Now, online shopping is as easy as chatting with a friend. Introducing Say Shopping.


If you are a screen reader or other assistive technology user, and have ever felt overwhelmed navigating an online shopping destination, then you may have turned to a smartphone app instead. Often, the main retail shopping sites are visually cluttered and can lack some useful markup that allows for screen reader users to quickly identify and navigate to necessary links and buttons. Many smartphone apps provided by retailers offer a user experience that is more streamlined, and therefore more efficient, due to the limited number of options available as compared to their huge web sites. Unfortunately, some of these same retailers have app’s that can be as confusing as their full site counterparts, since the limits imposed by app size and scope can leave little room for ubiquitous help, thereby reducing intuitive functionality.

Now, thanks to a new technology developed by Conversant Labs, using your smartphone to shop online is as easy as chatting with a friend. Say Shopping is an iOS app that enables users to interact with a retail establishment, in this case, Target Stores, by using natural language. Chris Maury, founder of Conversant Labs, sat down with me for a fascinating discussion of the Say Shopping app, algorithms, and natural language processing technology. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to listen to the audio interview with Chris that I posted for the Fashionability Channel.

LL: What is meant by “natural language processing,” and how have you furthered this technology in the Say Shopping app?
CM: Natural Language Processing or NLP allows a computer to understand the meaning behind the words people use. NLP has a wide range of uses from understanding whether someone is happy or sad or understanding that when they say “I ran out of toilet paper” they’re probably looking to buy more.
With Say Shopping we’ve taken NLP and applied it to the realm of shopping, and by doing so made it really easy for people to shop using their voice (something that’s never been possible before).

LL: Your technology will allow eyes-free, and eventually, hands-free interaction with other apps and devices. Where do you see the future of the technology headed?
CM: In the next year or so, we are finally going to see voice interaction move beyond simple virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. With new products and services like Apple’s Carplay and the Amazon Echo, we are finally seeing devices where it is much easier to interact with them using voice than it is using touch. With these new products we’ll start to see more exciting features for voice-based services; Say Shopping and being able to shop online is just one example. Soon we’ll be able to read and follow recipes while we cook, order an Uber, and manage our email all from a voice client. And we’re building the tools that developers are going to need to create these new, voice-driven experiences.

LL: What can users expect from this first release of Say Shopping? Will there eventually be other retailers or use cases for your technology?
CM: You can search through Target’s entire product catalog, hear about product details and customer reviews, and order any products that Target will deliver to your house. We’re working to add the ability to order for in-store pickup as well which will open up shopping for groceries as well.
We want to make the best shopping experience possible for our users, so we want to make sure they have options in what they are shopping for and where they are buying from. We also want to bring Say Shopping to as many people as possible, so we are looking at supporting other platforms besides the iPhone such as Apple’s Carplay.

LL: How can other developers or potential licensees get involved in creating new platforms for the technology?
CM: We are finishing up work on our Say Kit Software Development Kit (SDK) which we used to build Say Shopping. We want as many people as possible building voice based experiences into their apps. We will be releasing the first version of the SDK in the coming months, but if developers are interested in getting early access they can reach me at chris@conversantlabs.com.

LL: Is Say Shopping available now? Where can readers find it?
CM: Say Shopping is available now from the Apple App Store. Download the app by following this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sayshopping/id969106932?ls=1&mt=8

You can learn more about the app at sayapps.com

LL: Anything else you’d like Accessible Insights readers to know?
CM: Say Shopping is still early in it’s development. We wanted to get it out there as soon as we could while providing something that people would find useful. There is still a lot we want to do with the app, and there is still a lot we can do to make it better. So if you have any ideas on how to make the app better, please let us know.

LL: I also want readers to know that Chris will be attending the National Federation of the Blind 75th annual convention the week of July 6th, 2015. You can find him bouncing between the booth for Target Stores, B43-44, and the Elegant Insights Braille Creations booth C6. You can try out the app, ask questions, and learn more about the technology. To hear a demo of the Say Shopping app, check out the interview I conducted with Chris for the Fashionability Channel podcast at http://fashionabilitychannel.wordpress.com/.

More about Chris Maury:
Chris was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Degeneration in 2011 and has been working in the accessibility community ever since. He is also the
co-organizer of the Pittsburgh Accessibility Meetup a group with 200
members discusses how to make the world around us more accessible to people across disabilities. This group has met monthly since it’s founding in 2013 and covers topics from accessible sports to emerging accessibly technologies from universities and companies alike.

Get in touch with Chris:
Website: Sayapps.com
Twitter: twitter.com/@cmaury
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Conversant-Labs/438191096263041

See you in Orlando, everyone.

LL

It takes just 7 minutes to achieve better health with the Seven App


About 18 months ago, I decided it was time for me to get back into shape. Like many, keeping my weight in check has always been a challenge. While there have been times in my life I have been in better shape than others, most recently, the loss of my husband five years ago resulted in the understandable shrinking of my universe to a laser point of pain and grief. Then came a couple of years of icy numb, after which I awoke to find myself uncaring about my appearance or physical health. I had neglected myself for so long, I hadn’t even realized I had packed on pounds, and when I did, I simply didn’t care. Thinking of myself as patently unattractive seemed like a convenient means by which to keep people away from me. I wanted to be invisible to the world. Then, inevitably, I began to thaw.

There can be many things that motivate us to want to improve upon our overall health or to get into, or in my case, back into, shape. A desire to be around longer for our children, feelings of unworthiness or self-loathing, a wish to wear the latest styles and look great in them, or a medical wake-up call. for me, it was none of those. For me, the motivating factor was that I got hit on by a really hot 26-year-old. Very inspiring.

I began by taking a closer look at my diet, and making some changes. I am a vegetarian, and I do not eat fried foods, and the number of times I eat at a fast-food place can be counted on two fingers in a year, if that. For me, it must have been something else. So, I broke the starchy carb habit and switched to whole grains, I counted calories and generally consumed less. It worked for a while, I lost perhaps five pounds over several months, but that wasn’t going to be enough to enable me to reach my goal. So, almost a year ago, I took my shiny new iPhone5 in hand, and started slogging through the myriad fitness apps in the Apple app store. I had heard of a health study about fitness that claimed one could achieve the equivalent of many hours of moderate workouts by switching to what was called “interval training.” The study claimed that short bursts of vigorous exercise, followed by short rest intervals, could be as beneficial as hours in a gym. As a result of this study, a fitness trend was born, called “The 7 Minute Workout.”

Now, I must pause for a moment here, and explain that I am a person who detests exercise. I hate everything about exercise. I hate sweating. I hate flopping around like a fish on the deck of a boat. I hate the clothes. Seriously. Polyester never touches my body. Athletic shoes? Don’t even talk to me about strapping on a pair of rubber slabs that look like something a tire threw off. You know that feeling of euphoria you are supposed to experience after exercise? Give me a break. I’m miserable afterwards. Okay, and during. And, thinking about working out beforehand. Getting the picture? you won’t catch me pumping my fist and hooting some ridiculous rah-rah cheer while flopping around like a fish in my hideous polyester workout clothes. ugh.

Needless to say, devoting seven minutes to exercise sounded like a cause I could commit to. So, when I saw the Seven App in the app store, based upon the “7 minute workout” concept, I grabbed it.

There are many apps in the app store based upon the 7 minute workout idea, but the one that was best for me was the very first one I downloaded. The app is called the Seven App, and it is by perigee. here is the link to it in the app store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/7-minute-workout-seven-high/id650276551?mt=8

Of all the similar apps I downloaded subsequent to the Seven App, this first was the most accessible. It wasn’t perfect, there were a few unlabelled buttons, but only inconsequential ones, and an email exchange with the developer proved to be very satisfying in that he was very responsive to my requests for accessibility improvements. There are still 2 unlabelled buttons, but they are the Twitter and Facebook share buttons, and I think you can easily self-label those, since they have not changed in any app update.

The Seven App offers a full-body workout as a starter, and a new workout is unlocked for every two months you stay in the program. Rewards are only one of the motivational tools offered. Achievements, tracking, and the aforementioned sharing of your progress with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are all part of the training toolbox. The catch? You must use the app every day. Yes, you read that right. you must execute your 7 minute workout every single day. No days off…but remember, it takes only 7 minutes, literally.

The way the app works is based on the study, mentioned earlier, suggesting interval training is as effective as longer, less frequent workouts. You perform 12 exercises in 7 minutes, each lasting 30 seconds, with a rest interval of 10 seconds. Believe me, 10 seconds hardly feels like a rest period, since you must position yourself for the next exercise, which keeps your body in motion nearly continuously. The exercises require no more than a chair, the floor, and your own body weight. No gear needed. There is a learn mode that walks you through the exercises and describes the movements. Some of the descriptions are a bit vague, though, and when I asked of the developer why some of the wording was a bit sparse for some of the descriptions, he explained that he wanted the instructions to be easily understood in any language into which the app was translated. So, if you need better descriptions of an exercise, you can search the web, or check out YouTube for more complete explanations.

The results? Because I was able to devote 7 minutes to my daily exercise routine, I have achieved my weight and fitness goals. My goal was not to become a swimsuit model, my goal was to increase strength, endurance, balance, and muscle tone. Losing the extra pounds seemed easy, once I settled into what was, for me, a really brutal first few months with the app. Many of my Twitter followers read about my progress, replete with bitter complaints and vehement objection to the entire necessity of exercise. Not to mention a blistering indictment of workout wear in general. But the first time I slipped into a pair of jeans a full size smaller, I was hooked. Now, I have purchased a recumbent bicycle, and have sought ways to add more fitness minutes to my day. Hey…swimsuit season is just a month or two away. if that doesn’t do anything for you, I’ll have the 26-year-old give you a call.

LL

Accessible apps for news junkies, no rehab needed


If you know me at all, or if you follow me (@Accessible_Info) on Twitter, one thing you know about me is that I’m a bit of a news junkie. You’ve probably become aware of, if not actually annoyed by, my early-morning dissemination of articles, tweeted out to my followers, from a variety of news sources. This pattern is typically repeated at various points throughout the day, as I check in on all my favorite sites and apps.

I have always been the type to keep up with current events, but one of the ways in which I was changed by the events of September 11th, 2001, was in a radical increase in my news and information consumption behavior. In the years following 9/11, I began to obsessively monitor the news. This habit has now become such a part of my daily life that it was only natural that my very first iOS app, and many subsequent downloads, have been news related. Below is a short list of some of the apps I use, and a few comments as to what has worked well for me, and a few I’ve discarded.

My very first app download was the news app by Reuters. Interestingly, my “beginner’s luck,” as to a great accessible app that I use every single day has only been duplicated a few times…namely, by the NPR news and BBC news apps. This news and info trifecta has been a reliable and useful combination of global reportage.

I soon discovered, much to my disappointment, that accessibility can sometimes be broken when an app is updated. I started out with the Breaking News app and the AP Mobile app, but after an update, they ceased to function well for me. They were great to push out alert notifications, but after awhile, I became frustrated if I wanted to pursue a story but could not, due to the lack of accessibility. Ultimately, I would return to my three favorites. Delete, delete.

By no means have I stopped there. I said I was a news and info junkie, remember? you think I would quit at three? Don’t be ridiculous.

I decided I wanted audio news, not just printed news. one nice feature of both the NPR News and BBC News apps is the ability to listen to news stories, built right into the app. However, that didn’t stop me from downloading the Swell app, Hourly News, and Downcast, so that I could also hear my favorite news podcasts. More on Downcast in an upcoming article. Just recently, I downloaded 5By5 Radio, a streaming service featuring tech news.

Oh, but wait…there’s more. I also have to have my daily dose of Apple news, so I check out App Advice and Apps Gone Free every day. I also need to have a good dose of science info, so I rely on Phys.org to dish up intriguing science stories. Finally, I must have access to all the news happening in the blindness, accessibility, and assistive technology industry, so there’s the obligatory iBlink Radio app, Blind Bargains, and Access World apps. think I’m done? Oh, no.

Let us not forget newspapers. My favorite newspaper app for reading multiple papers is Earl. This is a terrific hands-free option for when I’m busy doing something, but want a story read aloud. There are several great accessible newspaper apps, but at this point, I might be duplicating myself. You think?

How do I keep up with all of this? I can’t honestly say I read every resource thoroughly every day…who could? So, to assist me in collecting stories for later reading, my enabler of choice is the Pocket app. It integrates seamlessly into so many other apps, it only requires a couple of quick taps to save an article to read it later. You can be sure on the days when my tweeps are particularly interesting, tweeting out all sorts of juicy tidbits for me to investigate, I am tapping on links and then tapping “save to Pocket” just as fast as my fingers can fly across the screen.

Unbelievably, this is not an exhaustive list. There are several assorted other informational resources I use less frequently, but love no less, and I haven’t even touched some of the info aggregation and magazine apps, such as Flipboard and Buzzfeed. neither proved to be usable for me, and I’m not sure if they are inaccessible or just flaky. I have tried, then deleted, several news apps for lack of access. most notably, the CNN app, which I actually attempted to use twice, and neither time was I able to get it to work. Come on, CNN, don’t tell me your app is inaccessible because you can’t afford to pay someone to develop an app that supports VoiceOver. if you check the sofa cushions in your break room, I’m sure you can come up with the coin. Puh-leez.

That’s the rundown of most of my news apps. Don’t be afraid to comment below and recommend your own favorites…bonus points for noting if accessible for VoiceOver users. Oh, and if you know of a news junkie support group, don’t bother telling me about it. I’m too far gone.

LL

iPhone 5 as time machine: Updating my ancient tech, a progress report


As a follow-up to my post entitled “From Stone Tablet to a Bite of the Apple,” about my first foray into the apple product funnel, I thought I would write a post as to my progress thus far, now that I’ve had my iPhone 5 for six months. Several of my readers have asked for an update, along with a list of my preferred apps, and some comments as to my ongoing experience. Your wish is my command.

One of my first observations about the usability of iOS and the handset in general was that, unlike all of my experiences with Windows products, whether mobile or desktop, I never once uttered a horrified gasp at any point, thinking that I had done something wrong. The operation of the device was completely stable, predictable, and understandable. I never felt as though I was in any danger of breaking the device, losing data, accidentally deleting something important or feeling as though I had to tiptoe my way through the software. This gave me an immediate feeling of accomplishment and confidence in whatever choices I made, whether that was to download an app, delete one, change settings, update to a newer version, or try something new. The Apple experience with iOS is one that inspires the user to go from novice to power user in very short order. Little is permanent or non-fixable or otherwise irretrievable.

As a result, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and dive in as completely as I cared to, going straight for the apps and using the features that would permit the greatest productivity. I decided to make this little miracle gadget do everything it possibly could, and short of jail breaking the device, I believe I have done just that.

So as to keep the next few posts brief, as well as to serve as a reminder to my readers that I’m still here, despite my long summer writing hiatus that has lasted well into autumn, I will publish a series of articles featuring the various categories of apps I’m using, in case you’d like to try a few in one or more categories. Yes, I’m aware that there are already accessible apps lists on popular forums and web sites, but everyone has their own contribution to make, and if you happen to appreciate my point of view, then you might make some choices based upon my experiences. Besides, I’ve been away such a long time, I need to reintroduce myself, and to invite you to return. I’ll try not to be gone so long next time.

Read From Stone Tablet to a Bite of the Apple

LL

Boo! Come on, you know you want to. Check out Audioboo, an audio sharing platform


What on Earth is Audioboo? Audioboo is a sharing platform that allows users to record and post audio on the fly, from anywhere, using just about any device. Individuals from morning deejays, and random deejay wannabees, to big companies like The Guardian, use Audioboo to post and share their content. you can follow your favorites to hear short installments of audio “boos,” as they are called. The service is free to use for everyone, as long as you are willing to limit the length of your recordings to 3 minutes. If you need more time, you can pay for a monthly subscription, and get 30 minutes per recording. As you browse the site, you can read the show notes and profile info of the person who recorded the boo, and you can subscribe to, or follow, their offerings.

You can also download an app for your IOS device. The original app, simply called Audioboo, can be downloaded from the Apple app store. There is another version of the app, meant to be an update, called Audioboo2, which you will also find in the app store. There seems to be only superficial differences between the two apps, and of the two, I prefer the original, since it seems slightly more straightforward. I have no idea, however, how long Audioboo plans to continue to support the original app.

For my small business, Elegant Insights Braille Creations, (@ElegantInsights), I plan to use Audioboo as a sort of audio catalog. I will provide company news, product descriptions, style tips and vision-related convention and events news. You can follow my boos here:

http://www.audioboo.fm/ElegantInsights

Here’s another fun tip: Do you like to listen to podcasts? If you have an Apple device and like to download and listen to favorite podcasts using Downcast or another podcatcher, you can hear the Elegant Insights Audio catalog, or any of your favorites, as a podcast! In fact, if you are reading this on your Apple device right now, just tap on this link:

http://audioboo.fm/users/1248733/boos.rss

and your favorite podcatcher should recognize the feed URL, open, and subscribe you automatically. Now, whenever I publish a new recording, it will automatically download into your device along with your other podcasts. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Audioboo provides the RSS feed URL, as well as the URL to the user profile page for users who want to follow their favorites on multiple device types and platforms.

If you don’t have an Apple device, and none of the above appeals to you, fret not. you won’t be left out. I’ve attached the Audioboo account to Twitter, so if you follow me @ElegantInsights on Twitter, you’ll see the tweets with the link to the recording in your Twitterstream. Just click the link, and you can hear me right from Twitter. You can also share your boos on Facebook. Audioboo currently does not support FB business pages, but you can attach your own audioboos to your FB profile page for your family and friends.

Randy Rusnak, (@thebigr), long-time audio engineer, co-host and producer of the Accessible Devices podcast (www.accessibledevices.com), has used Audioboo for years. Randy is certified by the State of Minnesota as a technology instructor, and he uses Audioboo to augment his podcasts by offering short tips and reviews of a variety of assistive technologies.

Recently, he posted a terrific boo in counterpoint to the excellent “Siri vs. Google voice” showdown as published by Applevis. You can hear the Applevis podcast here:
http://www.applevis.com/podcast/episodes/siri-versus-google-voice-search-which-better

and then listen to Randy’s satirical version here:

http://t.co/7LnR7C5V82

You can follow Randy’s boos by going here:

http://www.audioboo.fm/thebigr and click follow.

While Audioboo has been around for several years, I only recently became aware of it when I spotted Randy’s uploads on Twitter. Then, I read an article about Audioboo recently published in the Sacramento Bee, describing how Audioboo is rapidly becoming a social platform of choice amongst the blind and visually impaired community. Read it here:

http://is.gd/R6I1zm

A great feature of Audioboo is that you can not only publish to a group of followers, but you can send private direct messages as well. Uploading a recording is easiest when done using an Apple device, but you can record and upload directly on the Audioboo web site. The apss and web site are accessible and support Voice Over on your IOS device.

Hope to hear from you soon!

LL

Maintain situational awareness while accessing audio input with AfterShokz


Sometimes, a good sales pitch can begin with a story. What follows is a story about someone I met at the recent CSUN13 conference. If you can stay with me until the end, I will try to make it worth your while.

One morning during the conference week while sitting alone at the Grand Hyatt Starbucks, at a tiny table adjacent to the busy lobby coffee bar, a voice said, “Excuse me, Mind if I join you?”

I looked up. “Of course not,” I answered, hurriedly clearing away the detritus of my coffee and muffin. “Thanks,” he said. “Tables are at a premium here.”

We introduced ourselves, and he asked if I was attending the conference. I said yes, then realized that I had not noticed that he was using a service dog, nor did he seem to have a white cane. “Are you?” I asked. “Are you exhibiting? A vendor?”

“Not exactly,” he explained. “But I’m here to market my product to the blind community. Here. Let me show you.” Then, he placed something on the table in front of me. “It’s a pair of headphones,” he said.

I picked up a feather-light, super-streamlined piece of gear, noticing immediately that it resembled no pair of headphones I had ever seen. “They’re called bone-conduction headphones,” he continued. “Let me put them on you.” He placed the headphones around the back of my neck, placing what would normally be the portion worn over the ears at my temporal bone instead. Then, I experienced a surreal sensation. I was hearing both full volume music coming from the headphones, along with the ambient noise of the crowded coffee shop. I could…feel…the sound, while not only hearing it, but also being fully aware of the activity around me.

Dennis Taussig is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer VP of AfterShokz, a company that has produced the world’s first open ear bone -conduction headphones for runners, cyclists, sports enthusiasts, and now, thanks to the blind community, an ingenious application for us, too.   
 
Originally, the technology was created by VoxTech, one of the leading companies in the world to supply this technology to the military.  Dennis worked on a number of projects with the principle of Voxtech, and one day Dennis was contacted to find out if a consumer version of this technology was possible.  Within months, a company was formed, and AfterShokz made it’s debut at the Consumer Electronics show )International CES in January, 2012. 
 
AfterShokz bone- conduction headphones are ideal for anyone who wants to maintain situational awareness while still listening to important audio cues, such as that which is provided by text-to-speech GPS navigation devices.  You can travel to your destination while hearing instructions from your iPad or iPhone, listen to music or a podcast while on a bus, or work out at the gym to your favorite motivational guru and still hear the tap of your white cane, the driver call out your bus stop, or your personal trainer counting off the reps.  It’s a fascinating product, and Dennis credits the blind community with providing the ideas that expanded the business. 
 
“I was getting calls from people who are blind,” says Taussig.  “And they kept asking if the headphones could be used with their Bluetooth devices for navigation.” 
 
Since his exposure to the disability community, Dennis has gone “all in” with respect to his commitment to accessibility.  He volunteers at Syracuse University working with disabled students, and he has assisted educators to enable their blind students to learn math by providing the headphones so that the students can hear their screen reader and the professor at the same time.  “They’re not cut off from the teacher, nor the teacher from them,” Dennis explains. 
 
The sonification lab at Georgia Tech has conducted a study on teaching systems for blind students, who are learning math graphing using audio.
AfterShokz is providing equipment for the testing, enabling the students to hear the sonification and teacher at the same time.
 
Dennis wants these headphones to be available to all of us, and he is so emphatic that they should not be financially out of reach that he has permitted me to offer my readers a generous discount towards the purchase of AfterShokz.  Go to the AfterShokz web site at www.aftershokz.com and choose from one of several models.  If you’d like to be able to make/take calls, order the Sportz M2 which features a microphone. If you require a headset that isBluetooth compatible, choose Bluez. Enter LL40 at checkout, and you’ll get 40% off the price.  No, I do not financially benefit, I just want my readers to experience the AfterShokz phenomenon.  Since I know my geek friends love a good technical specifications deck, just write to me using the accessible contact form on the page, and I’ll send you product data sheets on the different models, along with spec info.
 
Don’t forget to enter LL40 when you check out to save some serious coin. 
 
LL   
 

Help build an inclusive Twittersphere with Easy Chirp 2


For those of you who follow these things, you already know that Twitter (www.twitter.com), the social media micro-blogging platform, is making changes to its Application Programming Interface (API). For those of you who have no idea what that means, or why it’s significant, allow me to get you up to speed.

According to Wikipedia, An application programming interface (API) is a “protocol intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other. An API is a library that may include specification for routines, data structures, object classes, and variables.” If you want to read more, go here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_programming_interface

Twitter has only had a single version of the API in its entire history. Now, they want to make changes, and update to version 1.1. They have announced new developer “rules of the road,” and have outlined the proposed changes here:

https://dev.twitter.com/blog/changes-coming-to-twitter-api

The changes will affect all third-party applications that interact with Twitter, such as those you might use as an accessible alternative to the main Twitter web site. Some of these third-party Twitter clients have already completed the necessary adjustments, while others may not even bother, and may simply disappear. Time is running short, however, because Twitter has announced the “sunset” of version 1.0 of the API here:

https://dev.twitter.com/blog/api-v1-retirement-final-dates

Ever since I first discovered Twitter, I’ve been using the accessible alternative created by Dennis Lembree. Originally called Accessible Twitter, the web-based version now goes by the name Easy Chirp. Due to the changes made by Twitter to the API, Dennis has been forced to reinvent Easy Chirp, soon to be Easy Chirp 2. Dennis needs your help. He has started a kickstarter profile, and needs your pledges. The money raised will be used to compensate the experts Dennis has hired to assist with the project. As usual, when making a contribution to a Kickstarter project, you will receive a thank-you gift commensurate with the amount of your donation. See more info here:

Help build an inclusive Twittersphere: http://tinyurl.com/c9fsj5v

“I created Easy Chirp over four years ago and am touched by the support it’s received from the community. Now it must be rebuilt due to the Twitter API change, and I hope to collaborate this time with a few other developers.” Lembree says.

Dennis plans some new features and additional streamlining to make Easy Chirp 2 even faster and more accessible. It will continue to support keyboard-only users, will work without Javascript, and will be better optimized for mobile devices. Of course, it will still feature the user-friendly interface you’ve come to expect, useable by people who have a variety of disabilities, and who use a variety of assistive technologies.

Says Lembree: “To me, Easy Chirp exemplifies what a web app should be: platform agnostic, accessible, and simple. It provides a unique and necessary service in the social media space.”

There is no shortage of Twitter clients in the market, which can be used with different operating systems and device types. I use Easy Chirp for my own reasons, not the least of which is that I know Dennis, like him, trust him, and appreciate his work. If you have used Easy Chirp in the past, but have never clicked on that “donate” button just below the sign-in link on the Easy Chirp home page, then scrape a few coins out from between the sofa cushions and send them Dennis’s way. We’ll be tweeting at one another again before it’s time to fly south for the winter.

Pledge to the Easy Chirp 2 Kickstarter here:

Http://www.kickstarter.com and perform a search, or go directly to the Easy Chirp 2 project page here: http://tinyurl.com/c9fsj5v

For all things Twitter API, go here:

https://dev.twitter.com/docs/api

You can follow Easy Chirp: @EasyChirp for updates, or you can follow me @Accessible_Info on Twitter as well.

LL

Novel approaches to icon-based AAC presented by Karl Wiegand


One can easily argue that few are as keenly interested in the well-being of a person with a disability as is a parent. Expanding from that core of support one can also include siblings, guardians, educators, social workers and health care professionals. One can further include advocates, friends, spouses and co-workers, all of whom are concerned about quality of life. That covers just about everyone, and just about everyone should be in attendance at Karl Wiegand’s presentation at this year’s Conference on Disability, hosted by CSUN.

Mr. Wiegand is presenting some astonishing work in the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). His presentation, entitled “Novel Approaches to Icon-Based AAC,” will explore two different methodologies for message construction and input. These two approaches can elevate the quality of communication for a person who has locked in syndrome. “Locked in syndrome” is an umbrella term that describes people who may have paralysis to the degree that the individual is unable to move any major body parts, except for above the neck. Even a person who may be in a full body cast is an example of someone who may have near complete lack of motor function, albeit temporarily.

The choices in alternative and augmentative communication devices now commonly involve the use of mouth sticks, switches or eye gaze input devices that can be cumbersome and fatiguing for the user. The current systems were designed based on an assumption that the user can press a button, make repetitious movements, or is able to maintain movement or body position for extended periods, so as to select letters or short words or phrases from choices on a menu. Using letter-based systems can be time consuming, because a letter-based system is more generative than the icon-based system that some users prefer in face-to-face or real time communication situations.

The challenge for Wiegand and his colleagues was to answer the questions: How can you redesign a screen such that you can display a large number of icons, but not all at once, which can be cognitively burdensome? How can icon-based systems be redesigned for faster and more efficient communication, as well as to accommodate users with upper limb motor impairments?

Together with his advisor and colleagues at Northeastern University, Wiegand is working on initial designs of two new approaches to icon-based
AAC: one using continuous motion and one using a brain-computer interface (BCI). The continuous motion system, called Symbol Path, consists of 120 screen icons of semantically salient words. “Continuous motion” means that a user can touch a word to begin a sentence, and without breaking contact from the screen, swipe or drag from icon to icon, ultimately completing a sentence.

His second approach makes use of a practice borrowed from the field of psychology. It is a system that shows icons to a user that represents a word or small phrase, in a serial fashion. It’s called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. It allows for more efficient sentence construction, rather than presenting the user with a screen full of icons that must be made small in order to offer the user a full compliment of choices, which may be overwhelming.

This method of presenting information in rapid-fire fashion has been used before. If it sounds familiar, you may have once used this same technique if you’ve ever tried to tackle “speed reading.”

“My goal is to build a star trek computer.” Wiegand declares. He went on to explain. “A computer like the one in the program Star Trek, that can understand anybody, and will do it’s best to fill a person’s desires or needs.”

Karl was gracious enough to patiently explain what essential elements of communication would be required in order to make a “Star Trek computer” possible. First, a computer would have to be capable of parsing, which senses for context and speech recognition. Another element would include learning contexts, whereby a computer would understand how people interact with systems and expected responses from users. Finally, artificial intelligence would have to be achieved, enabling problem-solving with incomplete information, and natural language processing.

Until the point at which Mr. Wiegand has utterly changed our lives, and I do not doubt for a moment that he will, Wiegand says he’d like to work on Siri. To achieve his ultimate ends, Karl has worked in a number of other fields that have led him to this research. “I like AAC.” Wiegand continues. “It is a very focused area that is actually a vertex for four or five other fields.”

At CSUN, Karl will demonstrate the SymbolPath system, a prototype version of which is currently available for free on the Android app store (search for “SymbolPath”), show the BCI system, explain how both systems work, and talk about future directions for both. Wiegand hopes to have a system in place at his CSUN session so that attendees who interact with AAC users, friends or loved ones of AAC users, or AAC users themselves, can help create a corpus — a data set that shows what certain users want in certain times or settings or situations.

“We have revised both approaches based on initial testing and user feedback, and we are currently conducting several iterations of user-assisted design and revision before proceeding to full user testing.” Wiegand notes.

Attendees can help build this database by contributing realistic text, utterances, or phrases that AAC users like to say. If you attend the session, or find Karl throughout the week, you can contribute to the database or ask questions. In exchange, Karl will give you a copy of Symbol Path.

Karl will be presenting on Friday, March 1st at 3:10 pm in the Ford AB room, third floor.
Here is the link to the session page:
http://bit.ly/15yOOND

More about Karl Wiegand:

Karl Wiegand is a Ph.D. student in computer science at
Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. He works in the
Communication Analysis and Design Laboratory (CadLab) under the
advisement of Dr. Rupal Patel. Since joining the CadLab in 2009, Karl
has been working on alternative methods of communication for users
with neurological
impairments and severely limited mobility. His research includes
aspects of interface design, artificial intelligence, and language
theory.

Here are more ways to contact Karl, and help with his corpus gathering project:

Karl Wiegand’s homepage: http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/wiegand/
Karl’s lab: http://www.cadlab.neu.edu/
Link to Karl on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karlwiegand/

Finally, if you know or love an AAC user, you can help get the ball rolling on data-gathering here:

http://www.cadlab.neu.edu/corpus/

Don’t forget to use hashtag #CSUN13 when tweeting about the event. See you in San Diego!

LL

Anatomy of a Kickstarter project: Photo phobia


In the first article I posted on my painful climb to kickstart my business, Elegant Insights Braille Creations (www.elegantinsightsjewelry.com), using Kicstarter, I described some of the basics behind posting a project.  As of that article, I had not yet finished the video that is supposed to accompany the business or project profile.  I found the process of video creation to be one of the most painful things I’ve ever done, and in the end, I chickened out. 

Ideally, you are supposed to put your best face forward, blow your own horn, talk up your talents, put it all on display.  You should craft a video showcasing you and your project in a way that is so compelling, your viewers simply cannot resist throwing money in your direction.  after all, who wants to pledge money to a project that does little more than elicit a yawn?  So, you either have to be personality plus, or pitch an irresistible offer.  Some videos are very low production value, just a person sitting and talking about their project in front of their laptop webcam.  Other videos are mini multi-media productions that make one wonder why they need the money in the first place.  Despite my best efforts to be interesting, I succumbed to my fear of being in front of the camera and made my video all about the product.  all you’ll get of me is my voice doing the narration.  it’s quite the cringe-worthy commercial.  But everyone has to play to their strengths, and my otherwise long list does not include being a media maven.  All I can hope for is that my plea for pledges will be appealing enough, and by extension, distracting enough, that viewers will overlook the fact that my face is nowhere to be seen.  I actually think forcing myself to be in front of a camera could be detrimental in the end.  For the life of me, I cannot seem to come across as anything other than a kidnap victim in a ransom demand video.  If I look as though I wish I were anywhere else, how is that going to convince potential pledgers to "feel the passion"?

Uploaded it will be, as is.  In a world where no one seems to be camera-shy, and everyone seems to strive for pseudo-stardom, it’s clear to me I live in the social media celebrity-obssessive stone age.

 

You can read part 1 here: Anatomy of a Kickstarter project:  Preliminary examination

 

 

     

 

LL

 

 

 

An indoor navigation solution for blind users? Check out Navatar


This is absolutely fascinating.  Ever wonder why there are no navigational devices suitable for indoor use?  Ever wished to be able to efficiently navigate a mall, a hotel, or other indoor space?  Wonder why, when there is no end to the solutions for auto or pedestrian use, there seems to be no version of GPS for people who are blind to use indoors? 

Take a look at this.  It’s called Navatar.  In its earliest stages, research is being conducted on a device to assist blind users to move around in smaller spaces indoors.  Read more here:

http://eelke.com/navatar-indoor-navigation-blind.html

Dr. Eelke Folmer is an Associate Professor researching Human-Computer Interaction
in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.  "We are planning to expand our navigation system with a new feature that can help with spatial perception," says Eelke.  "We are currently sending out a questionnaire to potential users of our system to better understand the barriers of indoor navigation."

Want to help with the research?  below is a short questionnaire that you can fill out and send to Eelke.  Just cut and paste the questions into the body of an email, answer as thoroughly as you can, and send off the email to the address at the bottom of this post. 

I hope to have the opportunity to field test the actual device, so you can grease the wheels for me by letting Eelke know I sent you.  Well, now that I think of it, perhaps too many respondents will actually work to my detriment.  Hmmm.  Okay, here are the questions:

1. What type of visual impairment do you have?

2. Do you use a cane to navigate in indoor environments? and if so can
you name some limitations on using a cane in indoor environments?

3. Do you use a cane to explore the layout of a room? if not do you
use other techniques? e.g. hands?

4. Can you describe the process you follow to familiarize yourself
with the contents of a room?

5. When you look for an object in a room (e.g., phone or coffee cup)
what techniques do you use?

6. Do you sometimes use a sighted person to familiarize yourself with
an indoor environment? If so what kind of questions do you ask this
person?

7. If we could build a tool that could help with spatial exploration,
what kind of features would you like this to have?
 
Send completed questionnaire to:  Eelke Folmer -  eelke.folmer at gmail.com

LL