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ATU494 – Care Direct with Heather Perkins

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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.

Heather Perkins – Head of Customer Relations for Care Direct
Social Media: @caredirect.tech
Zoom Caption Story: https://bit.ly/3oWqtPA
FlipSnack Story: https://prn.to/34XOLkh

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——————– Transcript Starts Here —————————–

Heather Perkins:
Hi, this is Heather Perkins, and I’m the head of customer relations of Care Direct Technology, 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 Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 494 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on November 13th, 2020. On today’s special Friday the 13th episode, well, actually, there’s nothing special except for that it’s on Friday the 13th and we have a great guest. Today, our guest is Heather Perkins, the head of customer relations for Care Direct. And she’s on to talk about a suite of assistive technology products that they have available to help individuals stay independent longer. We’ve got a story about Zoom and Otter AI partnering to bring realtime captions to online meetings. We also have a story about a digital publishing company that’s assisting those that use its platform with making their content a lot more accessible. We’d like to thank you so much for listening today, and let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Our first story today comes to us from over at CIO Dive and is titled Zoom, Live Captions And What It All Means For Workplace Accessibility. It’s written by Roberto Torres, and it talks about Zoom having a new feature in it that allows for live video captioning. This is done with a partnership with Otter AI, and it allows for Otter AI to be integrated into the Zoom platform.

Josh Anderson:
So for those of you who may not have used Zoom, it is a teleconferencing platform. If you’ve been working from home during the COVID and everything, then you’ve probably used either it, maybe a Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, all these other ones. Now, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, and Microsoft Teams already had live captioning put in them. But Zoom is actually catching up in trying to get this integrated as well. Zoom always had the capability where you could hire a captioner, which is really great, especially for big web events or if you have a whole lot of people attending. The live captioner is going to be a little bit better. The transcriptions are going to be more precise and the actual words that are said.

Josh Anderson:
When you’re relying on artificial intelligence, it’s not going to be 100%. Now, that’s not saying that it doesn’t work in a pinch. And of course, for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, really having anything is a whole lot better than having nothing, but there are still some issues in that. And if you really think getting a captioner, while it is great and works wonderful for planned meetings, for planned events, for planned online trainings, it does not work well when your boss just messages you or sends you the Zoom request and you have to have a meeting right then.

Josh Anderson:
It talks about those issues a little bit here in this story. And it does talk about how having this does help a little bit whenever you do have those pop-up kinds meetings, but there are still some issues. In fact, it even has a little bit of an interview in here where it talks about an individual that says, “When I’m having a meeting with external partners, the auto captions usually give me enough information to figure out what’s being said.” But then it does go on to say unfortunately, when it goes wrong, it really goes wrong. And it really disrupts the flow of the meeting.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s kind of true. If you’re having a casual conversation or something, maybe those auto captions are enough. They give you a good idea of maybe what’s going on, body language and other things. Perhaps, there’s a PowerPoint or some other information that you can kind of glean what’s really going on from, but at the same time when they mess up, and especially if it’s something intricate or anything like that, it can really change the entire meaning of the meeting.

Josh Anderson:
So, these are definitely a step in the right direction. They’re not the end all be all of accessibility. And this actually gets a little bit more into that in the story, talking about accessibility should be a wraparound strategy. You should really build it into everything just to ensure that your customers, your employees, your team members, your business contacts, really anyone that you’re going to be contacting or working with is able to access whatever platform it is that they’re using. And truthfully, this is just good business practice if you really think about it. The more folks that can use your technology, well, the more folks that can pay for your technology. So, it’s not just doing what’s right. It’s kind of doing what’s right for the business at the same time.

Josh Anderson:
So, it looks like Zoom and all these other platforms are doing their best to kind of catch up with accessibility. We always hope that companies build this stuff in and ingrain it in and just have that universal design kind of model from the beginning. But the simple fact that they are taking these cues and starting to put this stuff in there is at least a step in the right direction. It definitely doesn’t check all the boxes kind of as they say here in this story, but it does help to move the needle towards a just more inclusive and a more accessible workplace all the way around.

Josh Anderson:
So, we’ll put a link to this over in the show notes. And I really doubt this will be the last one of these stories that we find here in the coming weeks, months, and oh, goodness, hopefully not years that we’re moving to this kind of work from home model. For a link to this and all of our stories, just check out our show notes.

Josh Anderson:
Our next story kind of goes along with that last story just in talking about accessibility. This is actually from a news wire, so this is actually a press release, but it’s titled Flipsnack, The First Publishing Platform To Enable Accessibility; Now People With Eyesight Disabilities Can Enjoy Digital Publications. So first of all, I really was drawn to this story just because I really like the name Flipsnack. I find that very, very fun.

Josh Anderson:
But anyway, Flipsnack is a popular publishing platform. It creates interactive catalogs, magazines, eBooks, and more, so if you kind of think about maybe some of those online magazines you’ve been on where usually at the bottom it has next page and it actually looks like a magazine kind of turning. Visually, pretty cool stuff and really great. If you’re visually impaired, not quite so much.

Josh Anderson:
Says Flipsnack is actually implementing accessibility for the catalogs. And their main goal is to offer free solution for any publisher to be able to convert their page flip catalog into an audible experience. So essentially what they’re doing is building this in so that folks, whenever they make their catalogs and use Flipsnack as their platform to make these, that the accessibility is just built in and extremely easy. A lot of folks would love to make their products, their websites, their other stuff accessible, but they don’t always really know how to do it.

Josh Anderson:
Also talks a little bit in this press release about how accessibility is really just important for everyone because anyone that would want to have everything read to them can then have that. You don’t actually have to have any sort of visual impairment to benefit from it.

Josh Anderson:
Says you can make the flip book content visually accessible for anyone, and it doesn’t require any technical experience. It says that once this accessibility is enabled, the publisher simply needs to select a page they want read out loud, set a title, a description, and press save. And it’s just that easy. And then a screen reader can easily read anything on there, the title, and tell you what’s going on.

Josh Anderson:
I talk a lot on here about how building accessibility’s important and building that in is important just so that things are accessible to anyone that might want to access them. So, it looks like Flipsnack, which is this publishing platform, is making it to where the users of the platform, which is the folks that actually make the content and use this platform to make that content, they’re making the tools to make those accessible very, very easy to use. We’ll go ahead and put a link to this press release right over in the show notes.

Josh Anderson:
So, I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but the world’s really kind of changed in 2020. The pandemic has disrupted daily life in many ways and caused a lot of pain and suffering for many individuals across the globe. Maybe nowhere was as hard hit by COVID-19 as nursing homes and elder care facilities. And this has brought up the conversation of how to allow folks to live independently longer and how to provide supports remotely to minimize face-to-face interaction and reduce transmission.

Josh Anderson:
Well, today, we’re lucky enough to have Heather Perkins, the head of customer relations for Care Direct on the show to talk about a suite of assistive technology products that they’re introducing to make independent living more achievable. Heather, welcome to the show.

Heather Perkins:
Thank you.

Josh Anderson:
We’re really excited to get into talking about the technology, but before we do that, could you tell our listeners a little about yourself?

Heather Perkins:
Of course, thank you very much for the warm welcome. My name is Heather Perkins. I live in Wales in the UK, which is where Care Direct Technology is based. I’ve be working in tech for most of the past decade. I previously was a teacher. And since I’ve been at Care Direct, which is since the start of the company about two years ago, I’ve been spending a lot of that time getting to understand our client base, who they are, what they need, what they want and listen to them. We’re not looking to go out and tell people what they need. We want to hear from them themselves.

Josh Anderson:
Well, and that’s a great way to start out for sure. Yeah, you don’t want to try to fix a problem that’s not there, and you don’t want to pretend to be the expert on what everyone actually needs. So, that leads me right into, what is Care Direct Technology?

Heather Perkins:
So, we are a software company. Primarily, we are bringing this new to market remote modular monitoring system. We look at the assistive technology that is already out there on the market. And we saw that a lot of it is really outdated, old technology. And as is common across a lot of healthcare sectors across the world, what’s really lacking is a joined up system where people can talk to each other succinctly and easily.

Heather Perkins:
So what we’ve done is we’ve taken some of the older ideas around assistive technology, introduced some new ones, sort of sewn it all together so that it reports back to a central place. So, our solutions can be used by health and social care professionals and all the families of these vulnerable people just to help them, as you say, live independently, give them that little bit extra support to do so. So at the moment, our products are being used with everyone from people with learning disabilities to eldercare.

Heather Perkins:
And the idea of having a suite of products is that they’re designed to be tailored and flexible to your specific needs, whether you’re living far away from your family and you just want to kind of pop in and have a look and see how Mom’s doing in the morning or whether you have somebody living in a care facility and you’re trying to manage maybe multiple patients within that. So yeah, we’re just kind of trying to make everything a lot more customizable and patient led.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. I know you have some different assistive technology kind of solutions. What are some of those that are kind of included in this system?

Heather Perkins:
We do. So at the moment, we have a smart home hub that is activated through Alexa, two different wearables, a personal alarm and a smartwatch, both of those geo-fence the wearer and they also have automatic fall detection and an SOS button. We have a camera which has two-way microphone for emergencies. And we have a set of IoT sensors that gather information from around the home. And then all the data from all of these different parts feed back into our mobile app. We are working on a couple of extra things, but maybe I’ll tell you a little bit about some of those later on.

Josh Anderson:
We’ll definitely get into that. Let’s talk a little bit more kind of about the wearables. What kind of things and information’s available on the smartwatch and the personal alarm? I know you mentioned the geo-fencing, and that’s an excellent thing just because I know that’s a big problem. I’ve had family members who kind of the wandering off was really the main issue.

Heather Perkins:
Yeah, yeah, definitely, the fall detection and the geo-fencing are the primary features of both the wearables. One of our staff members was previously a police dispatcher and commented that not a single shift would pass without there being a report of a vulnerable person wandering off, for example, someone with a dementia issue or confusion. And obviously, the cost for this for emergency services, if you’re having to mobilize units or send up a helicopter to look for them, that’s an astronomical cost for the emergency services, not to mention then obviously the distress for that person and their family if somebody goes missing.

Heather Perkins:
So, we were sort of very keen to implement the geo-fencing aspects whereby when the geo-fence perimeter is set within our app, so the family or care professional can set that location initially, if that person then wanders out of that geo-fence, an alert is sent to the mobile app. You’ve got a live stream of where they are from a GPS map. And you don’t even have to contact the emergency services in the first place. You can just go to them and find them.

Heather Perkins:
Obviously, again, then with the fall detection, I’ve got a member of my own family who’s quite unsteady on his feet. These devices, they will automatically detect if there’s a fall. So, it’s what I’m saying about looking at older models where you would have to press a button, if you’re unconscious, you can’t press that button. So, the idea is you fall, the alarm goes off, and again, the mobile app is notified, and you can sort of speak to that person through the system. And if need be, yeah, call an ambulance. But you know what? If you don’t need to call an ambulance, particularly in the States, that’s going to cost you a lot of money, but you can sort of action that a lot quicker.

Heather Perkins:
The other sort of thing, the telecare model to sort of be aware of at least in the UK, is that when they do press the button for assistance, it’ll go to a call center, which if you’re disorientated can be quite distressing. You might not know the answers to the questions that people are asking you. So by having a familiar voice at the end of the call, then that’s a lot more comforting I feel.

Heather Perkins:
So, yeah, I mean, there are additional features in both, but those are the primary ones. And the reason we’ve got two is to sort of think about the accessibility side of things. Not everybody is confident using things like smartwatches, but then equally, some people might find that wearing a pendant or a wristwatch or a clip-on personal alarm might be a little stigmatizing. So, we’ve tried to make all of our products aesthetically pleasing and give people the options.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s great. And I think we might even get into building in accessibility a little bit kind of more later, but I love how you give them options. And you also kind of said the stigma and everything else. And for someone who’s disoriented, having the police and an ambulance and all these loud noises show up as opposed to a family member is a bit of a shock and a whole lot more. So, I really do like the way that you can just know that, like you said, Dad or Mom or somebody’s kind of wandered off, and you can just go to them, help them get back without that kind of embarrassment of the big to-do of the sirens and everything. So, that’s really great.

Josh Anderson:
And you talked a little bit about the app and how it kind of receives information. Besides the geo-fencing, the falls, what other kinds of information does the caregiver or family member receive through that app?

Heather Perkins:
So, one of the main feeds of information through the app is from the sensors, should you choose to take those as part of your kit. So, our backbone as a company is kind of originally in data collection, data analytics. So from that kind of end of things, that’s something that we find really interesting. The sensors themselves, they’re actually really discrete and easily fitted. And once they’re in place, the resident just carries on with their life as normal, and you can just forget they’re even there.

Heather Perkins:
The sensors that we have in the pack currently are a temperature and humidity sensor, a door and window sensor, a motion sensor, and a smart plug. So, they can be used just one on its own or a combination of all of them or multiples of the same one, so you could use four or five different motion sensors in different places around the home. Again, it’s all going back to this you make this pack so that it’s something that suits the needs of the person that you’re caring for.

Heather Perkins:
And all the data is just kind of being collected in the background. It all feeds into the app. And at any time, the carer can just look in on the app and see, oh, yeah, Mom got up at eight o’clock this morning, made a cup of tea. She opened the fridge at this time. So, the idea is then that down the line, it’ll be a case of because these are all integrated products, you can wake up in the morning and ask Alexa, “Hi, Alexa. How’s Dad today?” And it’ll sort of give you the run down. So, that’s what we’re working towards with that.

Heather Perkins:
But in the meantime, what we find is that these sensors are really driven by user needs. So, we’ve got one family where the son has got ASD, and he paces around in the night. So, the way they use it is they’ve got multiple motion sensors, as I say, and they can work out from the app then when they wake up in the morning, what time he’s got up, where he’s been around the house, has he been in the fridge, how fast he’s going between those places, what time he stops and goes to bed, and then when he wakes up in the morning apart from them being able to understand his sleep patterns better. Obviously, that knocks on to his mood, his food intake. So if he’s pacing a lot, he can lose weight. So, they’re getting this insight that they weren’t getting before just from background activity.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. That’s very important because a lot of people, a lot of times, folks aren’t going to tell you when they’re in distress or when they’re having problems. But when you see those differences in eating patterns, suddenly, they’re not going to the kitchen as much or they’re only eating once or are all those other things, that’s great information to have because yeah, they’re not always going to relay that information to you. And there’s also a smart dashboard as well. Can you tell our listeners about that?

Heather Perkins:
I can. So, the dashboard is not available just yet. That’s one of the things that we’re working on.

Josh Anderson:
New stuff, that’s my favorite.

Heather Perkins:
Yeah, new stuff. So as I mentioned, our solutions are for both families and for professionals. And what we found in our testing was that when you start talking about caring for people at volume, that a dashboard is a more efficient way of managing sort of volume of people. It’s got all the functionality of the app, but it also goes a step further, and you can sort of analyze over time.

Heather Perkins:
And yeah, like I said, it’s a work in progress. We’re looking to have it out for the end of November. So yeah, I mean, we’re very much being led by… We’re very fortunate we’ve got some partners on board that have helped us develop it within the difficulties in the elder care sectors. So, we’re very much been led by their requirements.

Heather Perkins:
Yeah, and we’re doing some work alongside, we’ve got an assistive technology innovation center in Swansea, which is about an hour from us. So, we’re doing some work with them as well just to kind of get some feedback on the best ways to go about things, user experience. Yeah, it’s been really insightful. And like I say, for us, the most important thing is to be led by the people who will use these products.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And you touched on this a little bit kind of earlier, Heather, but how are you building accessibility into these devices?

Heather Perkins:
Yeah, it’s absolutely huge for us. So, we’ve been thinking about things like eyesight and motor functions in terms of being able to see and use our products. We’ve made as much as we can be able to speak the words and display words as well. But we, like I say, we are really guided by the people that are testing this for us.

Heather Perkins:
So for example, we have one gentleman, an older gentleman trialing our smart watch back probably late last year. We gave it to him under the assumption initially that we thought he might be at risk of falling, and it turns out that the feature that the gentlemen most benefited from was actually that when you press the screen of the watch, it reads the time aloud. And he’d gone for years and years not being able to see the dial of a watch because his eyesight was so poor and just trying to guess what time of day it was based on how hungry he was. So, that’s such a small, small feature for us, but really quite, quite massive for him. He knew when people were coming to see him. It was huge. It had just changed instantly for him.

Heather Perkins:
I mean, don’t get me wrong, with in terms of accessibility, there’ve been some frustrations for us in our development. We would absolutely love for voice recognition technology to be better than it currently is, particularly for people with disrupted speech. I know Google are doing Project Euphonia where they’re trying to ask people with disruptive speech to donate their voices to help machine learning improve that. So, there’s a lot of headway to be made with that.

Heather Perkins:
But in terms of accessibility within tech, there is a whole range of things that are still yet to be done. We think that as long as you make these products intuitive to use and be tested with people of different technology literacy levels and capacity, then there’s no reason why everybody shouldn’t be able to access these devices.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And the fact that you’re building accessibility in and really thinking about it means that you can adjust as time goes on and as those new technologies are available. You can easily kind of put those in. So a big question that I know a lot of folks will have is, what are you guys doing about security and privacy concerns?

Heather Perkins:
Yeah, and I totally understand the security and privacy concerns. Safeguarding’s always been a priority from day one. All of our users are anonymized within the system. We spend a lot of time ensuring that data is secure and complies to all GDPR, et cetera. A big one for us obviously is the camera. We do provide a camera. We sat down, and we talked about it, and we all agreed that none of us would want a camera recording or streaming in our house full time, so why would we expect that of other people? So, we’ve adapted our camera. It does have the capacity to record if needed, but we opt to supply it as a streaming camera, and it can only be accessed by the approved carer in the event of an emergency. So, once that incident is cleared, the stream stops. The camera can’t be accessed again until the next incident, and there’s new encryptions every time.

Heather Perkins:
And the same for the other devices as well, has to be approved carers or family members. You can’t just sort of hack into anybody. It’s something that is, like I say, really resonates with us, and we always come back to the question, what would we want for our loved ones or for ourselves? So, I think if we continue to sort of live by that mantra, then security and privacy is always going to be at the top of our list.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And you’ve touched on these a little bit, but can you tell me a story of someone that’s been helped by Care Direct Technology?

Heather Perkins:
Of course I can. Like I said, I could tell you lots. But I think actually, I’ll tell you about the very first person we tested with, which was a lady in her 80s. She’d had a few falls and lost a lot of confidence. She’s living in her own apartment within an assisted living facility, but she was having all her meals delivered to her door. She very rarely went out. In fact, she didn’t really leave her chair. She would sit in front of her television all day because she was so frightened that if she got up, she would fall.

Heather Perkins:
And she took to the smartwatch amazingly well. Of course, she had questions, “Does it work outside the flat?” “Yep.” “Who gets my alerts,” security questions as you’ve alluded to, but sort of, I sat down with her and answered some of the questions. And I could just see the worry lifting from herself. She’s smiling. She’s happy. And she’s saying things like, “This is what I’ve been looking for,” which is really lovely feedback when it’s the very first person that you show a technology to.

Heather Perkins:
I went back a week later, and she’d been to a supermarket, and she’d gone to church twice with a careworker’s assistance. And I’ve called in a few times since this year. And each time I call now, she’s sat in the restaurant downstairs chatting with her friends and socializing. And that has made a real massive difference to her social life and obviously in confidence and mental health but also in physical health. Her carers have reported back that obviously she’s increasing her movement so she’s lost a little bit of weight that she was hoping to lose. Her muscles are more active. They’re not wasting because she’s sat in the chair all day. The more that she’s on her feet, the steadier she’s getting. She still uses a walking frame to get around. But everywhere she goes, she tells people about her watch, and she can demonstrate it to all her friends and shows it off every given opportunity.

Heather Perkins:
So to get such positive feedback from the very, very first test that we trialed any of our products with is fantastic. And we’ve been very fortunate that everyone that we’ve gone forward to since has found a use. So as I said, because it’s modular, it’s not expected that everybody can use every single element. Although, we do sell a full suite for those who can. But yeah, it’s about taking what you can use and leaving what you don’t.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. I think one of my favorite things in anything anyone I work with is when you come back to work with them, they’ve showed it to all their friends. And I think that’s always… It makes you feel so good because it’s like, wow, not only did I help them be more independent and help them this way, but they’re so impressed, and now, they’re teaching their friends how to use it. And that’s always a great feeling. Well, Heather, if our listeners want to find out more about Care Direct Technology, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Heather Perkins:
You can reach out to us on email. We are sales@caredirect.tech. Our website is caredirect.tech, and you can follow us on social media, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re @caredirecttech on them as well.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll put all that information over into our show notes. Well, Heather, thank you so much for coming on today and talking all about Care Direct Technology and just all the great features and devices that it has available in order to really help people just stay more independent longer.

Heather Perkins:
No problem at all. We barely touched the surface of what it is that we do. So if anybody’s interested, please reach out, take a look on the site. We’ve got loads planned for the future as well, more products to come. So, keep an eye on us. We are only available in the UK and Europe at the moment, but we’re looking to be around you soon. We’re going to be rolling out to all the other territories soon.

Josh Anderson:
And we’ll look forward to see you somewhere locally.

Heather Perkins:
Thanks.

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 at INDATA Project 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 Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

 

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