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.  

The ADA is celebrating its 25th anniversary

By: Anna Tuckett
Americans with disabilities act 1990-20015
After many years of providing people with disabilities with equal rights, this year the Americans with Disabilities Act is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The ADA became a law in 1990 and was the first law to establish a clear ban on discrimination on the basis of disability. 

Sachin Pavithran, director of the Utah Assistive Technology Program, has worked to improve the rights for people with disabilities for many years with the help of the ADA.

“The law ensures equal access,” Pavithran said. “It allows people with disabilities to have equal employment opportunities, as well as equal access to public areas and information.”

Allowing for equal employment opportunities among all job candidates has been an important contribution to the fight for equal rights for people with disabilities. 

“Unless the person is unable to do the functions necessary for the job, under the ADA, the employer cannot deny employment based on disability alone.” Pavithran said. 

In addition to preventing discrimination in the workplace, Title One of the act ensures persons with disabilities the necessary assistive technology needed to do their job. 

“In Title One, it talks about the reasonable accommodations,” Pavithran said. “If accomodations can be provided, they should be.”

Although the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act is helping to improve the rights of people with disabilities, there are still plenty of problems to be solved and further legislation that can be passed to lessen discrimination.

“The ADA has been around for 25 years but is still not perfect,” Pavithran said. “More legislation can be passed to help persons with disabilities, we still have a long way to go.”

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information on the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it works. 

disability rights are civil rights

The ADA's influence on the field of telecommunications

By: Anna Tuckett

The March theme for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is telecommunications. This act has allowed for improvements to technologies that better the lives of people with hearing and other communication disabilities by making them more accessible.

Since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, it has brought to the surface the changes necessary to make technology more accessible to people who have impaired speech or hearing.

Mitch Moyers, Outreach Specialist for the Utah Sanderson Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, has years of experience helping people with hearing disabilities find resources.

“The ADA has helped people receive support when they otherwise wouldn’t,” Moyers said. “It has also brought the needs of people with impaired hearing to the public eye more and more.”

To further promote the recognition of people with hearing loss, the Utah Sanderson Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing helps people with impaired hearing to receive the assistive technology they need. From apps to hearing aids, they provide the resources necessary to give people opportunities for better technology.

“We are an open resource.” Moyers said. “We provide lists of agencies to help people find what they need, as well as training on how to use their assistive technology properly.”

Recently, technology has improved in many ways that have benefited people with disabilities, especially with smartphones, internet, etc.

“In the last 10-15 years, smartphones have made information much more accessible for people with hearing loss.” Moyer said. “With this has come even more of an incentive to help improve current software and technology.”

There are many hearing applications and technologies that have come from the expanding field of assistive technology development. The Americans with Disabilities Act has influenced the expansion of accommodations for people with communication disabilities by bringing recognition to the necessary improvements needed to make technology more accessible.

If you are interested in learning more, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and receive updates on what’s new in telecommunications technology.

Utah Assistive Technology Lab Experience

By: Zach Waxler
 
 
Clay Christensen, Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator for Utah Assistive Technology Program, has been busy with repairs and modifications for power chairs and other products for persons with disabilities. The clients of UATP are very grateful for these low-cost repairs.
 
“A lot of people come in with special modifications being made on their power chairs and scooters to make them more assessable,” Christensen said. “Right now there is almost an epidemic in trying to get wheel chairs repaired because manufacturers want to just replace the part instead of just fix it.”
 
Christensen said that in the last few months, the type of work he has been doing has changed.
 
“I’m adapting chairs and other products to better fit the person’s individual needs,” Christensen said. “Lately, I have moved into repairing a lot more power chairs for people, which is normally not what I do.”
 
For UATP, the experience of the client is first and foremost the most important aspect.
 
“Sometimes people aren’t able to get a new chair because their insurance either won’t pay or it’s too costly to take it anywhere else,” Christensen said. “I will never turn anyone away, so if there is a problem with being able to pay, we will work it out and get their chair fixed.”
 
Christensen said the experiences with clients are rewarding.
 
“The fact that with every person, on a daily basis, I get to do something for someone and see just a bleak smile on their face,” Christensen said. “When you make that repair or adapt that device, it makes their life so much easier and gives them that freedom that they didn’t have. That’s a pretty rewarding aspect of what I do.”
 
The client reaction when getting their power chair or assistive product back is the most important aspect to Christensen.
 
“It’s not uncommon to see a tear come across someone’s face,” Christensen said. “You get tons of things like cards when sometimes they can’t afford to pay, but, I’ll have people come by and bake me some homemade cookies or just something small as a token of gratitude. That just shows how grateful they are and that is just so rewarding for me.”
 
To learn more about Utah Assistive Technology Program, visit www.uatpat.org. Also, follow us on Facebook/Twitter at Utah Assistive Technology Program.

Alternative Spring Break Students “CReATE” a Little Breathing Room for Wheelchair Rehab Program

Stripping donated wheelchairs for parts is a dirty and hands-on job that CReATE relies on to provide recycling income and usable parts for refurbished wheelchairs. 

But this month, CReATE (Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment) received help from eleven community-minded students from Minnesota colleges as part of a trending phenomenon known as Alternative Spring Break.

Alternative Spring Break students from Minnesota show off their pile of recycling at CReATE.
Alternative Spring Break students from Minnesota show off their pile of recycling at CReATE.

With the volunteer support of the students, eight donated wheelchairs were stripped and loaded for recycling. The pile totaled 2,400 pounds, which was heaved into a trailer to be taken to the recycling center.

The students also cleared and painted a storage room and a bathroom as well as helped rearrange some very large desks. 

Each of the earlier tasks on this list would have easily taken the regular staff two to three days to take care of, but with a two month backlog there has simply not been an opportunity to take the time. 

Thanks to these eleven students who decided to get their hands dirty rather than sit on a beach, CReATE is operating more efficiently for the benefit of the community.