Saturday, June 28, 2008

New Assistive Technologies for the Visually Impaired: WebAnywhere, Trinetra

I came across a couple of newer technologies suitable for children, teens, and adults who have vision impairments. The technologies might also be useful to a wide range of people, including those who do not have a disability.

WebAnywhere is a screen reading interface for the web, developed by Jeffry P. Bighan, Craig M. Prince, Sangyun Hahn, and Richard E. Ladner, of the University of Washington.

Below is information about WebAnywhere from the University of Washington News:

"This is for situations where someone who's blind can't use their own computer but still wants access to the Internet. At a museum, at a library, at a public kiosk, at a friend's house, at the airport," said Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. The free program and both audio and video demonstrations are at

"Online service lets blind surf the Internet from any computer, anywhere"

WebAnywhere Site

WebAnywhere Paper
WebInSight Publications
WebAnywhere Alpha Release

From the Carnegie-Mellon Website:

Trinetra "the third eye" : SmartPhone-based assistive technologies

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"Trinetra aims to develop cost-effective, smartphone-enabled assistive technologies to provide people with an enhanced quality of life in their daily activities. The broad objective is to harness the collective capability of diverse networked embedded devices to support location-aware and context-aware applications, including first-responder support, building navigation, retail shopping, smart transportation, etc."

"The project was originally conceived to enable greater independence for the blind and the visually impaired. To date, we have researched and developed a portable barcode-based solution involving an Internet- and Bluetooth-enabled smartphone to aid grocery shopping at the Carnegie Mellon campus convenience store, Entropy."

"We have also more recently extended this to assist both sighted and visually impaired commuters with their transportation and commute-planning needs, using a smart phone to convey notifications of arrivals, departures, etc. We have also developed a phone-based currency identifier for the visually impaired."

Trinetra: Assistive Technologies for Grocery Shopping pdf

Assistive Embedded Technologies pdf Priya Narasimhan


"Sight for the Blind and Speech for the Deaf: A professor turns cellphones into aides for the disabled"
-Catherine Rampell (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Multi-touch: Link to Scientific American article.

Scientific American, June, 2008 Hands On Computing: How Multi-touch Screens Could Change The Way We Interact With Computers and Each Other "The iPhone and even wilder interfaces could improve collaboration without a mouse or keyboard. "

"It is easy to imagine how photographers, graphic designers or architects—professionals who must manipulate lots of visual material and who often work in teams—would welcome this multi-touch computing. Yet the technology is already being applied in more far-flung situations in which anyone without any training can reach out during a brainstorming session and move or mark up objects and plans." -Stuart Brown

In K-12 settings, this technology would be great for cooperative group learning, technology-supported project-based instructional activities, and group social skills training.
If you are looking for information about brain-computer interfaces, follow the link to my post about Emotive Systems neural interface on the Technology-Supported Human-World Interaction blog. It looks like it holds promise for cognitive rehabilitation applications and games.

Emotiv System's Neural Game Controller Headset: Human-Computer Interface of the Future?

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Also see:

Game Interaction via Thoughts and Facial Expressions: EPOC - Emotiv Systems Neural Interface

Monday, June 16, 2008

Inclusive Music: Banana Keyboard SoundHouse Special Access Kit

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For those of you looking for assistive technology for music, the Banana Keyboard and the SoundHouse special access kit might be the answer to you needs. According to the website, the kit is designed to support skill development in the following areas:

  • Switch use
  • Cause-and-effect
  • Switch timing
  • Choosing with a switch
  • Music

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(Pictures from the Spectronics website.)

  • Sixteen keys, curved for easy access, fits well on a wheelchair or desktop.
  • Connect up to eight switches to the keyboard.
  • Play back words and speech, along with music.
  • Software handles MIDI and WAVE sound files.
  • Works with the Super Duper Music Looper software that allows children to use a paintbrush, an erase tool, and a mouse to create music.

Thanks, Gavin McLean, for the link!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Revisiting Interactive 3-D Brain Anatomy : The Secret Life of the Brain Website image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.timeline picsThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

I'm attending the first of three two-day institutes about neuropsychology, focusing on the assessment and intervention of traumatic brain injuries. It has been a while since I studied neuropsychology, so to brush up, I revisited Secret Life of the Brain, an on-line companion to the PBS series of the same name that aired in 2002. The materials cover the human brain from infancy through old age.

My favorite section of this website is the interactive 3-D Brain Anatomy tour. This on-line application allows for zooming in and out, 360 degree rotation, and exploration of the brain by area or function. When you roll over a brain part, you can find more information. The specific area of the brain becomes highlighted, and the rest of the brain becomes translucent.

Description from the website:
"THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN, a David Grubin Production, reveals the fascinating processes involved in brain development across a lifetime. The five-part series, which will premiere nationally on PBS in winter 2002, informs viewers of exciting new information in the brain sciences, introduces the foremost researchers in the field, and utilizes dynamic visual imagery and compelling human stories to help a general audience understand otherwise difficult scientific concepts."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

MICOLE: Open-source multi-modal software supports cooperative learning among sighted and visually impaired children

According to an article on the ICT Results website, a project called "MICOLE" explores the ways multi-modal computing can support co-operative learning among sighted and visually impaired children by harnessing the sense of touch through haptic input devices, and providing a means to produce pictures that can be felt.

This is a quote from the article:
“Adding the sense of touch to information and communication technology is just getting to the point where it can be commercialised,” Raisamo continues. “The first people to benefit are people with disabilities, especially people who are blind or have visual impairment. The more senses you can use, the more multi-modal your computer interface, the more inclusive the technology can be.”Students colloborate in hands on learning the Micole way. Photo: © Micole project.

MICOLE stands for Multimodal Collaboration Environment for Inclusion of Visually Impaired Children.

MICOLE is an open-source project. You can download the software and SDK (MICOLELib) from the website. There also is an on-line support forum and a list of publications.

From the MICOLE project website:
"The work in the MICOLE project aims at developing a system that supports collaboration, data exploration, communication and creativity of visually impaired and sighted children. In addition to the immediate value as a tool the system will have societal implications through improved inclusion of the visually disabled in education, work, and society in general. While the main activity is the construction of the system, several other supporting activities are needed, especially empirical research of collaborative and cross-modal haptic interfaces for visually impaired children."

According to an article about MICOLE on the
Axistive website:

"Among the interfaces and application prototypes that have been developed are an electronic browser, rhythm reproduction, Post-It notes with a haptic bar code, virtual maracas (percussion instruments), a tactile maze game, memory games, a haptic version of Pong and explorative learning of the internal layers of the earth."


Hands on Learning for the Visually Impaired

Multisensory User Interface

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Phun: An Interactive 2D Physics Sandbox

UPDATE 4/24/11:   Phun is commercially available and now optimized for use on the newer multi-touch, multi-user SMARTboards.  It is now known as Algodoo.

From the creators of Phun:
"Phun is an educational, entertaining and somewhat (!) addictive piece of software for designing and exploring 2D multi-physics simulations in a cartoony fashion. It is part of our long term mission to bring visual physics based simulation to the masses. The application is developed for Umevatoriet, UmeƄs new science center, where it will run on a large interactive display, but you can also download it and run it on your own pc."

This is a partial cross-post. Additional information and links to downloads and the music in the video can be found in a post on the Interactive Multimedia Technology blog.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ninth Grade Tipping Point: What happens in the first year of high school impacts graduation and dropout rates.

A recent set of articles in Education Week, Diplomas Count: School to College, supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses the need to "bridge the divide between precollegiate and higher education".

The article goes on to say that "despite the vital importance of education to young people’s job prospects,
Diplomas Count 2008 projects that 1.23 million students will fail to graduate from high school this year. The lowest graduation rates are among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students."

Powerpoint Presentation
Press Release
Robert Johnston, (202) 955-9450, ext. 313, rjohnston AT commworksllc DOT com
Kari Hudnell, (202) 955-9450, ext. 324, khudnell AT commworksllc DOT com

I was planning on posting about this topic several weeks ago. With the latest news about the persistence of our nation's low graduation rate, I thought it would be important to take a few minutes and share what I worked on during the first several months of this year.

Last semester, I took a Visualization and Visual Communication course in the computer science department at UNCC, taught by Dr. Robert Kosara. My team originally focused on the topic of school violence and related risk factors. After looking at a variety of data sets, we discovered that young people who fall within the ninth grade age range have high rates of problems across a variety of factors and indicators.

We quickly learned that risk factors related to violence, adolescent mental health, and school dropout are studied and analyzed by a variety of agencies and organizations, and the data is culled from many sources.

The problem for information visualization is to make this data meaningful, so that it can be easily understood by decision makers who are responsible for implementing procedures and policies that result in positive outcomes.

At the time that we completed our work, we did not have the information included in the Diploma Counts 2008 report. One data set we did not consider at the time relates to the level of experience of ninth grade teachers. An article written in Education Week, after the semester ended, highlights this problem in the Philadelphia high schools. Ninth grade students are taught by the least-experienced teachers.

My hunch, given the data we covered last semester, is this is the case in many school districts nation-wide.

Having worked in high schools for many years as a school psychologist, in several districts, I think this might be true. More experienced teachers wind up teaching Advanced Placement, Honors, and IB courses. Fresh-out-of-college and lateral entry math teachers end up teaching algebra to ninth grade students. Many of these students previously failed the subject.

For our project, we took data sets and ran quite a bit of the data in ManyEyes, part of IBM's Collaborative User Experience research group, to experiment with the different forms of data visualization and to see if we prepared the data appropriately.

(I will post some pictures and of our final project soon, along with a reference list.)

Below are some graphs we found as we were gathering information for our project:

Graduation Project, 2007 EdWeek Maps EPE Research Center

Annual Study of Suspensions and Expulsions, 2006-07 Report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education Department of Public Instructions

Alternative Learning Placements

Expulsions by grade level

"The ninth grade short-term suspension totals in the chart reveal a definite upward trend over the last five years. The total of 71,494 short-term suspensions received by ninth graders in 2006-07 is 22.6% higher than the 58,335 received in 2002-03."

"Students who are expelled from a school and who fail to return to school are coded with “Expulsion” (EXPL) as a reason for dropping out. These students are not included in the official counts or rates that appear in this report. In 2006-2007, there were 72 dropout events coded with EXPL, 69 of which were in grades 9 through 12."

Report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee Annual Report on Dropout Events and Rates Public Schools of North Carolina, State Board of Education
Department of Public Instruction

Here is something from the Milwaukee Public Schools:

A few references:

Collins, L., Fruth, L., Sessa,M., Laird, E. The Right Data to the Right People at the Right Time: How Interoperability Helps America's Students.
June 2007

Data Quality Campaign

Linking Education and Social Services Data to Improve Child Welfare October 2007

Age Distribution of Dropouts
NC Annual Report of School Violence 2006-07

Report on the Implementation of the Gun-Free Schools Act in the States and Outlying Areas 2003-04

Short Term Suspensions, Long Term Consequences, Real Life Solutions pdf

(Action for Children, N.C.)

Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline (pdf)