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ATU676 – Ayoa with Chris Collier

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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 Guest:
Chris Collier – Director of Assistive Technology – Ayoa
Website: Ayoa.com
Ayoa Email: contact@ayoa.com
Find your State AT Act:
AT and Vision Full Day Training registration:
More on Web Accessibility Webinar and to register:
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—— Transcript Starts Here —–

Chris Collier:
Hi, this is Chris Collier. I am the director of assistive technology at Ayoa, 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. Welcome to episode 676 of Assistive Technology Update. It is scheduled to be released on May 10th, 2024. On today’s show, we are super excited to welcome Chris Collier, director of Assistive Technology, and he’s here to tell us all about Ayoa and how it can assist individuals with mind mapping and so much more. If you’d ever like a transcript of our show, it is available at eastersealstech.com, and those are generously sponsored by INTRAC. You can find out more about INTRAC and the great work that they do over at indianarelay.com. Please don’t forget, folks, we always love to hear from you.

You can send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org or call our listener line at 317-721-7124. We’re always looking at great ideas for guests, and some of our best guests actually come from your suggestions. Also, if you happen to have a question or really anything at all, we always just love hearing from our listeners, so please do reach out. Also, folks, as you know here at INDATA, we are the AT Act provider for the state of Indiana. Recently, I was lucky enough to get to meet many of the directors of the other programs around the country. So if you are here in Indiana, we are your tech provider. But if you’re somewhere else in the United States, there are 52 other programs like ours in every state and territory in the U.S. If you’re looking to try to find your state AT program and find out what all they offer and how they might be able to assist, you can go to eastersealstech.com slash states, and that will actually take you over to a list.

You just click on your state, and it will give you the contact information and everything that you need to know for your local AT Act. I can say, after meeting so many of the folks that work for these great acts all over the country, so many great people that do so many great things for so many folks. So definitely, if you need any information on assistive technology, access to assistive technology, have questions about assistive technology, make sure to reach out to your local AT Act to find out what they offer and how they might be able to assist. But for now, listeners, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Listeners, I am super excited that our next INDATA full-day training is coming up next week on Thursday, May 16th, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM Eastern Time. This full-day training is on assistive technology and vision, and it will cover all kinds of different things, including a full on overview to understand low vision and blindness, a presentation on orientation and mobility and the importance of that, as well as assistive technology for activities of daily living and vision apps and technologies to help with school, with work, and with everyday life.

If you’ve never attended one of our full-day trainings, these are available both in person and online and are completely free. Continuing education units are offered through the AAC Institute. Those are free as well for attendees, but you do have to attend in order to get those CEUs, either in person or online. So if you’d like to learn a little bit more about assistive technology for individuals who are blind or low vision, please do sign up for our full-day training coming at you next Thursday, May 16th, 2024, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM Eastern. We’ll put a link down in the show notes, or you can go visit eastersealstech.com and look at our full-day trainings.

Listeners, we hear at the INDATA project are pleased to host a web accessibility webinar for programmers and developers on Wednesday, May 29th, 2024. Attend and join renowned web accessibility professional Dennis Lembrey for a full-day of training. The training starts with a background on disability, guidelines, and the law. Many techniques for designing and developing an accessible website are then explained, basic through advanced levels are covered. The main topics include content structure, images, forms, tables, CSS, and ARIA. Techniques on writing for accessibility and testing for accessibility are also covered. If you’re involved in web designer development, don’t miss this wealth of practical knowledge.

Our speaker, Dennis Lembrey, is a senior accessibility consultant at Deque Systems. He was previously director of accessibility at Diamond Web Services and worked several years on the PayPal and eBay accessibility teams. He also has experience at several startup companies and contracted at large corporations, including Google, Ford, and Disney. Mr. Lembrey published articles, led webinars, and presented on digital accessibility at many conferences, including HTML5 DevCon, CSS DevCon, CSUN, AccessU, Accessing Higher Ground, Accessibility Toronto, and Paris Web. Dennis runs a blog, Facebook, and Mastodon account on web accessibility called WebEx. He created an accessible, two-time national award-winning Twitter app, Easy Chirp, which is now Sunset.

So remember, if you’re involved in web design or development or want to learn more about web accessibility, please join us for our web accessibility webinar for programmers and developers on Wednesday, May 29th, 2024. We’ll put a link down in the show notes that will get you over to more information, as well as our registration page. There is no charge to attend this webinar, but you do need to register. So if you’re interested, please check out the link in our show notes.

Today, listeners, we are excited to welcome Chris Collier and he’s here to tell us all about Ayoa and other tools and how they can assist neurodiverse individuals with mind mapping and other needs.

Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Collier:
Thank you, Josh. Great to be with you.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, I am really excited to get into talking about this cool assistive technology. But before we do that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Chris Collier:
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been working in disability support for about 15 years now, 15, primarily with students in the higher education, the university and college space, but also with users in the workplace as well. And some of those roles have been meeting students for individual needs assessments, or you might call them assistive technology evaluations. And these are students with a range of disabilities, from neurodivergence through to sight loss, hearing loss, and also a lot of students with mental health difficulties. And it has been really interesting over the years to see the broad range of software and other tools available for that group. I’ve also been a council member for the British Assistive Technology Association and vice chair of the Association of Non-Medical Help Providers, which represents people providing one-to-one support such as dyslexia tuition, note-taking, and mental health mentoring.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. Very cool. That’s a very, very great background, and I’m sure it works well into the project that you’re on right now. So I guess let’s start with the big, overarching picture, Chris. Well, can you tell us what is OpenGenius?

Chris Collier:
Absolutely. So, OpenGenius is the company that produces the Ayoa’s software. It’s based in Cardiff in Wales, and it was founded by Chris Griffiths, who is a well-known speaker and author on focus and creativity in the workplace. So if you want to know a little bit more about where Ayoa has come from, do go and have a look at Chris Griffiths and some of the work that he’s done around creativity and also around mind mapping.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. Very, very cool. Well, we’re very glad that he did create it and make it. So, I guess the main reason we have you on the show is to tell us about Ayoa. So, I guess start off with what is it?

Chris Collier:
Absolutely. So, Ayoa is a mind-mapping tool, primarily, but with a lot of other features in there. There’s some integrated whiteboarding task management, a presentation tool, and the ability to collaborate with other group members. Plus, Ayoa has introduced AI to help users get started on projects in a couple of different ways, and I’m really excited to tell you about those during our discussion today.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, I can’t wait to get into that as well. So I guess we should maybe start with. I know there’s some different kind of versions available. At Ayoa, what are kind of the differences between the different versions?

Chris Collier:
So, Ayoa is available to anyone as a free version. That’s not a time-limited trial. It’s free, and it allows users to create an account, create their own mind maps, and understand the concept of mind mapping. Over time, we’ve had over one and a half million users of Ayoa across the world, international users, and you can learn more about that on ayoa.com, but we’ve also got, currently, two versions for individuals. One without the AI features and one with the AI, where we’re using Ayoa with students and disabled users. We just provide the full version. So, in this sector, we just have the full version of Ayoa.

Josh Anderson:
Nice, nice. Well, I do want to get in, I kind of wanted to lead that in. So tell us about the artificial intelligence that’s built into the one version of Ayoa and how does it assist?

Chris Collier:
So the AI is the bit that a lot of people are interested in. We were at ATIA back in February, and I think a lot of people were interested in the AI bit, and Ayoa’s AI helps students and users to overcome things like blank page syndrome. So what I mean by that is sitting there with a Word document or a Google Doc open, and you’ve just got that cursor on the screen and a white page or a blank page, and you’re just not sure where to start. And over the years, a lot of neurodivergent students have said that they just can’t get started with assignments, and then they lose motivation and concentration.

So the AI has really stepped in there to support those students because with Ayoa, you can give it a concept or a topic as a starting point, and then it will come up and it will mind map ideas for you that will then enable you to and build those out, add your own ideas, add your own paragraphs of text if you’re creating an assignment, and then structure your assignment in the mind map or in the kind of document view, the linear view that accompanies it. So you can give a topic or a theme and ask it to come up with those ideas for you. And then within that, you can click on a particular idea and ask it to explain it in more detail, or perhaps give you questions around that to help you revise those topics. It’ll come up with three or four questions for you that you might want to think about in there.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And that’s a great way, you did mention the blank page syndrome, and I think we’ve all fallen victim to that at some point. I know for our folks who, or maybe neurodivergent, might be some more needs there, and I can definitely see how I can help. What are some other ways that Ayoa can support learners and other individuals with maybe complex or different needs?

Chris Collier:
The concept of mind mapping isn’t a new one. And actually, Chris Griffiths from OpenGenius did some work with Tony Buzan many years ago on the importance of that. But what we found where we’ve got students who struggle with text for whatever reason, that is perhaps due to dyslexia. Having information in a mind map can be really helpful because you’ve got those smaller bits of text rather than a long page of text, which can be very overwhelming and hard for a student to process. And so presenting it visually and using colors can help to aid recall. So, whether a student’s having to learn a topic for an exam or a presentation, they can use this color to separate out ideas, and then they can use that to remember them. And the fact with a mind map, you can put your branches and bubbles if you like, anywhere you want on the page. That also helps to aid memory because, you might remember, this idea is up in the top left-hand corner of my mind map.

So you’re thinking about where it is, you’re thinking about what color it is, and you’re not just trying to remember a bullet point that’s on an A4 page of text.

Josh Anderson:
That does make a huge difference. And I really like the way that you highlight the different ways of memory, being able to remember the spatial or the color, or just as you said, something else besides just a bullet point and trying to keep that into your mind. Chris, what are some different ways that I can customize Ayoa, as I’m using it because you mentioned colors and maybe moving things around? Are there other ways that I can customize my mind maps?

Chris Collier:
Yes, absolutely. One that I probably should have mentioned in that is adding images. So images are obviously incredibly powerful for students to remember things, and those can be added to any branch in Ayoa, and then they can transfer through. If you use Ayoa to create a document from your work, then those images can appear in your document as well. So, for example, Josh, sometimes I show people the kind of themes within Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. So, I can just go into Ayoa and ask it to find me a royalty-free image for Hamlet, and it’ll come up with various options. Obviously, a Hamlet is also small village, so it’ll give me some options on that as well. So you could take your pick from those. But from an accessibility point of view, you can change your font size, you can change your font within Ayoa, which is really important. You can also change your background color. So if you experience visual stress or high contrast is difficult for you, you can put a pastel background on or a dark mode so that it’s more accessible to you as well.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. Very, very cool. And as far as Ayoa itself, is it available kind of online Windows, Mac? Where is Ayoa all available?

Chris Collier:
So, Ayoa is a browser-based tool, and that decision was taken about four or five years ago to move to that cloud-based model. Previously, there was a product produced by OpenGenius called iMindMap, which was a desktop software, and then we transitioned across to Ayoa. And the great thing about that is, you don’t have to worry about a minimum specification to run the software, and users could run that on a Mac, Windows, or a Chromebook and have exactly the same experience with it, which is really important. And alongside that, there are also dedicated mobile apps for both Apple and Android. So you can access Ayoa from a tablet or a smartphone, and you can build maps on the tablet as well. So you can do all of that on there. The way I tend to use those mobile apps, if I want to pop an idea into a mind map or into one of my task boards, because task management is a huge part of Ayoa, I can just do that when I’m on the go on the phone, and then I know it’s going to appear when I log back on to my computer.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. So I can use it on all my devices, or if I’m kind of limited, maybe by my school, or work, or something where I need it, I can definitely access it. So that’s great. You mentioned the task boards. Tell us a little bit more about those.

Chris Collier:
Absolutely. We are seeing task boards being really popular, perhaps with users with ADHD, with dyslexia, where concentration, prioritization of tasks can be challenges. And there are a number of task management tools out there which have really gained popularity over the years. And we just feel that task management needs to be very visual and fun to use, otherwise, users will quickly abandon it as a strategy if it feels too much like hard work. So a couple of things in Ayoa, which I think help it to stand out as a task management tool, there’s a really visual view in there where you can actually have tasks as balls and you can drop them into different buckets if you like, in order to arrange them and prioritize them. And that always looks really nice. But then those tasks will also appear in the right place if you go to a Kanban board view or a Gantt timeline view. So I always really like to show that because I feel it’s really unique. It’s not one that I’ve come across anywhere else before.

And then other things in there, Josh, which I think are really important, each task has a progress bar, so you can display how much of your task is done as a percentage. It goes up in 5% at a time, and that allows you to really think about how much of a task you’ve done. Whereas other task management tools, I’ve used a more binary, they’re either, you can either tick it or untick it, or perhaps you can have a half-full option where you’ve done half of it. So you can be very granular in how you use the tasks there. And then you’ve also got the ability to add checklists or subtasks within a task. So say, for example, you have a task like researching a topic, but there are lots of strands to doing that, such as going to the library, searching for information online, having checklists means you can remember them all and tick them off as you do each one.

And I don’t know if you’re like me, but I quite like the satisfaction of having that kind of ticking that off and seeing the green tick appear next to it.

Josh Anderson:
It makes you feel like you’re actually getting something done or doing something. Yes, yes. I like that as well. Chris, how might I be able to help someone with maybe presentation anxiety or I know given speeches get in front of people talking, kind of putting those all together can be a huge challenge. Might it be able to help those folks?

Chris Collier:
Yes, absolutely, Josh. So that’s something that’s come up in speaking to students one-to-one over the last few years, and students in Ayoa can benefit from a really easy-to-use presentation tool. So they can take their mind map and they can auto-create a presentation, which will then allow them to go around the map, taking one bubble at a time and allowing them to talk through that before moving on. So, hey, removes the need for them to spend a lot of time creating a whole presentation in another app. And also, it gives them a kind of security there that they know all their work’s there and it’s going to appear on the screen in the order that they’ve set it out.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’s excellent. And I did not even know that was a tool that was in there. We talk about mind mapping and the importance of it, but yeah, so many other things can really help. And I know task management, and then just having a tool to be able to do it and one that sounds very customizable and one that I can make it sounds like about as simple or as deep as I need to make it for my needs is absolutely excellent. Chris, I’m sure you probably have quite a few of these, but could you tell me a story or two about how Ayoa was able to assist someone that you’ve worked with or that you know about?

Chris Collier:
I’ll give you a personal example-

Josh Anderson:
Oh, sure.

Chris Collier:
… if that’s the case. So one of my dreams, if you like, is to actually do some freelance journalism. I studied English at university, I studied journalism for a little bit, but then I majored in English, and I’ve never quite got around to the creative side of writing except at school, where I entered essay competitions. So I wanted to write an article about the benefits of mountain biking on mental health. And I probably had that blank page syndrome where I created the document and nothing ever went into it. And so I thought, “Well, let me just pop this into Ayoa’s AI and see what it came back with.” And it really came back with lots of different ideas. It wasn’t going to write the article for me, that would be plagiarism, but it came back with a host of different topics, physical activity, connection with nature, the social aspect of biking, the achievement of a challenge, therapeutic benefits, having it as a coping mechanism, and it had seven or eight topics and then subtopics within that that I could probably write a dissertation on it, let alone an article.

So I thought that’s quite a nice example for you.

Josh Anderson:
No, that’s absolutely excellent. I can say that, a long time ago, when I think planning large events, people don’t think of all the different things that you can do with mind mapping and, of course, with task management as well. But mind mapping, it’s so funny when I try to explain it to folks who don’t know what it is. Sometimes I’m like, “Remember way back in school when they had you draw a circle and then draw lines to smaller ideas and stuff?” They’re always like, “Oh yeah,” I’m like, “It’s that, but digital,” and “Oh, that is helpful. That’s amazing.” So it is always funny. And like you said, not really just planning out writing activities, but I mean planning out events, big things, just making sure and being able to get your thoughts out and some kind of visual representation of your thoughts, just seems to lead to so much creativity.

I love that the AI’s built in there to give you that little push at the beginning to really give you a starting point because I know, for so many folks we work with, sometimes all the anxiety, I guess, or the kind of pressure of getting started can be such a huge barrier. So being able to get over that hump has to be just a huge accomplishment in and of itself, and then being able to move on to the next steps.

Chris Collier:
Yes, absolutely. And although we see it as a piece of assistive technology, I think it’s the kind of tool that could be really beneficial for any individual in the company itself. We use it as a project management tool, so we’ve got collaboration in there where you can have a group, you can work on a plan, as you mentioned, going to an event. You can put everything into that. You can assign tasks to various group members, and they know exactly what they need to do. So using it as that kind of project management tool works really well as well.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Well, Chris, our listeners want to find out more. What’s a great way for them to do that?

Chris Collier:
So do head over to ayoa.com and have a look there. You can set up a free account straight away and create a mind map. Perhaps you’ll first mind map if you haven’t done that before. And as we were saying, this doesn’t have to be for work purposes. It could be planning a holiday, and I spoke to someone the other day who uses it to plan all their kind of Christmas, everything they need to do for Christmas. And if that really interests you, you can also book a demo with us via the website, or you can email and contact at ayoa.com, and you could find out how much or how well Ayoa could work for your organization.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. We’ll put links to those down in the show notes. Well, Chris, thank you so much for coming on today for telling us about OpenGenius, about Ayoa, and just all the really great things it can do with mind mapping and beyond.

Chris Collier:
Pleasure, Josh. Thanks for having me on here.

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 so, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject. Our captions and 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 Nikol Prieto 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 guests 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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