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ATU567 – BrightSign with Hadeel Ayoub and Erhan Uckun

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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.

Special Guests:
Hadeel Ayoub – Founder – BrightSign
Erthan Uckun – Business Development Manger – Brightsign
Website: https://www.brightsignglove.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQuFBv6dFDlpWsHQNZqiClw

Bridging Apps: https://bridgingapps.org/

Register for our Full-Day Training here: https://www.eastersealstech.com/our-services/fulldaytraining/

Stories:

ADReader Story: https://bit.ly/3KgrBrT

AT and College Story: https://bit.ly/38pqp7v
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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
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—– Transcript starts here —–

Hadeel Ayoub:
Hi. This is Hadeel Ayoub and I’m the founder of BrightSign. And this is Assistive Technology Update.

Erhan Uckun:
Hi, this is Erhan Uckun and I’m the business development director of BrightSign glove. 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. Welcomed to episode 567 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on April 8th, 2022. On today’s show, we’re excited to welcome back the folks from BrightSign to talk all about their amazing accommodation for individuals who use sign language. We have a quick story about a new app to make reading PDFs easier on your phone as well as some things to consider when looking at colleges and their AT strategies. Please don’t forget we always love to hear from you. If you have an idea for someone we should have on the show, a question, a comment, or really anything at all, you can call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Drop us a line on Twitter @INDATAproject or shoot us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Thank you for listening and let’s get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to, we’ll, make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute, our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive technology based so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fixed without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, this show comes out weekly. Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, a Belva Smith and our own Tracy Castillo as we try to answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember, if you’re looking for more assistive technology podcasts to check out, you can check out our sister shows Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ wherever you get your podcast now, including Spotify and Amazon Music.

Josh Anderson:
I’ll start off today with a quick story from over at the Financial Post. This is AbleDocs launches ADReader at the 37th annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference. Talks about a company called AbleDocs, which it refers to as the leader in digital accessibility products and services with funding from the government of Canada’s Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Industry. And they’re announcing the launch of something called ADReader, which they say is the most inclusive and barrier free mobile reading at application for Android and iOS. It says that ADReader is able to reflow content and interact with built-in screen readers.

Josh Anderson:
So basically what this is able to do is take PDFs, which usually have the stigma of being inaccessible on mobile devices, and reflow the content much like a responsive website would have so that it best fits on the screen to provide a better reading experience while minimizing the amount of horizontal scrolling. It says ADReader is now available on the Google Play Store and will soon be available on the app store for iOS. So pretty neat and cool. Haven’t been able to play with it yet, but that’d be great if PDFs sent to your cell phone were a whole lot easier to read using the built in accessibility features of the phone. We’ll put a link to the story over in the show notes so that you can go and check out a little bit more on it yourself.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, I want to make you aware that our registration for our next full day training, Assistive Technology in Transitioning From High School, is now open. This training will take place on Thursday, April 21st from 9:00 AM till about 2:30 PM. The training is all online and CEUs are available for attendees. Anyone interested in learning how to assist students with disabilities and transitioning from high school to work or college, individuals with disabilities, healthcare workers, parents, families, and professionals are all encouraged to attend.

Josh Anderson:
This training will feature transitioning into adult life presented by Insource, a panel featuring college students and college disability reps to talk about their experiences, best practices, and other things that go into this. And the afternoon will be filled with all kinds of different assistive technology for note taking, capturing information, reading, writing, arithmetic, and all those other things that come up as we transition into college. I’ll put a link down in the show notes so that you can easily go over to our website and register for the training. But again, please join Indata and all of us for our next full day training completely online. It’s Assistive Technology in Transitioning From High School. And it will be Thursday, April 21st from 9:00 AM till 2:30 PM. Check out the show notes for a link or check out eastersealstech.com for more information. We look forward to seeing you, at least virtually, there.

Josh Anderson:
So you just heard me talking about our next full day training coming up, which is AT for transitioning from high school. And I just happened to find a story over at The Tech Advocate, and it’s called, What to Ask Colleges About Assistive Technology, which is a very fitting topic I suppose. It’s written by Matthew Lynch. And it outlines some of the things that you should really be asking a college as you make your choice of which university to attend. Now, there’s tons of things to consider when you are choosing a university to go to. Proximity, of course, to home if you want to be home and not live on campus, maybe further away from home if you’d like to get away from home. Of course, academic programs, cost, and all this stuff goes into consideration as you decide which college or university you would like to attend. But their disability services and use of AT for an individual with disability are also very, very important.

Josh Anderson:
The training I mentioned earlier, that’s coming up on the 21st, of course, will outline some of these things. But for a lot of students, there may be a great special education and AT services involved in their school. It may be subpar, it may be wonderful. But the big difference is once you leave that high school and that K-12 environment, you’re on your own to find these things. There aren’t as many providers, there aren’t really as many folks that are going to hold your hand through the process. You’re going to have to find a lot of this on your own. It’s amazing how many folks I work with that are leaving high school and about to go to college who have never talked to the disability services office at that school. And this is really a process you have to start early.

Josh Anderson:
But back to the story, it has a list of questions you should ask as you decide which college or university you would like to attend. So some of these questions are, it breaks them down into questions about services, questions about infrastructure, and questions about culture. So questions about services, does the college have a process for assessing its students AT needs, both inside the classroom and out? Do students have to fund their own AT or will the school be able to do that? Are students allowed to check out equipment from an AT lab? What policies? How long? How does that work?

Josh Anderson:
Then are students allowed to take tests and exams using the equipment in the AT lab independently? For questions about infrastructure, it has, is there an AT lab? How many? Where are they located? Is the staff dedicated to the coordination of AT services and devices? What are their caseloads and their responsibilities? Are there special needs that are served by the equipment in the AT labs? What are their hours? Do the public computer stations, such as one in the dorms and libraries, have AT on them? Or can it be put on them if a student there needs? What practices are in place for repairing and maintaining the AT if something goes wrong? And then are the applications and software that the college use able to support the standard screen reader?

Josh Anderson:
Also has some questions about culture. So are professors given information or training about the services in the AT lab? Does the college rely on electronic communication? Are these things accessible? And are professor’s encouraged to print out information and make things more accessible for their students who rely on assistive technology? These are all great questions and it gets the conversation going. What’s really nice in asking these questions, you’re probably going to really get an idea of how important these things are to the school. And a lot of these can probably be answered by folks in the disability services office. You may might be talking to someone in IT, you might be talking to someone in leadership. It really varies school by school.

Josh Anderson:
These services that are available and really the depth and breadth of them again, varies a lot from school to school. And this could depend on their staff, just how motivated they are, their budgets. Of course, that is also a very big part. And a lot of other factors can really go into that. While you probably shouldn’t pick a college or university based solely on their disability services or the assistive technology available, it is a factor and something that you should take into consideration, especially if you’re between a couple of schools. If they both have the degree that you’re looking for, they’re both in the same class of getting that degree, location isn’t a factor, this could be one of those deciding factors.

Josh Anderson:
So I will put a link to this over in the show notes just to get you thinking, especially if you’re someone who’s either about to graduate, maybe go to college, maybe go back to college, you have a friend, family member with a disability who is thinking about attending college, these are all great questions to ask. The other thing that I can definitely say is, if you are thinking about going to college, you’re going to need assistive technology, you’re going to need accommodations, you’re going to need any of those things, the earlier the better. Some things may take a long time to actually get in place. So if classes are starting in let’s say August, right now is probably a great time to talk about those things with the disability service office at the school you’re trying to go to. They may need paperwork, they may need a copy of your IEP, they may need information from a doctor or a healthcare professional. They might need some other things that may take some time to get together.

Josh Anderson:
The other thing is, if information is needed from your high school, it’s always easier to get that stuff while the school is open. Summertime is not always the easiest time to get a lot of information from a school. There’s a lot of folks that are trying to get information and usually less folks working to be able to help get that stuff. So again, a lot of this stuff is going to be discussed in that full day training coming up on the 21st. But it just was very fitting that I happened to find this story at right around the same time. Again, we’ll put a link to this over in the show notes so that you can go and check it out for yourself. Now, listeners, I’d like to throw it over to Amy Barry from BridgingApps with an app worth mentioning. Take it away, Amy.

Amy Barry:
This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps. And this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s featured app is Lookout by Google. Lookout uses computer vision to assist people with low vision or blindness get things done faster and more easily. Using your phone’s camera, Lookout makes it easier to get more information about the world around you and do daily tasks more efficiently like sorting mail, putting away groceries, and more. The app currently supports five modes. These are text, document, currency, explore, and food labels. Text mode reads any text the camera can detect.

Amy Barry:
Document mode allows you to take a picture of something and have it read. Currency mode identifies bills. Food labels will identify barcodes and other labels on packaged foods. Explore mode tries to identify objects in the environment. Your results may vary, so do not rely strictly on this as it can be quite inaccurate at times. Lookout is a great alternative to Seeing AI if you use Android. The document recognition is outstanding and may be worth it just for that feature alone. While it does not include some other modes such as light and color identification, it will hopefully continue to improve with time. Best of all, it is completely free as long as you have Android 6.0 or later. For more information on this app and others like it, visit bridgingapps.org.

Josh Anderson:
So listeners, when it comes to communicating with individuals who utilize sign language as their main form of communication, there’s really not a lot of accommodations out there. There may be some text to speech or other things available, but a lot of these rely on printed texts, which may or may not be easy to utilize for someone whose first language is sign. Well, our guests today are from BrightSign. And they’ve created a glove that can assist in these situations, to aid in communication. And they’re nice enough to come here and tell us all about it. Hadeel, Erhan, welcome to the show.

Erhan Uckun:
[crosstalk 00:13:48]. Welcome. Thank you so much.

Josh Anderson:
Thank you both so much for taking time out of your day to come on and tell us about this amazing technology. But before we get into that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves?

Hadeel Ayoub:
Sure. So my name is Hadeel. I founded BrightSign as part of my PhD studies in artificial intelligence and gesture recognition. It was a one off thing, I did it for fun, it got a lot of attention. I was made aware that it was important and so I pursued it as a career, and here I am talking about it today.

Erhan Uckun:
Hi, by the way. This is Erhan. I’m the business development director of BrightSign. I joined the company a year ago, approximately. I’m mainly with medical device background. But in the last one year, I’m trying to help to reach out as many people as possible in regards to assistive technology and BrightSign glove.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. I know this is something that’s been talked about for really a long time and something that’s really been a huge need. So Hadeel, we’re glad that you stuck with it and stayed with it. So tell us, what is the BrightSign glove?

Hadeel Ayoub:
So BrightSign glove is a very simple glove that looks like a regular glove, but it’s wired with sensors that tracks your hands and registers the movements and then recognizes the signs and translates them instantly into speech in a language of your choice and a voice of your choice.

Josh Anderson:
So Hadeel, is that all pre-programmed in or do I actually have to train the glove to understand my signs?

Hadeel Ayoub:
So it started with being a pre-programmed glove. And then with a lot of studies, we realized that people sign differently and have different signs as well globally. So we decided in order to make it universal and anyone can use it, it comes now blank without any signs. And everybody that uses it needs to teach it first their own signs based on their own ability and motion and also whatever sign language library they use. So they build up the signs over time and so it’s very, very individual and personal to them.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. I can see how that can be great because even most of the people I encounter that sign, there’s dialects, there’s so much that goes into it that you don’t think about if you’re not actually someone who does sign all the time. So you said, so how many languages or sign languages does it work with? I guess it’s infinite because you’re training it, is that right?

Hadeel Ayoub:
Yeah, absolutely. It can also be your own made up sign if you came into signing world later in life and you don’t really confer to a certain library. So whatever sign language library you use or not use, you can still use it to communicate.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. Now, with this, does it need to be connected to the internet in order for me to train it to get this information or is it all housed within the device?

Hadeel Ayoub:
Yes and no. So to teach it your signs, you need to be connected to the internet. But once it’s learned it from you, you can use it all fine anywhere.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, very cool. Very cool. I know you said you started on this project as just a PhD student, so tell me the process. Or what originally made you decide to take this on as a project before you even knew it was such a big need?

Hadeel Ayoub:
I was selected as part of a team to present my university at a global hackathon by IBM in South Korea. So that hackathon had a theme of artificial intelligence for social care. So anybody who presented had to have a community impact with their project. I was already working a gesture recognition system for an air drill program. And so I already had the tech figured out in terms of how to recognize hand gestures. It was just the application that I had to tweak for that specific hackathon.

Hadeel Ayoub:
I already speak sign language, so it was very easy for me to test it and it worked. Then I took it further to make it speak different languages and different voices and learn from each user. I think that’s the bit that made it really stand out and I won that hackathon and then I made global headlines. Then people started reaching out to me saying, “Oh, my son is autistic, he uses sign. Can he have a go with the glove? And some speech therapist also reached out to me with some of their patients and so forth. That’s when I realized that actually there is a need for this in the market and decided to focus my research on developing it further, testing it with true users based on their needs and then took it to the market.

Josh Anderson:
How long ago was that?

Hadeel Ayoub:
About three years ago now.

Josh Anderson:
Wow, that happens pretty fast, doesn’t it?

Hadeel Ayoub:
I didn’t think it was fast.

Josh Anderson:
Well, true. But just something that you’re trying to do, like you said, for a hackathon as a project to get to work on this thing and then suddenly. But no, in the world of assistive technology, that seems very fast just for that turnaround to be able to do that.

Hadeel Ayoub:
We developed a total of 11 different prototypes. And so we enhanced each one based on what people told us they wanted to have in terms of features, what they needed. So it’s three to four months for each prototype and then refining that further. I think the most challenging thing was actually taking it to market and launching properly.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, very true. So let’s talk about taking it to market. So can individuals, like our listeners and things, actually purchase or get their own BrightSign glove?

Hadeel Ayoub:
I think that’s Erhan’s-

Erhan Uckun:
Yeah, let me just give some information. First of all, anyone globally is able to go onto our site, brightsignglove.com, and individually purchase by the glove by themselves. So it is available in the US as well, obviously in Europe and [inaudible 00:19:17] as well. So it has launched now, it’s six months to launch. And currently we have around 10 countries that we have representations as well. But in the US, any individual can buy directly from BrightSign. And we will be taking care of the product after sales as well.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool, very cool. We’ll make sure to put a link down in the show notes just so folks can easily find that. I just want to make sure that Erhan remembered that he was here and didn’t want him to fall asleep while we were talking about all the other stuff. I wanted to make sure that he got to stay involved in that. Hadeel, you mentioned about people reaching out to you and about them talking to you about the need for this device after you’d created it. Can you tell me a story about maybe one that really, oh, I don’t know, touched you maybe or maybe really helped to drive you in order to continue to push through and create this device for the masses?

Hadeel Ayoub:
I’ll tell you the one that made me decide to go through with this as a PhD degree because that was a completely different space really. And it was a video a mom sent me of her son, he’s 14 and he was on the train signing asking for, I think he was asking for directions or asking about the next stop. And people just couldn’t help him because they didn’t understand what he was signing. In her email, she mentioned that he takes intensive therapy so that he can actually approach people and ask them stuff and only to still be misunderstood or sometimes not understood at all. She was like, “Your invention will help him become more independent.” And for this situation what happened. Obviously expectedly I cried my heart out and then I just decided, okay, this is it, I’m just going to do this for my PhD and redo the last six months of research to focus on as assistive tech instead of other things.

Josh Anderson:
That’s so awesome. And we’re very glad that she sent you that video because it sounds like that really drove you to do this. Let me get back to training the device in order to recognize my signs. Can you walk me through the process of how I do that?

Hadeel Ayoub:
Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a big button that comes on the glove and also on the app that’s paired with the glove. So all you need to do is type down that word that you’re going to teach it, let’s say hello, for example. And then you press the button, you sign hello, you press it again, and that’s saved. And now the glove learned hello from you the way you perform it. So the next time you use the glove, you just need to press the button again, sign hello, and then it will say it in the language and the voice that those in the app.

Josh Anderson:
That’s super simple. I was expecting a much longer answer, but man, you made it very, very simple for folks as well. And then the app, is that available iOS and Android?

Hadeel Ayoub:
Yeah, it’s on the App Store and the Android Store and it’s absolutely free. You literally need a minute and half to set up the glove the first time. And then once you start teaching, it’ll always be available.

Josh Anderson:
That’s super simple. And I love that you’re making it simple for folks just because then it’s not one more thing that they have to do to be able to communicate with folks. It’s just as simple as pushing a button and doing what you would normally do. So that is really great. So Hadeel, this definitely can help individuals who use sign language. But who else can benefit from using the BrightSign glove?

Hadeel Ayoub:
That’s also for people who lost the ability to speak later in life, let’s say due to a stroke or even for a limited time until they find their speech. So they’re frustrated, they feel isolated, and they don’t know how to sign. So nurses have been using it to communicate with some patients in ICU who are on ventilators and can’t say anything until they teach them how to say basic, basic words like what they need, how they feel. Also autistic children who use Makaton, which is a form of sign language as well to communicate

Erhan Uckun:
In regards to the glove, so one of the common question is do we have to have two gloves in order to express all our words and sentences? No, the answer is one is totally enough to be able to use it. Also one of the second most common questions is, which age group can use? Children, can they use it easily? What I give as an example that we have users starting with age from four to five and upwards. So it has a wide range of a user base in that sense as well.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I know, Erhan, you gave us the website. Is there another place that folks can go to find out more? Or is that the best place for them to get more information on BrightSign glove?

Erhan Uckun:
Yeah, absolutely, our website is one of the main portal that we recommend our potential users who can look for information. But we have also a YouTube page as well which we have several videos and clips, templates, how to use it or the people who are using it. So I think it’s a useful YouTube page that showcase the products, the features. So we can also share with you that link as well as BrightSign glove. And they can find several different using of it and also the features of the product.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. We’ll put a link to that over in the show notes just so folks can actually see it in action and see how this all works. And then Hadeel, I just have one more question, what’s next? What’s the next steps? I know you’ve been working on this for a while, where do you go from here?

Hadeel Ayoub:
So we’re really focusing now on accessing different regions. We’re working on making it available to everyone who needs it through different schemes. So whether through employment or education or as a disability benefit. Every country has its own system. And so we’re trying now to understand how it works in each region so that we can provide it absolutely free of charge for everyone who needs it.

Josh Anderson:
Well, that is awesome. And hopefully you’ll get at least a little bit of exposure and stuff from here. Well, Hadeel, Erhan, thank you both so much for coming on the show and talking about this amazing technology that I know has been talked about in the past, been thought about in the past, but just hasn’t ever really come to fruition. And I’m glad to see that it finally is and I’m glad to see that you got that video and that lady tugged to your heartstrings and brought you to do these things. So thank you both so much.

Hadeel Ayoub:
Thank you for having us.

Erhan Uckun:
Thank you, Josh.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question and about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us an note on Twitter at @INDATAproject. All captions in transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nicole Preto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guest are their own and may or may not reflect those of the Indata Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update. And I’m Josh Anderson with the Indata Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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