future hold for Accessibyte?

Joe Jorgensen:
Man, there is so much in the works. Every step of the way, I always know what’s going to be happening next, but then I find some other direction to go just based on what the teachers and the users report back. That’s where all the good ideas come from. I say that all the time. Not just because I do instruct, but because I just know to listen. People in the classroom, they know what they need.

Joe Jorgensen:
So there’s a ton of updates. There’s more games coming out for Accessibyte Arcade. Typio is getting a massive update that I can’t even share everything that’s going into it. But there’s some elements to that, that our field hasn’t yet seen that I think are going to be really exciting. And I got some other apps I’m working on.

Joe Jorgensen:
It’s just a matter of just continuing to support the platform, get it out there. Accessibyte is tiny. So few people know about it because it is kind of, get it out there, I do or I don’t. I’m just in it to make sure people have good tools and I’m realizing, “Well, I got to get the word out there.” So as more people hop on board, I think Accessibyte will just kind of follow the direction that they lay out for me.

Josh Anderson:
And I think that’s a great way to go because yeah, some of the ideas they’ll have are ones that you haven’t had and if it’s not something that people want, why even bother spending all the time making it. So I think that’s a great way to go. Well, Joel, if our folks, our listeners do want to find out more about Accessibyte, or even try it out for themselves, how would they do that?

Joe Jorgensen:
They could go to accessibyte.com, which is spelled a A-C-C-E-S-S-I-B-Y-T-E.com. So it’s like accessible, but byte at the end. They can go there. They can hop on social media, look us up. Facebook is where I got most stuff going on but I’m slowly building out the other social media areas, too.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll put links to all that over in our show notes. Well Joe, thank you so much for coming on today and telling us all about the great technology.

Joe Jorgensen:
Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s always nice to talk and especially to somebody who is so steeped in assistive technology.

Josh Anderson:
Now compliments will just get you back on the show again, Joe. That’s fine.

Joe Jorgensen:
Oh, well.

Josh Anderson:
Thank you again. 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.

Josh Anderson:
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.

Josh Anderson:
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 Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.