Assistive Technology

A new textbook for the iPAD that allows children with vision disabilities to experience the stars is the result of a collaboration between astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScl); the National Braille Press; and the National Federation of the Blind. Development was funded by a Hubble education and public outreach grant. The textbook for the iPad is entitled “Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn” and can be downloaded for free from Apple’s iBooks Store.  

An astronomer from STScl, Eleane Sabbi, collaborated with developers to translate colorful imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope into accessible content that could be perceived by all students including those who are blind and have vision disabilities. The hope is that the textbook will demonstrate that anyone can be a scientist.

Read more about “Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn

IBM is performing research in Brazil that may help customers with visual impairments access information displayed in public spaces. In situations where the layout is constant but content changes like with a vending machine, IBM’s researchers are working on a new method. Instead of focusing on content, which is time consuming and requires a great deal of processing power, they are using some identifying markers placed around the display and simplifying the content’s identification process through training templates.  

The new process can give instructions to customers who are blind or have low vision so that they can capture the correct image. Moreover, this method will allow for perspective correction. Researchers expect the benefits will extend beyond people with disabilities and benefit other consumers.

For more information read the Forbes article

Today the SmartVP 2.0 Videophone was announced by Purple Communications. The next generation videophone is specifically designed for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing has upgraded hardware and software that is supported by a powerful new video platform and provides a seamless communication experience.

The SmartVP, based on the Android OS, connects to a television and utilizes Video Relay Service (VRS) that connects a user who is deaf with and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, to connect people who are deaf with users that don’t know ASL.

The SmartVP 2.0 upgrade offers higher quality video and greater reliability as well as the following additional features:

  • Yellow Pages: The app is more robust and users can easily search for any organization can call with a button click. Maps and local reviews have also been added.
  • Keyboard Support: The 1.2 platform now supports text input via an external keyboard.
  • Text Box: A scalable and movable text box allows for note taking and sharing of more technical information.
  • RSS Feed: Allows the user to subscribe to websites, news, entertainment, sports, vlogs and other content.
  • Enhanced Deaf Video Library:  A growing library of deaf videos and movies now categorized.
  • How-To Videos:  ASL instructional videos covering the features of SmartVP.

SmartVP 2.0, VRS, Purple’s P3 software, and mobile application are free of charge to those qualified.

Seeing Assistant is developed by Transition Technologies S.A., available on iOS and consists of a number of applications that are customized for people who are blind or have low vision. The Seeing Assistant applications help users who are blind or have low vision navigate through a city, recognized colors, detect light, read barcodes and enlarge images.

The Seeing Assistant modules boast an intuitive menu and are optimized to work effectively with VoiceOver and use voice control function in the application services and for entering text.

  • Seeing Assistant Move gives pedestrians information about their present location, helps them navigate to a chosen destination, plan the route and record the trace.
  • Seeing Assistant Home helps with everyday domestic tasks with color recognition, light detection, magnifying glass and recognition and generation of bar or QR codes.
  • Seeing Assistant Light detects light sources and generates a sound which changes pitch relative to the intensity of the light.
  • Seeing Assistant Magnifier magnifies small print and objects. In addition, it can change lighting contrast and colors.

The DynaVox 15, a powerful speech-generating tablet with a 15” display has been introduced by DynaVox Systems, LLC. The new tablet is part of the groundbreaking T-Series of touch-based speech-generating devices, which includes the DynaVox T10. The DynaVox tablets are intended for people who have aphasia, autism, cerebral palsy, cortical visual disabilities, early ALA, Locked-in syndrome, stroke and anyone else who can benefit from speech-generation.

The T15 was carefully developed to provide quick, simple communication and ease of use. It boasts a vibrant display with high-contrast PCS symbols that enhance clarity and target size benefitting those with vision disabilities. 

A new app developed by computer scientists at the University of Washington called StopInfo integrates with the OneBusAway app to make buses in Seattle more accessible for riders with vision disabilities. StopInfo provides specific information on location, safety features and stop closures for each bus stop in King County. Moreover, it collects and shares information that people who are blind have identified as important when riding the busses. The app utilizes information that riders using the OneBusAway application update and provide about each stop.

SME is an organization connecting people to solutions in manufacturing. They work with academia and companies to train workforces and upcoming manufacturing professionals. Recently SME launched closed-caption educational videos, which are accessible to people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities. The programs are also available on DVD. This puts SME in line with the Federal Communication Commission’s Accessibility and Innovation Initiative as the educational closed-caption videos promote collaborative problem-solving among students and other SME Stakeholders.

An experiment at the University of Cincinnati is developing advanced tools based on a device called the Enactive Torch. The Enactive Torch is handheld and has infra-red sensors that “see” objects in front of it. It emits vibrations to an attached wrist band. The vibrations change in intensity as objects become closer.

The Enactive Torch helps people with vision disabilities navigate through narrow passages like doorways and busy sidewalks as well as if they could see.

Read more about the Enactive Torch.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) unveiled a prototype app that helps airline passengers with vision disabilities navigate the airport independently. The app works with approximately 500 beacons located throughout the terminal to call out various points of interest, including gate boarding areas, restaurants, and power outlets.

The prototype app was developed through San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program. The program paired SFO with the who is a leader in indoor navigation technology.

The prototype will undergo additional testing and refinement prior to being released for use by the public.

Emirates sets a new standard by becoming the first airline to add Audio Description to movies on its inflight entertainment system called (information, communication and entertainment) ICE Digital Widescreen. Audio Description benefits people with vision disabilities by providing a recorded narration, which describes the scene during the gaps in dialogue.

Emirate’s ICE system recently won the award for the “World’s Best Airline Inflight Entertainment” for the 10th consecutive year at the Skytrax World Airline Awards.  The system offers more than 1800 channels of entertainment, which includes over 400 movies from around the world, hundreds of hours of TV programing, and thousands of hours of music.


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