Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ZipKings Reign Supreme!

You know what can be a really hard thing to do? Tying your shoes. 

Yeah, you read correctly. Tying your shoes can be really hard.

Now I know that might not seem like a big thing, but ask any little kid who's learning to tie her shoes. Better still, ask any adult who's having a tough time tying her shoes due to a disability. See, at least when you're a little kid, people are kinda OK with you not being able to tie your shoes. They're eager to help because "you're still learning." It's just how it goes. 

Photo of a child tying her shoes.

But if you're an older child, teen, or adult and you can't tie your shoes, people look at you funny. If you're elderly, people will also cut you some slack, but they also start to pity you.

Goodbye dignity.

Some people try to get around this with elastic shoe laces. 

Picture of a person stretching a shoe tied with elastic shoe laces, showing how the laces stretch.

Some people use Velcro.

Picture of a black man's shoe with velcro closures instead of shoe laces.

However, what do you do when you can't get the shoes you want with Velcro? What do you do when elastic laces just won't work for the shoes you have? What if you just don't want to get a completely different pair of shoes? 

Well, let me introduce you to ZipKings.

Photo of shoes with Zip Kings zippers laced into the shoes. The zip kings fit over where the laces usually are on a shoe.

ZipKings are great because you can use them with your own shoes. They're pretty simple too. Just lace them up into your shoes, and you're ready to rock and roll! When you need to put your shoes on or take them off, simply unzip the zipper.

Photo of a bunch of different shoes of different sizes secured with Zip Kings.

If the pull on the zipper is too hard for you to grab, you can always loop a little bit of fishing line through the hole in it to make a loop that's easier to hook a finger through while being somewhat "invisible" to the naked eye. Just don't use a crazy colored fishing line.

Now while these might not work for dress shoes, they are great for your tennis shoes/sneakers/kicks de choix. 

For more information on ZipKings, head on over to their website www.zipkings.com.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Living In The Post-iPad Era

I've been post-modern.

I've lived post-PC.

And now, I'm living post-iPad.
Yes, you read correctly post-iPad.

I know, how is that possible? How does one do that? Can one do that? Why would one want to do that? 
Before I give you the secret, and no it's not 42, I'll explain myself a bit more thoroughly.

I've got an iPad. A few of them actually through work. I've used every generation of them so far. I've been exposed to every release of iOS that's shown up for installation.

I've seen the fireworks shows presentations.

I've seen the 60 Minutes pieces.

I've downloaded (and used) the apps.

And then I realized that the magic I wanted wasn't in the iPad. The real magic was in figuring out exactly what I needed to get the job done. It was in figuring out that I didn't need 3 to 1,000 variations of a To-Do list. I needed to know what I needed in a To-Do list. Should it to let me set deadlines on items on the list? Should it to remove completed items? Should it to remind me that I still have items to do on my list? Should it to play "Like A Boss" every time I complete an item? What do I need it to do? Another way to phrase this is what are the properties or features I need in my To-Do list program app? 

Once I started looking at the features I needed, the hardware or program delivery system became, in many cases, less important. The program app I was using became much more important. 
And then hardware became important again. I needed something that would run my To-Do list. I needed that something to be portable to go with me and be available at a moment's notice. I would also like to be able to use a regular full-sized keyboard to enter items into it. I don't need to have just one thing to do this on too. I would also like the flexibility of being able to update my To-Do list from home or work. So maybe I could use an iPad for this? I definitely could. However, I already have a home computer, a work computer, and a smart phone. I could access the To-Do list on my smart phone for ultimate portability. With the right app program, I could enter the To-Do list from my home/work computer and modify it on my work/home computer. Then, I could access it on the go when I needed to from my smart phone. 

Perhaps I don't need that iPad tablet after all. 

I want to state as I have before in past writings, I'm not anti-iPad. I'm not anti-tablet. I am pro-maximized use of what you have. Tablets are nice, but if I don't need to get one, why should I? I know the fine folks at Apple, Samsung, Asus, Microsoft, and Google could all give me lots of reasons why they want me to buy one, but that's because it helps their bottom line. Now, I'm not saying that any reasonable adult with the means shouldn't get a tablet if they want one. 

Let's talk about this in terms of something most people can relate to buying--cars.

Now suppose you can get just one car. How would you decide what to get? Would you start at a car dealership and just let the dealers pick your car? Would you start with what you can afford to spend? Maybe you would start with what characteristics you need in a car (legroom, cargo space, magical cup holders)? Would you just go out and get a car and work it all out later? Usually, unless you're independently wealthy, you put time and thought into what you need in a car, and then you find the car that has as many of those features you're looking for. 

We need to use the same type of approach when looking for assistive technology solutions. We need to realize it's not necessarily the hardware alone where the magic resides. It may be the total package of hardware and software, but we need to understand what the true magical bit is. 

So let's look at a practical example. Recently, I loaned a man and his daughter an iPad for her to use for school. She needed something to help her with taking notes and staying organized. Great. The iPad worked great for her. It was nice and lightweight, she could take pictures of the whiteboard in her classes and use them for studying later. She could take her notes on it, and it was insanely cool. It did everything she needed it to do. 

Her father was a bit taken aback by the prospect of paying the $500 for an iPad in order to get his daughter what she needed. So, we started talking about what she was doing with the iPad and what apps she was using. It turned out she was using Evernote and the tablet's camera. That's it. Imagine Dad's surprise when he found out that Evernote was available on multiple platforms. He didn't need to spend the $500 on an iPad when he could just as easily spend $90 on an inexpensive Android tablet that would run Evernote and had a camera. So everything she needed to do could be done for a lower price tag and, for her purposes, equally as well. Neither of them knew that when the daughter got home she could     actually log in to her Evernote account and access her notes on Dad's desktop computer or her laptop. Neither knew that they could download the Windows and Mac programs for their respective computers. At that point, they realized that the delivery method wasn't as important as the true tool-- Evernote.

The delivery system was important for the camera, but the daughter could have used her cell phone iPod Touch as a camera. At the end of the day, they realized what she really needed (access to Evernote for her note-taking and a camera for pictures of the board) was a highly portable package so she could take it from class to class. Cost, it turned out, was a factor for them as well since the school wasn't providing the AT. So taking these factors into consideration, a cheaper Android tablet with a camera provided a suitable solution for school, and then, integration of the computer options at home for a larger screen.

By the time all was said and done, Dad had spent $90 for the tablet AND the school agreed to upgrade the daughter's Evernote account to a premium account for $45. The most important outcomes were that the daughter was happy and confident in her ability to use her tools, and everyone felt the solution was a fair and equitable one.

Just to be clear, the point is not the sheer awesomeness of Evernote, even though it's pretty awesome. The point is that the student found and used a tool for taking her notes that fully met her needs in the classroom and at home. The focus wasn't the device. It wasn't the software delivery system. In fact, it wasn't about the software. The focus was on finding the AT tool with the right features for her. It was about her doing what she needed to do when and where she needed to do it. There are other systems out there that are similar to Evernote and very useful (Springpad and Microsoft One Note to name a couple). The important take-away here is that the hardware wasn't the magic so much as the software was. 

So the next time you're ready to recommend something to someone, stop and ask yourself if you really understand what they're looking for and the parameters surrounding that need. If you don't, ask a few questions. You might find that your recommendations change. If they don't and you're still recommending only one solution without (really honestly and truly) considering other options, ask yourself this: Are you stuck living in the Device X era or if you've transcended?

When you do transcend and live post-brand, it can be like that.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hands-free Chromebook?!

Wanna see something really cool? I mean seriously, seriously cool?

We're talking cool like

Picture of Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days.
The Fonz

Yeah that cool. 

First, check this out.

Picture of a Samsung Google Chromebook closed.
Samsung Google Chromebook

It's just your run-of-the-mill Samsung Google Chromebook. If you don't know anything about Chromebooks, check out this little piece by Mariella Moon with Digital Trends on Chromebooks http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/what-is-a-chromebook-anyway/ . You might also want to check out this article by +Dan Ackerman with CNET at http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-3121_7-57580761-220/living-with-chromebook-giving-googles-os-a-second-chance/.

Now, do you know what this is?

Picture of an Origin Insturments Head Mouse Extreme.
HeadMouse Extreme

It's the HeadMouse Extreme by Origin Instruments. As it's name says, it's a mouse you can control with your head, or perhaps more formally, it's and input device that allows you to use your head to control the mouse pointer. 

This little thing

Picture of an Able Net jellybean switch.
AbleNet Jellybean switch

is just a simple switch. Now, keep in mind that just about any switch can be used in place of this little one. I am using it as my model here because it's what most people typically think of when they thing of switches. 

So here's the awesome trio!

Picture of Rock super group Rush-- Neil Pert, Geddy Lee, and Alex Liefson.
Rush, in case you had no idea

And here's the equipment 

Picture of the Chromebook closed with the Head mouse extreme positioned above it and the jellybean switch to the right of teh chrome book.
Chromebook, HeadMouse Extreme, and Jellybean hanging out together

OK so they're not as impressive all separated and disconnected. However, when I plug the switch into the HeadMouse Extreme, and then I plug the HeadMouse Extreme into one of the Chromebook's USB ports. . . 

Photograph of the Chromebook open with the HeadMouse mounted to the top of the screen and the jellybean switch next to the computer.
Chromebook with HeadMouse Extreme and Jellybean switch
I get Voltron a hands-free method of controlling my Chromebook. 

Add in Google's Input Tools extension, and I have a means to type via a virtual keyboard. The virtual keyboard is nice in that it's small and movable, so when I use the HeadMouse Extreme to type, I don't have to move all over the screen to type. I move my head to move the pointer to the key I want to press, and I press the switch to press that key. Just like that, hands-free control!

Screen shot of a google doc open and the on-screen keyboard being used to enter text into the doc.
On-screen keyboard from Google Input Tools

So why is this important? 

Well, it allows anyone with a disability requiring this type of access to be able to access the Chromebook, giving them another option for technology access. Just as people without disabilities may decide to use a Chromebook as a quick and easy web access tool, so might people with disabilities. The same as people want access to tablets, they also want access to things like Chromebooks, so why not facilitate that?

Interestingly, less of the hat-tip goes to Google for this one than to Origin Instruments for the design of their HeadMouse Extreme. It doesn't require installing additional drivers or software to get the unit to work. It's true plug and play. That type of forward-thinking makes the device truly useful. Now, I'm not saying Google doesn't deserve any praise. They certainly do in making their Chrome OS work with HID (Human Interface Device) compliant USB devices. The same appears to be true of the Android OS and it's ability to accept a mouse (and thus something like a HeadMouse Extreme). 

And contrary to what some may say, you don't have to have access to these devices solely to use them as assistive technology. You can have access to them just to have access to them. Heaven knows the manufacturers make them so that they can sell as many units as they can. If I want to play Fruit Ninja like everyone else does, why shouldn't I? With accessible hardware like this, it becomes easier and easier for people to truly exercise choice, getting the products they want and accessing them as they are able. 

You can find some nice, easy to follow info on HID compliant devices from ehow.com  at http://www.ehow.com/facts_7724618_hidcompliant-consumer-control-device.html,

You can find information on the HeadMouse Extreme from Origin Instruments Inc., at http://www.orin.com/access/headmouse/

You can get more info about Google Input Tools from Google at http://www.google.com/inputtools/

The cool picture of Rush comes from J. Russ' blog "The Freedom of Music" http://jrfreedom.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-induction.html

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Evel Knievel and the World of Assistive Technology

When I was a child, I had a love for Evel Knievel. Evel wasn't just a daredevil, he was The Daredevil.

Evel would jump things. 

Big things. Lots of things. 

He jumped 40 ft. of rattlesnakes, 13-19 cars (including all of the numbers in between so he jumped 13 cars then 14 cars, 15 cars, and so on), 13 Pepsi trucks, 12 Stegmaier Beer trucks, and a bunch of other stuff all listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Evel_Knievel_career_jumps.

Yes, I loved Evel Knievel. It wasn't the same level of adoration I had for Batman, but it was pretty high. If you are a person of a certain age, you know exactly who I am talking about. If you're not, check out this video

I know. Cool right? Maybe a little foolish, but cool. The fact that the jump was not successful does not matter. What matters is  that he did something so cool, that looked SO COOL, So for my fellow young daredevils who also saw this back in 1974, we all knew exactly how to accomplish this feat. You need things. Supplies. Tools.

List of Things Necessary to Jump the Snake River Canyon:

  1. Evel Knievel suit. This was indeed a must for any child wanting to achieve such greatness and badassery. Both the helmet AND gloves AND cape (yes. . . cape) were necessary. Without those, failure was imminent.

  2. Evel Knievel rocket sled. Without this, you could not elevate yourself to the proper level of awesome to even attempt such a feat.

If you had these things, you most certainly could jump anything and everything. If your goal was not to jump the Snake River Canyon, you could settle for Evel Knievel's motorcycle which would also allow you to be more awesome and magical than mere mortals.

Of course, all of that is not true. I was fortunate enough to not break as many bones as Mr. Knievel learning that. Still, the thought is the important thing-- if I have the stuff Evel has, I can do what Evel can. I know. That makes absolutely no sense at all to me as a rational adult. But still, it's what I and so many other kids believed.

So what does this have to do with assistive technology?

Well, lots actually. A lot of people are quick to get a piece of AT without really considering what they need or what devices can do. They have an idea of what they might need or even do need and then. . . they see Evel Knievel.

Let's look at an example of the new Evel Knievel in action.

Incredible isn't it? I think the first comment on YouTube sums it all up, "Shut up and take my money." I look at that video and two things happen. First, I want a Leap Motion system. Second, I start to think of all of the possible ways I can use the system. I start to think of all of the possible ways I can use that tool with my friends with disabilities. Obviously, this tool will be a breakthrough tool for people with disabilities right? I mean look at it! It's from the future!

Evel Knievel.

Now, let's really look at it. Suppose I have fine motor problems. Would that device actually help? What if I'm visually impaired? What if I have depth perception issues? Suppose I can't use a keyboard or a mouse? This obviously gives me a means to control the computer without having to use those, right? Again, the question arises of how can I access the computer using motions? Now, talking this through is good. The problem becomes when people take the "Shut up and take my money" approach. If you're looking at these things as possible tools, possible solutions, you really have to think it through. How are you going to use/implement it? Watch the video again. All of the movements the "model" is making are very controlled and deliberate. That shouldn't be ignored. How does the system handle less controlled movement? Before I buy the system, I should know those answers if I'm going to  use the device as an alternative computer interface, right?

It is cool, but indeed, it's just another tool. Before we go looking for tools, we really do need to have a good understanding of what we want and why we want it. There's this little thing called the SETT (Student Environment Task Tool. You can get more info on SETT from http://www.joyzabala.com/Home.php) framework which can really help. Another approach that's "SETT-ish" is feature matching. When I feature match, I take a look at what I need and then I look for things that will have features that match my needs. The important thing is that I don't start with the thing and then try to find needs to match those features.

The best example of this is shopping for a car. Most people looking for a car consider all of the different things they will need a car for. I need space to haul equipment and my kids. Sometimes it's at the same time, sometimes it's different. So I need to be able to fit both comfortably. I also drive long distances for work and just because I like to get out so good gas mileage is important too. I'm also tall and leggy, so I need a car with good leg room. So when I look for a car, I'll take all of those things into consideration.

While  a SMART car might get good gas mileage,

Photo of a 2013 Pure Coupe SMART car

it's not going to meet my needs when it comes to leg room, passengers, and storage.

Neither will a Ferrari Enzo,

Photo of a yellow Ferrari F150 Enzo.

but I would look really cool in it, I would turn a lot of heads, and my son would finally want to be seen in the car with me.

My personal preference for the Millennium Falcon would also be way cool, but seeing's how I don't live that far in the future, I have to let it go even though it would meet all of my needs.

Picture of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.

Back to reality, I might consider an SUV, but the gas mileage on those isn't as good as some other options.

So maybe I would look at a station wagon or a minivan. Both would allow me good legroom, the ability to get my kids around, and the ability to haul lots of AT. My decision might come down to gas mileage and cost. In trying to figure out what's going to best meet my transportation needs, I'm feature matching, so my choice will be the most useful thing for me.

I know, I know. "But Marvin, you're talking about cars, not AT."

It's all the same thing.

See, the car is my tool for transportation. It's what I'm using to get around. While it's not specifically assistive technology, it is the device I am using to help make my transportation more efficient given my various transportation needs.

When I'm helping someone find the best AT for their needs, I'm doing the same thing. I try to get people to look past the form and see the function and to compare that to their needs. If you do that, you're less likely to buy something that is ultimately less useful than you originally intended.

When that's how you're approaching AT, you're operating less like this guy

Picture of Evel Kinevel

and more like this guy,

Photo of MacGuyver carrying a missile of some sort that he undoubtedly created.

or this guy,

Picture of Scotty from Star Trek

or even this guy

Picture of Q from James Bond.

If I have to choose between cool and function, I won't.

Function will always win.