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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My first problem in an otherwise – touch wood- wonderful Windows 7 experience.
A few weeks after installing the Windows 7 release candiate, and a year into using W7 in some form, I noticed that my tablet frequently and randomly made the clunky device connect / device disconnect sounds usually associated with adding and removing USB items. After taking away all my USB peripherals, and upon still hearing the sound, I realised I needed to do something about it. Obviously this was muting the computer. But sooner or later (later) I needed to watch things on iPlayer and the noise was becomming irritiating.
Anyway for the information of any interested readers or those who have stumbled across this page searching for a solution I fixed this problem by manually installing the chipset drivers. In my case I downloaded the nVidia nForce drivers suited for my HP tx2130ea tablet (tx2100 series). I ran the setup program in Windows Vista compatibility mode to ensure it would all install (there aren’t any drivers for W7 at the time of writing) and after a quick restart…
Not AT related I know but at least I’m writing something.
If you’ve noticed that things have been a bit quiet on this blog again, and on the main website, it’s because I’ve been caught up in a pretty intensive hospital practice placement. Well I’m back now and I have stuff to share so time to get cracking.
Just got an essay to write first…
Great news for visually impaired computer users. The basic Windows Magnifier utility that has been knocking around since Windows 95 has finally been ditched for something significantly more practical.
The new version due to ship free with Windows 7 allows full-screen magnification and a moving lens. It is operated simply by holding Windows Key and pressing plus/minus. It supports zoom increments of 25% and will magnify up to 1600%. The program doesn’t smooth text as well as Zoomtext, Lunar and the other commerical programs but doesn’t do a bad job.
See for yourself in this video of the Windows 7 magnifier in action:
I use Inspiration all the time to plan and write my essays, and so do many of the students I work with. However since you can’t hand in an Inspiration mind map to your lecturer you’re going to need to convert it to a presentable format.