Eyegaze comes to mobile phones

Samsung Galaxy S4

Control your smartphone with eye gaze

Well this is exciting news! Although rather rudimentary in nature as of April 2013 people will be able to buy, albeit quite expensively, a mobile phone that is accessible partly using eye control. This is the eye control more frequently associated with equipment that costs many thousands of pounds. The eye control appears to be limited to pausing video when looking away and automatically scrolling text when the gaze reaches the bottom of the screen.

Although this in no way allows access to the smartphone using eye gaze only it does pave the way for improvements to the software which will surely allow future tablets to be controlled entirely using eye-gaze.

I’m definitely going to keep my eye on this one.

Add comment March 15th, 2013

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BETT 2013

BETT Logo 2013

Hi all! I just returned from a productive visit to BETT in its new home at the Excel centre in London docklands. This year I found some cool new stuff and will provide details of these over the next few days.

Add comment February 2nd, 2013

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Fixing Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11/11.5 and Windows 8

I recently upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8. It was a smooth process and everything on my Lenovo T410 laptop is working well. I’m enjoying the design, speed and features of Windows 8 but found very quickly that Dragon NaturallySpeaking (in my case version 11 updated to 11.5) would not allow me to open voice profiles.  This was a problem but easy to fix.

I was getting the message ”User files you have selected cannot be accessed” error when I attempted to open a user profile. This is a permissions problem and can fixed very quickly.

  1. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to your local disk (usually C:)
  2. Go to View and select “Hidden Items”
  3. Open the (usually hidden) ProgramData folder
  4. Open the Nuance folder and then DragonSpeaking11 (or whatever version you are using)
  5. Right-click on the Users folder and select Properties
  6. Select the Security tab and click on your user name (the one with which you log into Windows)
  7. Put a tick in  the ‘Allow’ box next to the Full Control option
  8. Click on OK and close any other windows you opened (you may wish to reset Windows Explorer’s default Hidden Files setting)

Dragon NaturallySpeaking should now work. Ta da!

Add comment November 1st, 2012

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CereProc Voices

I recently stumbled across a new set of text-to-speech voices produced by CereProc in Edinburgh. They have a fantastic collection of realistic voices covering a range of accents in the UK including Scottish, West Midlands and Southern. They also have voices for the acents of other countries. For many years I have used ScanSoft UK English Daniel for my proofreading (he’s the voice of Siri that you may have heard on the latest Apple iPhone TV adverts). However although I’ve often recommended text-to-speech for proofreading (and other purposes) I myself found it difficult to hold my attention to the synthetic voices for more than a couple of paragraphs.

This is not the case with CereProc’s Scottish Heather voice. The intonation is very realistic and she pauses well when encountering punctuation, including a very good use of expression when reading something “within quotes”. I am now happily listenning back to all my reports using Scottish Heather and Claroread Pro. Sarah’s southern English voice sounds pretty good.

CereProc’s voices can be tested, purchased and immediately downloaded for around £25 each.

If you attend or work at a school in Scotland then the Scottish Heather voice is free!

Add comment April 10th, 2012

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Improving Readability of PDFs on the Kindle

A university student who I met through a DSA assessment recently got in touch to say that she was having difficulties reading PDF documents on her Kindle Keyboard. She was finding that the text is too small and this is causing eye strain. Also the small text is exacerbating chronic pain in her neck as she is having to hold the device close to her eyes.

A quick read-through of the Amazon help files reveals that their recommendation is to use the device in Landscape mode. However, as my student points out, this still results in many PDFs being too small to read, particularly those that you a multi-column layout. Although it is possible to zoom and pan this is not always an efficient or practical way for everyone to read documents. The solution to this on most devices is to reflow the text thus allowing a significant increase in font size without losing text off the edge of the screen. Unfortunately the Kindle (Kindle Keyboard in this case) rather surprisingly does not have a reflow feature and instead Amazon offer a quick conversion service. Amazon have an instruction page on how to use this service but it essentially involves sending the PDF to [your kindle name]@kindle.com with the subject “convert”. The resulting document will be sent directly to the Kindle if connected via WiFi and to the email address associated with your Amazon account.

If the Amazon service is not meeting your needs then free software is available which performs the same function. One option which I’ve heard works well is the snappily-titled K2pdfopt which is designed to excel at handling multi-column PDF files.

For maximum readability it is also important to get the contrast right as PDFs can often be presented using a very pale font. Many users have found that the text in PDFs is easier to read when the contrast setting is set to the darkest option.

Add comment February 23rd, 2012

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DSA Workshop at Assistive Solutions

On Friday I went to my first Disabled Students’ Allowance Workshop day at Assistive Solutions in Dalston. First of all a big ‘Thank You’ to them for putting on such a successful and useful day. Being relatively new to DSA it was great to do a little networking with the other DSA needs assessors, specialist tutors, university disability advisers and centre managers. Many of you I have already been in touch with but it was great to put faces to names.

Over the next few days I plan to try out the software titles we were introduced to (or reminded of!) on the day and write some information and opinions here on this blog. I will also report back on the Feedback system that Assistive Solutions is trialling. Those that know me know that I’m very passionate about measuring our outcomes so it’s great to find out someone’s doing something about it.

Add comment September 18th, 2011

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Jemma Pixie Hixon

It’s easy to see how technology can help people with physical or sensory disabilities but today I heard a wonderful story of how the Internet is helping a young girl with mental health needs.

Jemma has agoraphobia which has meant that she has been largely unable to leave her house for two years. However she felt that she had something to offer the world so set up a recording studio in her bedroom and has now found that millions of people from around the world want to tune in to hear her singing.

This is a wonderful example of how technology, and especially the Internet, can help people like Jemma develop a sense of identity and appears to be having a very positive impact on her wellbeing.

More YouTube videos of Jemma singing

Add comment April 20th, 2011

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The best netbook for schools?

Samsung NB30

Samsung NB30

Here’s a thing. Samsung have brought out a semi-ruggerised netbook and are showing it off at BETT (Stand M45). Samsung netbooks are widely known as being amongst the best and they have had a model at the top of PC Pro’s A-List for as long as I can remember.

The NB30 has a waterproof keyboard, shock-protected hard drive and a rubberised lid. The netbook should be able to run for around nine hours in a school. It costs less than £280 for one running Windows 7 (or £233 for XP). Obviously one of the draw backs is the screen size – at only 10″ it probably won’t be suitable for pupils with a visual impairment unless they are using JAWS or another screenreader in which case it could be just about perfect.

It also has three USB ports so attaching multiple assistive devices such as a rollerball and bigkeys won’t be a problem. Watch out again for the screen size as it might be difficult to see if the laptop is pushed away from the user to allow space for these devices.

Add comment January 13th, 2010

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RFID Rabbit-Be-Gone

Well the title says it all, doesn’t it? No? Ok a little explanation: I’ve been experimenting with a friendly RFID reader for the past couple of months, coming up with some ideas that could be very useful for people with learning difficulties and dementia. After pulling them all together I was planning to publish them on the new BLTT site (coming soon).

An image of a rabbit device on a mir:ror

Rabbit on a mir:ror

However the company that makes them, and runs the servers required for them to operate, has rather frustratingly filed for bankruptcy. This is a shame. Please could one of my readers dig deep into their pockets and save this little company? It would mean a great deal to me! Plus I’ve been showing the system to some OT chums and everyone has given it the thumbs up. If only the emperor will do the same…

Add comment August 11th, 2009

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Next iPhone to touch back?

The current iPhone and iPod touch are becomming increasingly popular as affordable, pocketable voice-out communication aids due to the Proloquo2go software. However one of the disadvantages of touch-technology is the lack of tactile-kinesthetic feedback that one would normally receive from using a keyboard, switch or older communication aids like the AlphaTalker. Research already indicates the importance of tactile-kinesthetics when learning (Etemad, 1994; Saunders et al. 2003) and it’s a well known factor that needs to be considered when prescribing high-tech assistive technologies, especially to people with learning difficulties.

If a recent patent application is to be taken to a possible conclusion then a future iPhone or iPod touch will feature an invisible grid that provides tactile feeling back to the user to reinforce their actions. A small improvement on top of the affordability, size and speed of the existing hardware but could make the experience more understandable for many potential users.

Add comment July 4th, 2009

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I’m an occupational therapist based in London. I have been helping disabled children and adults benefit from technology for 14 years. I’m available to provide specialist assessments for individuals including setting goals and providing ongoing support where required. Get in touch to find out more! Charlie Danger. More

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Equipment I use

I often get asked which laptops I recommend. I use a Lenovo notebook computer as I have found them to be the most reliable, have great build quality and incomparable customer service.

If someone is relying on a computer to help improve their lives then I believe it is best to use something that's going to run and run!