Resource guide for assistive technology inventors

Have you got an assistive technology invention you think could help others? The RESNA Catalyst Project has developed a resource guide just for that purpose. You can view the guide below, or access it from our website.

USU students create 'following' wheelchair

By Zach Waxler and Storee Powell

Old technology met the 21st century when three Utah State University students developed a specialized wheelchair designed to better assist persons with disabilities.


The students created a 'following' wheelchair - essentially the device allows a person unable to control their wheelchair themselves to follow a caretaker without any assistance. 

Jeanne Munk, Clint Fernelius and Tyler Travis are engineering students working on their senior project for electrical and computer engineering. 
The following wheelchair developed by USU students.
Munk said, “We make both of them more independent. The person can walk along side of it and talk and have a conversation with the person in the chair.” 

The students went to the Utah Assistive Technology Lab's Clay Christensen for assistance on the disability aspect as well as to learn about the mechanics of the power wheelchair. 

"We talked about what types of disabilities this chair could benefit, like Multiple sclerosis or ALS," Christensen said. 

He helped the students with the mechanical aspect of the chair to create an ideal foundation.

"I used an Invacare wheelchair and took the motors off, and put on Pride motors. It was a very custom job," Christensen said.  

The students took it from there to do the electrical work. Munk said the most challenging aspect of the project is the technology used in the chair. 

We are basing the following technology on image processing,” Munk said. “How it works is we have a leader badge and there is a camera that determines the distance from that badge.” 

In layman terms, the chair uses sonar sensors to ping its location. For example, if the chair gets too close to a wall, the sensors move the chair the other direction. 

While some experimental prototypes of this kind of device exist, there really isn't anything on the current market like it, Christensen said. 

Munk said the new chair has capabilities of improving the lives of both individuals involved. The team believes that this project is a great building block for the next generation of wheelchairs. 

The Utah AT Lab plans to do just that - Christensen wants the chair to go through a second-phase design. 

"This time around, we want input from community members with disabilities that could benefit from such a device," he said. "Their opinion of the performance of the device is the one that matters most."

Free Webinar: Technology for Varying Types of Hearing Loss

The Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP) will present a FREE online interactive training, “Technology for Varying Types of Hearing Loss,” on Wednesday, May 6, 2015, from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. MST.

NOTE: This webinar will be live captioned.

We are living in a time of great technological advancements. With these advancements, individuals with hearing loss have much to gain when it comes to communication and connecting with their peers. Those without hearing loss have no justification not to try! In this presentation, we will share the types of technology available for different levels of hearing loss and how everyday devices can be used to help hearing individuals to communicate with hearing aid and Sign Language users.
Ear and ear drum.


Webinar will cover:
1) Demographics
2) Different types of listening devices
3) Alert devices
4) Communication technology for Deaf/HH
5) Communication strategies

This webinar will be presented by Mitch Moyers of the Utah Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Mitch is an outreach and assistive technology program director. He was born deaf, and grew up in California. Mitch attended Brigham Young University. He is fluent in American Sign Language.

In order to participate, you will need a computer with high-speed Internet access.

RSVP: If you are interested in joining please RSVP by Tuesday, May 6th. Contact Storee Powell via email storee.powell@usu.edu, or call 435-797-7412. Participant instructions will be emailed to you.

If you are a screen reader user, or need any other accommodations in order to participate in the training, please contact UATP Program Director Sachin Pavithran at 435-797-6572 or sachin.pavithran@usu.edu, no later than Monday, May 4th to make arrangements to participate via phone. Please feel free to pass on this information to anyone that you think might be interested.


‘Stitching’ together business opportunities

By: Anna Tuckett

Quitting work due to health issues left Valerie Shaw wanting to be able to continue making money from home using skills she developed all of her life.

In July of last year, Valerie Shaw was approved for a small business loan from the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation and the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund that helped her start her new sewing business, Personal Touch Tailoring.

“It’s hard to live on social security when you’re not prepared for it,” Shaw said. “I wanted to earn some money from home.”

 The skill of sewing has been passed down in Shaw’s family from generation to generation.

“My grandmother taught my mother how to sew, and then they both passed that knowledge down to me,” Shaw said. “One of my first jobs was as a seamstress.”

The loan that Shaw received was essential for facilitating and financing her business.

“I used the $3,000 to buy the machines I needed to meet the demands of customers,” Shaw said. “I also used the loan to buy visual aids.”

Shaw is a seamstress for individuals and local businesses alike, including The Coral Pear, a company based in Utah that sells baby moccasins.

“My new machines make it much easier to sew shoes for the company.” Shaw said.

UATF partners with UMLF to get small business loans for Utahns with disabilities and health concerns, like Valerie Shaw, to help them be as independent as possible.


Find more information on UATF small business loans and the application process at http://www.uatpat.org/financing/.


AAC apps for iPad

URLEND has put together a great list of free apps for iPad to assist people with communication disabilities. For a PDF version of this information, visit the UATP website

School Tools: Your wish is my command!

By Kent Remund

If you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, you dreamed of the possibilities of controlling things through voice.  

From the Jetsons, to Star Trek and Knight Rider, I imagined how cool it would be to be able to speak some commands and have powerful actions taken place. For the most part, those days are happening now.   

Speech recognition for computers has been around for the past 10 -15 years, but it has made significant progress in the past couple of years through smartphones and even the ability to talk to your car.

Speech recognition enables an individual to turn their speech into text to operate their phone, tablet and computer using voice commands, e.g., create documents, send email, text messages and control applications. 

For students who struggle with the writing process because of physical limitations, vision impairments or specific learning difficulties, this software has proven to be a successful assistive technology solution. 

There are typically 4 different methods used to evaluate and assist individuals with voice to text. These include Windows Speech Recognition, Dictation for Mac, and Dragon Naturally Speaking.  

These three programs work best using a USB microphone which allows for a “cleaner” audio input for the computer to process. The fourth program uses tablets or smart phones.   

Let’s look at each in more detail:

Windows Speech Recognition: Microsoft began including speech recognition in their operating system (OS) beginning with Vista and has continued to do so through their OS. This recognition works quite well for speech to text but really excels in providing variety operations using a windows computer through voice for those with limited mobility and limited mouse/keyboard use. 

Windows speech recognition can be launched through the accessibility/ease of access features. Once a short microphone compatibility test is done, Windows Speech Recognition works well. Typically, there's upwards of 80 – 85% accuracy for the average individual with a strong, consistent voice. Microsoft provides good usability and best of all, FREE with all windows computers.
 
Screen shot of Windows Speech Recognition.
Screen shot of Windows Speech Recognition.

Dictation for Mac: Speech recognition has come a long way over the past couple years from Apple. Yosemite operating system made a huge jump with dictation that comes with every Cac computer. There are many computer commands built in, and it has the ability for the individual to create new dictation commands. 

Accuracy levels are typically above 90 percent with most individuals and are easy to launch by pressing the left function (fn) key twice. Apple provides great usability and best of all it is FREE with every new Apple computer.  
Mac Dictation screen shot.
Mac Dictation screen shot.

Dragon Naturally Speaking: Dragon was one of the first voice recognition programs. It was created in 1997, and has been the leader in voice recognition through the years. Dragon comes as a full software install on a computer. Once an individual trains their voice with dragon, it is extremely accurate at 99 percent. Dragon will continue to learn and grow with the user and their voice commands. Dragon for PC and Mac starts as low as $99.00 and is an excellent choice for someone that uses voice commands on a daily basis. 
 
Dragon Naturally Speaking screen shot.
Dragon Naturally Speaking screen shot.

Tablets and Smart Phones: Many individuals are simply using their tablets and smart phones for speech to text and other voice activation commands.  Android, Apple and Microsoft added a microphone button to the keyboard when it is present on the screen.  

Simply press this microphone and dictate into an email, text, notes or any area that you would normally enter text. Many other commands are available such as asking the weather conditions, checking stocks and hundreds of other commands through Siri, Ok Google or Cortana. 

The drawback to using this technology is that the user must be connected to the internet or a data plan for their speech to be converted to text. There is also a limit in how much can be spoken into the devices at one time. Typically this is a short paragraph before needing to press the microphone button once again.  
  
Smart phone speech to text microphone key.
Smart phone speech to text microphone key.

Overall, there are many variables in how accurate each of these systems converts speech to text for each individual. These are a few of the alternate solutions for students to complete coursework that seems to work well for many with learning disabilities and other writing challenges. 

Kent Remund is part of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology serving Utahns with disabilities, and a member of the Utah Assistive Technology Teams serving Utah school districts.