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Archive for the ‘Assistive Technologies’ Category

In my last radio interview with Peter Greco from Radio 5RPH Adelaide for 2012 we reviewed some of the major achievements in technology and accessibility over the last year.

We touched on the Australian Government’s goals to achieve W3C Web Content Accessibility 2.0 compliance to Level A standard by the end of 2012 and to Level AA by 2014, our Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility Compliance course, which has had four intakes since being first offered in October 2011, new developments in tablet devices and software, the launch of Windows 8 and the redesign of the Dignity for Disability Website in November 2012. Interview with Peter Greco from Radio 5RPH on 22nd December 2012

I look forward to returning to Radio 5RPH to continue monthly updates on developments in technologies for people with disabilities on the last Saturday in every month when the show resumes in 2013.

 

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With the release of Windows 8 RT and Professional versions in late October 2012, we are beginning to see a merging of the power of ultrabooks with tablet devices, without compromising the accessibility features of tablets that we have come to admire, such as the iPad.

For example, the top of the range of the new Sony VAIO Duo 11 and Dell tablet computers support an i7 processor, up to 8 GB RAM and either 128 or 256 GB Solid State drives (SSD) as well as usb ports and HDMI output.

Sony Vaio duo hybrid computer/tablet

Sony Vaio duo hybrid computer/tablet

Having used Windows 8 professional since its launch, I am now finding the interface more intuitive and enjoy the visual nature of the dynamic tiles. The nice thing about windows 8 Professional is that Windows 7 software still runs happily on this new platform. One very compelling reason for opting for Windows 8 Professional rather tan the more limited RT version, which is currently the only option for users purchasing the new Microsoft Surface computer launched at the same time as Windows 8. Media Access Australia has a nice review of the Surface computer as well as Windows 8: http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/latest_news/general/accessibility-review-microsoft-surface-tablet

The accessibility features of Windows 8 Professional can be accessed by either using the hot key combination (Windows key and pressing the ‘U’ key together) or via control panel > ease of access center.

Ease of Access Center accessibility options in Windows 8

Ease of Access Center accessibility options in Windows 8

As shown in the screen shot above, the ease of access center options include:

  • Quick access to common tools including: Magnifier; On Screen Keyboard; Narrator; High Contrast display
  • An option to use the computer without a display (optimised for people who are blind)
  • An option to optimise the visual display for those with vision impairments
  • The option to set up for alternative inputting devices
  • Adjustments to customise the mouse or other pointing devices to make them easier to use
  • Settings adjustments for the keyboard
  • The option to specify visual alternatives for sounds for hearing impaired users
  • Adjustments to decrease the complexity and distractions on screen – optimised for ease of reading and typing
  • The ability to customise touch settings for tablet computers

As the Media Access site notes, there are several enhancements to the accessibility features of this version of Windows including:

  • Improvements to narrator providing extra language support, new voices, better application support  and touch-enabled support
  • Improved magnifier with support for high contrast colour schemes and a new interface for touchscreen devices
  • An option to enable users to sign-in and specifywhich built-in accessibility features launch as the computer starts up
  • A range of new apps designed with accessibility in mind available via the Windows Store feature in Windows 8

As more hybrid tablet computers appear on the market we can anticipate improved affordability, which will make these tablets very attractive multipurpose devices that can perform the most demanding work related tasks while also supporting an impressive range of universal design features.

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Through funding support provided by Telstra Australia we have been undertaking research into the efficacy of mainstream devices such as iPads as assistive technologies over the last few months.  The aim of the research is to provide empirical evidence of the impact of the use of such mainstream technologies on the attainment of the participation goals of 10 adults with varying physical disabilities and communication needs.

The methodology employed has involved a mixed-methods approach incorporating: 1) evaluation of the participants’ use of the devices over a 12 month period (such as frequency of use, their choice of software applications and their interactions with others using the devices); 2) pre and post intervention  measurements using the Canadian Occupational Performance Measurement (COPM) instrument designed to detect changes in self-perceived occupational performance over time (Law et al, 2000) and goal attainment scaling (Kiresuk, Smith & Cardillo, 1994) in which each participant determines their own goals for the use of the iPads; and  3) analysis of social interactions facilitated through the use of the iPads as AAC devices using the Circle of Communication Partners Paradigm (Blackstone & Hunt Berg, 2003).

 

One of the participants in the trials of the iPads as assistive technologies undertaking training with research assistant Carolyn Bilsborow

One of the participants in the trials of the iPads as assistive technologies undertaking training with research assistant Carolyn Bilsborow

We presented interim findings to Department of Communities and Social Inclusion therapists on the 13th December and will be presenting the findings at the AGOSCI conference in May 2013.

The study contributes to the growing evidence-base exploring the potential of mainstream mobile devices such as iPads as assistive technologies and identifies both the benefits and challenges in adapting these technologies for use by people with physical disabilities and complex communication needs.

 

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After spending a week at the University of the Western Cape I returned to Gauteng Province where I conducted training in Lenasia for teachers from the schools participating in our Let us Learn project. The training precedes the implementation of trials of the 3D virtual learning environment developed in five basic schools, one Islamic school and one special needs school in Gauteng Province.

Teachers attendind 3D virtual learning training in Lenasia, South Africa

Teachers attended 3D virtual learning training in Lenasia, South Africa

On the 5th July I flew to Polokwane where I conducted training that afternoon for teachers at New Horizon Special School.

Teacher training conducted at New Horizons Special School in Polokwane, South Africa

Teacher training conducted at New Horizons Special School in Polokwane, South Africa

We then travelled to Tzaneen in rural Limpopo Province where we conducted four days of training for teachers participating in the 5 basic schools and two special needs schools located in that area. We had excellent attendance with between 25-20 teachers attending each day, including weekends.

The following photos show us setting up the new computers for the training and the teachers participating in sessions conducted over the four days.

Setting up for the training sessions in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Setting up for the training sessions in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Siyafunda Computer Training Centre and the South African National Zakah Fund sponsored Rashid to accompany us to work with teachers who required basic literacy training.

Rashid representing Siyafunda CTC working with a small group of teachers who requested initially basic computer skills training prior to undertaking the 3D virtual learning training

Rashid representing Siyafunda CTC working with a small group of teachers who requested initially basic computer skills training prior to undertaking the 3D virtual learning training

Rolda Rapotu from the Limpopo Department of Economic Enterprise also assisted Rashid with the basic computer literacy training of teachers from the participating schools.

Rolda from LIMDEV working with participants requesting basic computer training

Rolda from LIMDEV working with participants requesting basic computer training

There were thirty teachers attending the first day of training which was held at the Tzaneen Country Lodge.

Opening of the four day training workshop conducted in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province

Opening of the four day training workshop conducted in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province

Many participants attended the hands on training sessions each day including during the weekends – real commitment from the teachers of Limpopo Province!

Teachers attending the hands-on training in use of the 3D virtual learning environment

Teachers attending the hands-on training in use of the 3D virtual learning environment

Workshop participants were actively involved in the hands-on sessions and group sessions discussing pedagogy and how to incorporate content into the 3D virtual learning environment over the four days.

Participants contributing to one of the many group discussions held during the workshop

Participants contributing to one of the group discussions held during the workshop

We also met with representatives from the non-profit organisation (Shonaquip) during our visit. Shonaquip was established by Shona McDonald, the mother of a child with a disability,  and now provides clinical services, as well as professional and clinical training for therapists, rehabilitation workers, wheelchair users, their care providers and families, across Southern Africa. We are hoping to work with Shonaquip in the participating special schools. We had good attendance from teachers from these special schools in Tzaneen including Yingisani School for the hearing impaired and Letaba Special School. Here the teachers discuss their children’s special needs with Denise.

Teachers from Yingisani and Letaba Special Schools discuss their learners' special needs during a tea break

Denise demonstrating assisting technology software to teachers from Yingisani and Letaba Special Schools during the tea break

Teacher evaluations from the four day training workshop were overwhelmingly positive and we are confident that teachers from participating schools now have the skill to commence trials of the platform in Term 3 commencing in a few weeks time. Further training workshops are planned later in the year to introduce teachers to more advanced skills creating their own content for the 3D virtual learning environment.

Group photo taken on final day of the training workshop conducted in Tzaneen

Group photo taken on final day of the training workshop conducted in Tzaneen

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The 2012 Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Prize winners

The Christopher Newell Prize recognises and commemorates the research and commitment of the late Revd Canon Dr Christopher Newell AM who was a strong advocate of the the needs of people with disabilities and their rights to access telecommunications during the 1990s and up until his passing in 2008. Darryl Sellwood, a recent Honours Graduate from our School of Communications, International Studies and Languages, co-authored a paper based on his Honours research with his two supervisors (Assoc Professor Denise Wood and Dr Parimala Raghavendra, from Flinders University), which is one of the four prize winning papers published in the May edition of the Telecommunications Journal of Australia.

The Telstra sponsored award encourages authors to contribute original papers on how telecommunications can be used to assist people with disabilities. The independent Judging Panel (comprising Dr Mark Bagshaw, Barry Dingle, Professor Gerard Goggin, Wayne Hawkins, Robert Morsillo and the Managing Editor of TJA, as chair) assessed the papers that were submitted to TJA and four papers were awarded the Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Prizes.

The award winners are as follows:

First prize (with a cheque for $6,000) was awarded to Rob Garrett and Toan Nguyen from Novita Children’s Services, South Australia, for their article ‘Together we can find telecommunication solutions for people with complex communication needs’.

The authors of three papers were awarded equal second prizes ($3,000 each):

  • Dr Katie Ellis of Murdoch University for ‘It means inclusion: a creative approach to disability and telecommunications policy in Australia’.

  • Darryl Sellwood and Dr Denise Wood (of the University of South Australia) and Dr Parimala Raghavendra (Flinders University) for ‘Perspectives on the telecommunications access methods of people with complex communication needs’.

  • Floris Müller and Marlies Klijn (of the University of Amsterdam) and Liesbet Van Zoonen (Loughborough University, UK) for ‘Disability, prejudice and reality TV: Challenging disablism through media representations’.

You can access the special edition of the journal from the Australian Computer Society Website: http://tja.org.au/index.php/tja/issue/view/18/showToc and Darryl’s co-authored paper titled ‘Perspectives on the telecommunications access methods of people with complex communication needs‘ (Vol 62(2)9.1-29.11) as a free download.

 

 

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I have recently returned from the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego where we presented on our accessible 3D Virtual Learning Project.  The conference was held from the 14th-19th March at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and hosted by California Statue University, Northridge. The image below of the San Diego Harbour was taken from one of the twin towers of the conference venue.

Scenic picture taken of the San Diego Harbour from one of the twin towers of the Grand Manchester Hyatt, at the 2011 CSUN conference

View of the San Diego Harbour taken from one of the rooms in the Grand Manchester Hyatt hotel at the CSUN 2011 conference venue

Pre-Conference workshops were held on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th March. These workshops included sessions on accessible approaches to social networking (Larry Lewis) and creating accessible documents for students and the workplace (Victoria Essner) on the Monday, and three parallel streams focusing on the accessibility of  HTML5 and Rich Internet Applications (Steve Faulkner, Hans Hillen, Jared Smith and Jonathan Whiting); an overview of assistive technology (Kelly Fonner and Scott Marfilius) and the use of the iPad and iPod Touch in the special needs classroom (Mark Coppin and Luis Perez). You can access the slides from the session on HTML5 and Rich Internet Applications from the following URL: http://webaim.org/presentations/2011/csun/html5aria/

The keynote address and welcome reception was held on Tuesday evening, 15th March. The host for the evening was Dr Arthur Karshmer and the key note panelists included Axel Leblois (Founder and Executive Director of G3ict Global Initiative for Inclusive Technologies), Mohammed Al-Tarawneh (Chief Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Disabilities in Doha-Qatar) and Paul Shafer (IT specialist and Assistant Section 508 Coordinator at the US Dept of State). The featured speaker at the conference was Kareem A Dale, who is the Special Assistant to President Obama for Disability Policy. Mr Dale presented on the administration’s work on Technology and Disability during the keynote session from 12:45-1:30 pm on Thursday 17th March.

Several awards were presented at the conference including the Strache Award presented to Alan Muir, acknowledging his leadership in the field of disability and technology with an emphasis on continuing education. The 2011 Trace Centre’s Harry J Murphy Catalyst Award was presented by Dr Gregg Vanderheiden to Dr Klaus Miesenberger who has inspired action, fostered the achievements of others and contributed to the field of disability and technology. The Deque lifetime achievement award was presented to Jim Thatcher, who has been hailed as one of the founders of Web accessibility.

There were more than 250 parallel presentations conducted from Wednesday 16th to Friday 18th March. Sessions covered a broad range of disability and technology related topics; the sessions focusing on html5 and rich media applications, as well as those demonstrating new and emerging accessible iPad applications proved to be very popular.

I finally managed to meet Norm Coombs from EASI. I have been communicating with Norm via email and Skype for well over a decade, so our face to face meeting at CSUN was long overdue. EASI played an active role in presentations at the conference with sessions on IT and disabilities in Brazil and Mexico,  Bookshare for university students and supporting research, a  demonstration of the tool, LecShare, which turns PowerPoint into accessible Web content and a session on the  the accessibility of Moodle, as well as a session on Android phone accessible applications. EASI has made the slides from these presentations available online via:  http://easi.cc/conferences/

A feature of every CSUN conference is the expo on technology and disabilities, and this year was no exception. Approximately 150 exhibitors showcased their products and services across the Douglas Pavilion and Manchester Ballroom. The expo ran until Saturday 19th March and attracted a steady stream of both conference delegates and general public.

There were interesting products on show for people with vision impairments including Braille Note Takers and Voice Note Takers, as well as refreshable Braille displays and desktop video magnifiers produced by HIMS Inc (http://www.hims-inc.com), touch memo devices such as one produced by Vision Cue (http://www.visioncue.com) designed to enable individuals to label household objects with associated recorded voice descriptions for easy access when trying to locate objects, and a range of screen magnification and reader applications such as Zoom Text (http://www.aisquared.com) and iZoom produced by ISSIST (http://www.issist.com). Many of the well known distributors of assistive technologies were represented at the Expo including AbleNet, Words+, LSS Products and EnhanceVision.

I also stumbled upon an interesting graphite cane produced by Revolution Enterprises in California (http://www.advantagecanes.com). These canes have been designed to achieve optimum balance for use and comfort and are only 8.5 ounces in weight. Prices range from US $40.00 (support cane), $28 (folding) and $20.70 for rigid canes (for bulk purchases) and children’s canes are also available.

Another interesting technology on show as the Emfuse Color Braille Station, which prints hard copy handouts in colour, Braille and with tactile graphic representations of images on the page.

Perhaps not surprisingly, iPad applications were also popular and some of the accessible applications I found on show include:

  • Predictable (produced by tboxapps.com), which is software for the iPad that supports same word and next word prediction, auto scanning and user scanning, direct access and switch access, provides auditory feedback and voice output (choice of 9 voices) together with a  customisable user phrase bank (image shown below).
  • Proloquo3Go (also supports word and next word prediction as well as voice output) by AssistiveWare.
  • Pictello- as simple application that enables users to create talking photo albums and books. Also produced by AssistiveWare.
  • ArtikPix (an articulation application with flashcard and matching activities for children with speech delays) produced by Jason Rinn and Eric Sailers.
Screen shot of predictable iPad and iPhone communication application

Predictable iPad and iPhone communication application

All of these applications are available through the iTunes store. Also announced at the expo are new applications including Scene and Heard from Tboxapps  (http://www.tboxapps.com/), which will support communication for augmentative and alternative communication users through contextual scenes, recorded spoken messages and videos. Another soon to be released iPad application is  ZoomReader developed by the same company that markets ZoomText (http://mobile.aisquared.com/

We are hoping to trial some of these applications with AAC users and I will post reviews of the products at a later date.

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I spent 10 days in South Africa during January as part of an initial scoping exercise and the first stage of research project to be undertaken in collaboration with the Gauteng and Limpopo Provincial Education Departments, and SANZEF (a Muslim NGO in South Africa) aimed at improving student engagement, learning outcomes and retention in mono, multigrade and special schools in South Africa.

The project has received funding in cash and kind  from the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide, the University of New England, SANZEF in Gauteng Province and the Limpopo Provincial  Government.  Our research team includes experts in curriculum development; effective use of educational technologies; educational leadership; accessible and inclusive design; health sciences; economic development; entrepreneurship; sustainable farming and nutrition; programming and 3D design. The team members are:

Australia:

  • Dr Denise Wood – Project Leader (UniSA)
  • Professor Noel Lindsay – Entrepreneurship & Innovation (University of Adelaide)
  • Dr Charles Kivunja – Educational Leadership (University of New England)
  • Dr Sheila Scutter – Health Sciences (James Cook University)

USA team members:

  • Janyth Ussery – Educational Technology & Accessibility (Virtual Helping Hands)
  • Charles Morris – Programming & Inclusive Design (UniSA and Virtual Helping Hands)
  • Jake Blehm – Ecology, Sustainable Farming & Nutrition (Ecology Action)
Research Team in South Africa

Denise (centre) with project team in South Africa

The aims of the project are to:

  • demonstrate the benefits of using an accessible 3DVLE in mainstream and special primary schools;
  • compare the learning outcomes for children using an accessible 3DVLE with those undertaking learning using existing approaches;
  • determine the extent to which the 3DVLE is motivating and engaging for children participating in the trials;
  • identify the benefits and challenges experienced by teachers;
  • develop guidelines for the effective use of 3DVLEs in schools;
  • develop training materials for teachers;
  • identify technical challenges and solutions.

During our time in South Africa in January we conducted workshops with principals and curriculum advisors in both Gauteng and Limpopo Provinces. Some of the photos from the workshop in Polokwane appear below:

Workshop conducted in Polokwane, South Africa

Dr Denise Wood and Professor Noel Lindsay in discussion with Limpopo Provincial Government Education Department staff member at the workshop conducted in Polokwane, South Africa

Participants at the Polokwane Workshop

Participants at the Polokwane Workshop testing out the 3D virtual learning environment

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the 3D virtual learning platform

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the 3D virtual learning platform at the Polowane Workshop

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the iPad

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the iPad

We visited several of the schools that will be participating in the trials of the 3D virtual learning environment including Tiisetso Bekezela, Apex, Zodiac and Impala Crescent schools in Lenasia, Roshnee Islamic School, Bombeleni and Laerskool Primary Schools in Tzaneen, Letabo Special School and New Horizon Special School.

Child at Tiisetso Bekezela School trying out the 3D virtual learning environment

Child at Tiisetso Bekezela School trying out the 3D virtual learning environment

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