LiveScribe Smart Pen

My name is Alex Tierney, and I have used assistive technology throughout my college education.  One of the devices imperative to my success in post-secondary education has been “The Live Scribe Smart Pen”, which has a camera and recording capabilities that allow me to integrate my notes with audio of the lectures from my classes.  This device is lightweight, portable and looks like any other wide pen, making it a discrete instrument that my classmates hardly ever notice. It is incredibly easy to use.  I just press the record button and begin taking notes, and press the “stop” button when the lecture is over.  I have a traumatic brain injury from a severe stroke I suffered at birth, so I tend to learn best through repetition. The Smart Pen is especially beneficial, because it allows me to go back and repeatedly listen to what my professor was saying as often as I need to.

The special notebook, also provided by LiveScribe, allows me to instantly recall auditory for any topic discussed in the classroom, simply by tapping my pen on that particular spot in my notes.  The Smart Pen keeps me organized and helps me to complete my homework assignments on time and according to the specific directions of each professor.  Whenever I am unsure of a due date, the specifications, or details of a task, I can quickly and effortlessly listen to the requirements at any point in time.  The Live Scribe Pen reduces my classroom anxiety, helps me to stay focused and to feel less pressured about having to remember every detail of the discussion.  It gives me peace-of-mind knowing that I will not miss any of the invaluable information from each lesson.

The pen also has a feature that allows me to slow down the speed of the recording, which helps me to interpret lectures by professors who speak more quickly than others.   Live Scribe Smart Pen has greatly improved my ability to study for exams, as it allows me to jump back and go forward in my notes to immediately review specific details from discussions I recorded several months ago.

The device also features a desktop program which lets me to directly download my notes and audio files to my laptop, so that I can access the information visually, keep my thoughts organized, and back up my files.  LiveScribe also makes headphones which I can plug directly into my pen, allowing me to hear what the professor is saying more clearly.  It also gives me the option to listen to the discussions anywhere, without disturbing the students around me.

Not only has the LiveScribe Smart Pen enabled me to participate in a regular college classroom, but it has given me the ability to excel in my academic studies.  My success with this and other assistive technology devices has inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in Assistive Technology so that I might help other students reach their highest aspirations.

Amazon Echo as Assistive Technology

The Amazon Echo is a great example of a consumer product with assistive technology implications. The Echo is a stationary speaker and virtual assistant that you can control by using your voice. The Amazon Echo comes pre-programmed to answer to the name “Alexa.” The name “Alexa” must be spoken each time before a question is asked.

Users can ask Alexa questions such as “What time is it? “What’s today’s date?” or “What is the weather like today?” Alexa can also add events to a user’s calendar and set up reminders as well help them keep track of their day. You can create a shopping list as you run out of things. Just ask Alexa to add an item to your shopping list, and when you’re at the store open the Echo app to find your list. Never forget the milk again.

For some users, the ability for Alexa to play music or audiobooks is an important feature. Music playing through a room can be calming and relaxing for some people. For users who may no longer be able to see print, the ability to get audio books and new and weather headlines may be just what they are looking for.

Alexa really come into her own as assistive technology when you add connected devices like the Belkin WeMo and Phillips Hue. A user in bed or a wheelchair can use just voice commands to control devices. Lights can be turned on and off. A fan or air conditioner can be connected and turned on and off so a user can independently control their environment. Smart switches and thermostats can be added to Alexa to be voice controlled.

Using Alexa, you can place orders for items using just your voice. Any items available on Amazon.com can be ordered using Alexa. For users with mobility issues this can be much easier than going to the store or waiting for a family member or care taker to pick up items for you and gives them some independence back.

The Amazon Echo was developed to make everyone’s lives easier. For Assistive Technology professionals, we see how a consumer product can be adapted for use with individuals with disabilities. The Amazon Echo can create independence for many user at a fraction of the price of traditional Environmental Control Units.

For comments or questions please email the author, Daniel Mayo, at dmayo@ucpberkshire.org.

Note: Information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes and is not an endorsement of any products mentioned.

Assistive Technology Year in Review – 2015

Technology is a fast-moving field; growing exponentially each year. Working with Assistive Technology gives us the chance to see and try new products and in 2015 many new products hit the market.

From Ablenet Inc., the new Hook+ switch interface plugs into your iPad’s lightning port for a reliable wired connection for switch access. The benefit to using the Hook+ versus a Bluetooth switch interface is that the Hook+ will auto configure when plugged into the iPad. For additional information on the Hook+, follow this link: http://bit.ly/1NkO7yW.

Another new product Amazon introduced this year is the Amazon Echo, which is a voice controlled personal assistant connected to the internet. Using Amazon Echo users can play music, make lists, or just check the news and weather using their voice. Amazon Echo users can also control connected lights or electronics plugged into connected outlets. As more devices become connected the ability to control more products in your home through voice will continue to expand. For additional information on the Amazon Echo follow this link http://amzn.to/1e5KXzP.

Other related devices included the Bradley Watch was introduced in 2015. This innovative watch uses a minimalist design featuring tactile feedback for blind/low vision users and its universal design can be used by sighted users. Its sleek design does not stand out and it is not a talking watch so there are no unexpected interruptions in a meeting, movie, or other event. The watch was developed by an MIT student and has been used by many Massachusetts residents in the trial and development phase. For additional information on the Bradley Watch follow this link http://bit.ly/1TscDy2.

Assistive technology in 2015 included more than just electronics! Nike introduced a new shoe called FLYEASE a stylish shoe that eliminates the need to tie laces. The shoes use a wrap-around zipper design to make sliding your foot in easier while securing the users foot when fastened. A limited edition LeBron Soldier 8 FLYEASE was also introduced earlier this year. For additional information on the Nike FLYEASE. follow this link http://swoo.sh/1O7duli.

Another device related to attire was launched called PantsUpEasy was introduced this year. Many wheelchair users have difficulty taking their pants off and putting them back on while toileting. PantsUpEasy provides a simple way for users to lift up from the seat while keeping their hands free to pull up their pants. For additional information on PantUpEasy follow this link http://bit.ly/1On29jr.

For comments or questions please email the author – Daniel Mayo – at dmayo@ucpberkshire.org.

Note: Information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes and is not an endorsement of any products mentioned.

Shopping for Autism-Friendly Holiday Gifts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 68 people are affected with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many people will be shopping for people with Autism this holiday season. This can be a challenging task. Autism presents differently in everyone. There is wide spectrum of symptoms and varying abilities in each individual with Autism which can make it difficult to shop for appropriate and enjoyable gifts this holiday season. Here are some tips to keep in mind while shopping to help guide you.

Keep in mind the developmental abilities of the person you are shopping for rather than their actual age. Some people with Autism will present with developmental and language delays so look for a toy that fits their abilities rather than their recommended ages.   Sensory toys and games can also be a great gift for people with Autism. Sensory toys can provide a soothing or calming effect for people with Autism. Vibrating stuffed animals and sports balls can provide a soothing effect. Tactile balls and fidgets that have some texture on the outside are also an enjoyable option. A pin art image captor is a fun sensory toy to play with. A weighted blanket or weighted items can be an effective calming device for people with Autism. Reach out to parents or caregiver to determine if a weighted item is appropriate and how much weight will fit the person.

Toys to help develop social skills are also excellent gifts. Social skills board games are available, such as Journey to Friendsville, to help teach people with Autism social skills. Flash card games like The Empathy Game and books like Let’s make Faces make good gifts and can be helpful tools for learning to understand emotions. Memory games and spelling games can be good for improving learning.

If you know the person has an iPad or other tablet a gift card to iTunes or the Google Play Store are a great gift. There are thousands of apps available for people with Autism and while most are free or inexpensive some can cost a significant amount. A gift card to a toy store can also be just as helpful to allow them to shop for toys they want.

The important things to remember when shopping for a gift are the persons interests, developmental abilities, social skills, and sensory preferences. Keeping these few tips in mind will help you find the perfect holiday gift that is both meaningful and enjoyable for friends and loved ones with Autism.

Tools for Schools 2015

For the first time, I attended the annual Tools for Schools conference presented by NEAT in Hartford, CT. It’s an annual conference that has been going eight years strong. This year’s presenter was Karen Janowski, who is an adjunct professor of assistive technology (AT) at Simmons College in Boston and an assistive technology consultant. Her question of the day was “Are you reaching all of your learners?” It is important for AT specialist and teachers to be asking this question and see how we can apply technology to reach struggling learners. Reaching this group can be as simple as using a built in feature of a computer or tablet in a non-traditional way, to using a piece of dedicated software to help students express themselves. For those who were unable to attend here are some highlights of the conference.

One of the first apps covered was VoiceDream Reader, a $9.99 iOS app that works with bookshare. For those who don’t know, Bookshare is a website with a large collection of accessible print materials. VoiceDream Reader reads text aloud and adds features like dual color highlighting and text customization. For struggling readers these changes can help make text easier to comprehend and seem less daunting. Another option for struggling readers is the website spreeder.com which teaches speed reading techniques and can improve speed and comprehension for struggling readers.

One of the coolest apps that was shown at the conference was Liquidtext which is easier to show you then to try to explain. For information on Liquidtext, follow this link to a great video: http://bit.ly/1MxXgDi.

A powerful tool for struggling writers are what is called graphic organizers. These apps help students visualize their thoughts before writing. Two great visual organization apps are Popplet and Inspiration Maps both iOS apps. Popplet allows users to create thought bubbles which can include text, pictures, and sound that can be connected or organized to sort ideas. Inspiration Maps includes templates for creating graphic organizers students can fill in and create outlines for written work.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the Tools for Schools conference at NEAT. It was a great day filled with a ton of information. Hopefully you can take these tools and use them with your friends, family or students.

– Written by Daniel Mayo