For your reading convenients below you will find all the Movers and Shakers published in 2019
Welcome to 2019! To begin this New Year, I conducted a Q&A with Avinash Kothuri, the head of sales for Thinkerbell Labs. Please read below to learn about Thinkerbell Labs and the device they have created.
What is Thinkerbell Labs?
Thinkerbell Labs is an ed-tech startup based out of Bangalore, India, and London, UK working towards Inclusive education. We are trying to solve the problem of low braille literacy rates among the visually impaired. Our brainchild, Annie, is the world�s first braille literacy device for the visually impaired. Annie can help a person with vision loss in learning to read, write and type in Braille, on their own.
How and why was Annie created?
One of our four co-founders studied at a school close to a school for the blind where he would often volunteer through his schooling years. He was moved by the massive difference in learning pedagogy in his school and the school for the blind. Thinkerbell Labs was established to make a significant social impact by building a new braille learning ecosystem for the visually impaired.
Thinkerbell Labs started as a college side project dubbed as Project Mudra. We used a Raspberry Pi to build an alphabet song teacher for the visually impaired as the first prototype of a larger mission that we had envisioned. The audio guided alphabet song teacher had a refreshable braille display (RBD) tactile interface for the kids to learn letters in braille. When the project was taken for field trials to a blind school in Goa, we were amazed to see the enthusiasm with which the students engaged with it. After a series of iterations and field trials, we developed Annie, the world�s first braille literacy device for the visually impaired.
Annie�s first prototype was developed and tested in September 2014. We completed Annie�s hardware development for India, UK, and the US in February 2018. Annie was launched at the VIEW conference in Birmingham, UK, in March 2018.
The major highlight for us in the year 2018 was our first deployment - India�s first braille smart class in Ranchi, Jharkhand. This project was launched in partnership with the Government of Jharkhand.
Why is it called Annie?
Annie is named after Anne Sullivan; Helen Keller�s instructor and lifelong companion.
Exactly what does Annie do?
Annie is the world�s first braille literacy device that helps a visually impaired person learn to read, write, and type in Braille, on their own. Annie guides users through audio-tactile lessons and helps them complete courses covering grade 1 and grade 2 Braille. The coursework is interactive and gamified to keep the student engaged through their lessons and making learning fun. Annie�s lessons also provide instant feedback addressing the pain-point of delayed feedback cycles encountered when traditional braille teaching methods are used. The connected nature of the device ensures that multiple students can compete against each other in Braille games and challenges, making it a collaborative, community-driven experience. Annie is accompanied by a companion app to schedule tests and homework, experience new content and download it on the device. The teachers/parents also have a dashboard that lets them track the performance and usage of the student.
How can one purchase Annie?
To buy an Annie, email me at Sales@ThinkerbellLabs.com
You could also contact us at +91 956-190-5809 or +44 20 81237766.
Is it just for kids?
We are currently targeting students from grades 1 through 5. This is the age group where a child learns Braille most effectively. However, Annie can be used by any age group to learn braille. As the product and the content ecosystems evolve, it would enable users of all ages to pick up Braille related skills that aid in higher education and employment.
What is the feedback you are receiving from this device?
Annie has been developed through a cycle of consultations and feedback received from industry experts over the last few years. A few institutions we have worked with include Royal National Institute of Blind People and New College Worcester in the UK, and LV Prasad Eye Institute, National Association for the Blind, National Institute for the Visually handicapped and SRMAB in India. The positive feedback received from these institutions has been very encouraging to us.
We successfully launched India�s first Braille smart class at a Government school for the Blind in Ranchi, Jharkhand, in association with the state government there. 20 Annie devices were set up to teach braille to 24 visually impaired students in the school aged between 6-18 years. All 24 students had an overwhelming response to Annie right after their first use. Their inquisitive minds have been kept engaged through the interactive gamified content resulting in learning braille at a faster pace. Teachers have been able to supervise multiple students at the same time and track their progress. Annie was received with great enthusiasm by the teachers as they could now monitor 24 students at the same time.
As of today, Annie has been used for over 550 hours by them, with the average session time being 35 minutes. Students have logged over 1200+ sessions on Annie so far, with the longest session lasting for more than 3 hours.
Do you have any plans to upgrade/ alter the device, or create something new?
Our goal is to make Annie a one-stop solution for Braille literacy and digital skill development among the visually impaired. We are working towards creating interactive content for all age groups, right from Grade 1 braille to learning requirements for higher grade students. We are also in the process of creating versatile content that could be accessed on other refreshable braille readers. We are working on progressing from early education to employability.
What is your contact information?
Our Website: ThinkerbellLabs.com
Email: ContactUs@ThinkerbellLabs.com , email@example.com
Phone: +91 956-190-5809 or +91 953-890-4328.
Facebook: Thinkerbell Labs.
I recently conducted a fascinating interview with Amos Miller, who currently works for Microsoft Research, as a product strategist, in the group called the Enable Team. This team has been around for nearly three years and is All about creating new innovations for those with disabilities. They are a group that come together to bring ideas to prototypes, and then to products to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities.
Although Amos is blind himself, it had nothing to do with his position at Microsoft. He began his career with Microsoft twelve years ago as a strategic advisor to major Microsoft customers, such as banks, healthcare & educational organizations, and the public sector. He performed this work in the UK for seven years then moved to Singapore to do the same with Asian customers.
While working as a consultant in the UK he also volunteered for the guide dog organization there. One of the topics the organization wanted to explore was; How could technology impact the world of mobility. More specifically, how could technology enhance mobility and independence for blind and visually impaired individuals. Amos thought that while working for Microsoft, he could probably get some people together to further investigate their question, and that is how things initially got started.
A collaboration was formed between Microsoft designers, architects and technology developers, mobility instructors, and both cane and guide dog users. The Microsoft team observed mobility instructors as they did their work and watched how they trained visually impaired people during their mobility journey.
They noted that the instructors teach the �mobility skills�, but a lot of it is what cues one gets from their environment. Furthermore, it is these cues that enable individuals to orientate themselves in order to locate their destinations. One step led to the next, and the developers created the Microsoft Soundscape application. The app was built on the notion to help blind and visually impaired individuals build a richer awareness of one�s surroundings using audio in 3D space technology.
The Microsoft Soundscape application was first launched in March 2018. It is available at no cost on iPhones 5 and later. Currently it is available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. They are working on adding more countries.
In order to hear the 3D audio, you need to use a stereo headset. Cues will be announced in one of four directions; left front or back, or right front or back. Where you hear the audio is where the particular landmark is located. One of the great qualities of this 3D audio is that you �don�t have to listen for it�. The audio sounds as though it is coming from further away, rather than right in your ear. This 3D space technology is wonderful since it allows the user to still hear environmental noises and engage in conversations, while audio cues are given! It is also important to note that the app is to be used to enhance your mobility experience, not to act as a GPS or replace your mobility skills or primary aids such as a cane or a guide dog.
The Soundscape App:
If a user isn�t sure where they are or which way to travel, they can hold the phone flat in their hand with the top edge facing the direction they want to go and then use the buttons at the bottom of the screen to locate nearby landmarks and navigate.
on the Bottom:
There are four buttons at the bottom of the screen. With all of these buttons, be sure to hold the phone with the top of it pointing in the direction you are facing before you press the button. Otherwise when you are walking, you can leave your phone in your pocket or bag and Soundscape will provide you with call-outs.
Gives you information that helps you figure out where you currently are. Such information may include the direction you are facing, nearby roads or intersections, and points of interest.
This button tells you about one thing in each of the four quadrants around you (to the left, right, ahead, and behind). This button is useful to orientate yourself to your surroundings.
Ahead of Me:
Like the name suggest, this button tells you about things ahead of you, on both the left and right. This button is helpful to explore what is coming up ahead, or what may be down a side street or intersection, especially useful when in a new area.
This button tells you about up to four markers that are closest to you. Nearby Markers assist you in orientating yourself to using places you already know about, and have marked.
Markers are places that you can saved. They could be places that are discoverable within the app, or they can be places you can add yourself. You can use the �mark current location� button, which is located on the home screen to add a new marker.
Automatic Call Outs:
As you approach things around you, Soundscape can call out their names from the direction in which they are located in. The app will automatically do this for such things as businesses, bus stops, and intersections. You can configure what the app automatically calls out on the �Manage Callouts� screen, and you can turn all callouts off when you want the app to be silent.
Setting a beacon on a nearby destination allows Soundscape to keep you informed of its location by playing an audible beacon sound coming from the direction of that destination. From the home screen, you can choose to either mute or unmute the beacon. Setting a beacon is useful when you want to keep track of a familiar landmark as you explore a new area or when you are going somewhere and want to be informed about your surroundings along the way. The beacon feature does not give you turn-by-turn directions, but it does give you an audible beacon that tells you the direction to your destination, relative to where you are currently located. Using the beacon, your existing wayfinding skills, and even your favorite navigation app, you can choose how you want to get to your destination yourself.
These previously mention app features are just a glimpse of what Soundscape has to offer the user while out and about. I have downloaded the app and tried it out in my neighborhood, and it is really cool! I even marked a location, and set a beacon!
Microsoft encourages users to report pros and cons about the Soundscape app. Thus far, the feedback has been quite positive. They have received overwhelming feedback from college students using the app to help with navigating their campus.
Amos recommends first time users try the app in a familiar environment to get acquainted with it. Start by figuring out what you hear, what does it mean, and start making sense of the directionality of the sounds. Place a beacon on somewhere you know the route to, and see how that plays out.
To get access to Microsoft Soundscape check out their website at MicrosoftSoundscape A simple and fun map app from the Enable team in Microsoft, particularly useful for people who are blind or low vision.
Recently I had a fascinating interview with John Lannutti, Professor of Materials Science Engineering at Ohio State University (OSU). He is using smart technologies to help blind and visually impaired people better navigate the world around them. Mr. Lannutti�s OSU team has been working on this project with industrial, city, and educational partners. They have developed a �Smart Paint� application which can help the blind community navigate cities.
John has been working with Josh Collins from Intelligent Material Solutions, located in New Jersey. They manufacture and supply oxides that are nanoscale particles having a lot of interesting material applications. They have been working together to create a biomedical application using this relatively new technology. These unique light-converting nanoparticle oxides are what makes the paint "smart." Joe Winters from Crown Technology is responsible for adding the oxides to the paint.
John stated that the goal of Smart Paint is to assist people who are blind and visually impaired by implementing a �smart paint� technology that provides accurate guidance and location services. Existing GPS solutions are not able to tell whether somebody is walking on the sidewalk or down the middle of the street. Furthermore, intersections are becoming more complex. This can be quite challenging for a blind person, as they need to find the crosswalk, align to cross and maintain a consistent crossing direction while in motion. In addition, current mapping technologies are unable to detect the exact location of a building�s entrance.
John then took the Smart Paint idea a few miles north to the Ohio State School for the Blind. He spoke with various orientation and mobility instructors there and they were extremely interested and supportive.
Working with the School and the city of Columbus, 15 crosswalks on the school�s campus were replaced with Smart Paint. Initial testing showed that the combination of a smart cane and the smart paint worked as planned but that sunlight could cause problems for the smart cane. The group has been working to develop and test sunlight insensitive smart canes that would eliminate this problem.
The Smart Paint:
The Smart Paint doesn�t look any different than the current crosswalk paint, and it can be applied in the same manner. The cost of Smart Paint is only 20 percent more than the standard road paint, quite affordable.
The Smart Cane:
The individual uses a modified white cane to detect the Smart Paint, which enables portal to portal guidance. Initially the cane emitted beeps and vibrated. However, after feedback from faculty and students from the Ohio State School for the Blind, it was determined that only the vibration was needed, and the change was implemented in the latest version of the cane.
The Smart Paint is located on the two long vertical stripes of the crosswalk. As the blind individual walks across the street, sweeping the smart cane from side to side, the Smart Paint is detected with vibrations generated within the handle of the cane. Therefore, by encountering the left and right sides of the crosswalk, the user stays within the boundaries of the crosswalk.
Columbus Ohio is designated as a US government Department of Transportation Smart City, where they focus on the future of technology in cities. They are looking ahead to features that will be needed for autonomous cars, and even before then implementing them on non-autonomous vehicles. Smart paint is one of many technologies that will rely on the Smart City infrastructure currently being installed in Columbus.
Work in Progress:
Obstacles: They are working on implementing a sonar device with the smart cane. This would detect the presence of something in front of you.
Stoplight: With the addition of a blue tooth chip in the cane, it can communicate with the stoplight, therefore, giving the user control of the stoplight.
Pedestrian: The cane could communicate with the post at the edge of the curb to alert the entire city network that there is a pedestrian who needs to be accommodated, for both autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles.
Location Determination: The cane detects a stripe of Smart Paint at a specific location on the sidewalk, and conveys it to you via voice and/ or vibrations.
Entrance Locations: The cane could detect a stripe of Smart Paint coming out from a door entrance, then communicate the address and name of the business via voice.
John Lannutti Lannutti.1@OSU.edu
Josh Collins Josh@IntelligentMaterial.com
A short time ago, I had a very enlightening phone conversation with Lance Mathena. Read on to learn about Lance and the organization he created.
Lance lives in Lakebay, Washington with his wife of 25 years. He has four children and 8 grandchildren. Before losing his sight, he was a database administrator at Madigan Army Hospital. He also had been a continuous college student most of his life.
While at a night class at Pierce College, Lance had to sneeze. To avoid sneezing on two other students in his group, he turned his head to the right and sneezed. The next thing Lance remembered was being on a gurney and a paramedic telling someone to notify his next of kin. Lance had ruptured four discs in his neck with that sneeze!
He had emergency surgery to fuse his neck. However, they only did half the job. They had left one of the nerves pinched in his neck. About ten months afterwards Lance was reaching under his desk to pick up a pen, and he heard a pop in his neck. Lance said the pain level jumped up to about 1000 percent.
Lance found another surgeon who said he could perform the surgery, adding that it was a fairly routine procedure. Lance had the surgery in August 2014, in the town of Federal Way, but when he woke up six days later, he was in Tacoma. The surgeon had an accident during the surgery and severed one of the arteries in Lance�s neck. When the doctor had packed off the wound, he had created a blood clot that lodged in the back of Lance�s brain, which killed most of the area where the optic nerve connects. As a result, Lance has about 3 to5 percent of his vision. The remaining vision is in the lower right corner of each eye, and it�s peripheral. Long story short, it took 2 � years to settle the case out of court.
After all of this, Lance went to the V A blind rehab program at American Light. The optometrist said to lance that she wanted to work with him in using what limited vision he had left. So, after a few sessions with her, he was able to independently use the bottom right corners of his eyes. It was, and at times still is, difficult to be unable to focus his eyes, having to force his muscles not to move.
Lance was collecting his disability and social security benefit, but wanted and needed more than just sitting on the couch watching television. He went to a sportsman show and purchased a deer hunt from a Washington state outfitter, not knowing if he could even do it. He went out and practiced, and realized that the vision in the bottom right corners of his eyes lined up perfectly with the rifle scope. So once someone pointed out where to shoot, he could do it.
In October of 2017 Lance went on the hunt. The first thing he had to do, amongst sighted individuals, was to shoot at a target from 100 yards. This was to show the outfitter that everyone understood where they were shooting. Needless to say, Lance was sweating. Lance pulled the trigger and boom, dead bullseye. Lance said that that particular moment was a turning point in his life, because he could do it!
The next morning, they went out to hunt for deer. It took Lance four shots, but he got one, the very first day. Lance was on cloud nine for the next three days; reminiscing, joyful, not a care in the world, and being someplace that he is normally not at.
He came home from the trip a changed man. He realized that he could still have the opportunity to go out and experience some of the freedom he used to own. He then spent about six months looking for a job, even suggesting to work for nothing. Unfortunately, no one would hire him, not even the local food pantry. This was a depressing time for lance, so, to lift his spirits, he went on another hunt. In October 2018 Lance went through the process again, and came through it just fine. He got a deer on the first day, this one from 300 yards and in one shot.
With another three days to relax in the woods, Lance had been talking with Bill, a fellow hunter, and guide. He mentioned to Lance about this person who runs a nonprofit company called Home with Heroes. This company takes veterans out deer hunting. Lance thought that that was a great business, but not something he could do. Bill also added that that business was the gentleman�s way of sharing with the world, his ministry This was stuck in Lance�s head, even after he had home.
With this thought stuck in his head for a few weeks, Lance thought he had to do something. All of a sudden, the North American Association of Blind Sportsmen came into existence in his head. He realized that he would not be able to take people out and guide them. However, he could educate blind people, match them with appropriate hunts and fisheries, pair them up with the appropriate guides, and provide transportation, including air fare, lodging, meals, tags, licenses, gear, whatever was needed. Lance also wanted to be able to encourage the individuals along the way to get out and do something that they might never do on their own. In addition, help them to build some confidence in themselves and their abilities. The North American Association of Blind Sportsmen (NAABS) was founded on November 13, 2018.
Lance is the face of the organization, on the front end raising funds, meeting and speaking to outfitters, explaining and conveying the need for the services of the organization. On the back end Lance works with a volunteer force, and eventually an employee force to facilitate the meat and potatoes of getting these individuals out and doing their thing.
The best part of all of this for Lance is while he can influence the outcome, the outcomes are never about him. They are about the individual out there in the field, doing it, and making it happen!
The NAABS is a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization run by the blind, for the benefit of the blind. They fund hunting and fishing adventures for blind and vision impaired individuals through membership fees, donations, sponsorships, and grants. Their mission is to extend encouragement and empowerment to their members through successful participation in outdoor adventures they might never dare on their own.
NAABS pays for most of the expenses on these adventures. There may be small expenses that the member will need to pay, but not many, and not much.
Their sincere hope is that members who go on adventures with them will take away memories that will last a lifetime. They hope that the success they achieve with them will motivate them to change their lives. They hope that they will go out and change their world in a positive way, leaving average, and minimal survival behind forever.
Their website was just recently launched. You can go to the website, click on join, and pay the 25 dollar membership fee. At that point you will be issued a unique ID number, and will be asked to check your email for a notice regarding registration. When you go back to the site, you will go to the members area, and complete registration. Things like address, location, medical needs, food needs, medical issues, estimates of physical fitness, etc. You will be assigned a member rating based on your answers to the questions, and possibly a phone call if the answers are not clear enough. You will be allowed to apply for any and all adventures that coincide with your rating, or lower. We rate the difficulty of our adventures on a scale of 1-3. Same scale for members.
Lance Mathena, President
The North American Association of Blind Sportsmen, on Facebook
NFB Newsline, So Much More than You May Know
Recently it was brought to my attention that an audio information delivery service known as, NFB Newsline, was quite unknown to a large number of Blind Perspective subscribers. Because I serve in a voluntary role as NFB of Florida Newsline State Coordinator, I was rather surprised to hear this, but with the encouragement of our editor Karen, accepted the opportunity of getting the word out about this terrific source for news and information.
The National Federation of the Blind began providing the service almost 30 years ago, and from its onset decided that it would be available to anyone in the U. S. who was blind or who had any other type of print impairment, such as dyslexia. Some subscribers use the service because they simply cannot hold a newspaper or other printed material in their hands due to a motor skills disability. You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn of course, that the vast majority of subscribers are visually impaired. I point that out to say that you might be interested to know that becoming a NFB Newsline subscriber can be as simple as verifying that you are a patron of the National Library Service, (often referred to as the NLs Talking Book or BARD service). We'll talk more later about just how to sign up for NFB Newsline, but to clear up any confusion early on, I want you to be aware that subscribers to Newsline do not have to be members of the Federation. A lot of folks using it are either affiliated with other blindness oriented groups or not connected with any groups at all. Another truly important thing to tell you, is that the service is absolutely free, that's right, you pay absolutely nothing to be an NFB Newsline subscriber and there are no strings attached. You can use the service as much or as little as you wish.
Newsline offers subscribers the opportunity to read nearly 400 newspapers and over 60 magazines, along with other types of information in a variety of access modes. Members can have local, national and international newspapers read to them through a computer generated voice. I often check out what's happening within my home state of Florida and then review national news with papers like the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Magazine types run a wide spectrum from publications specializing in news, sports, science, daily living, finance and religion. Access to TV listings, grocery store flyers, store circulars from Walmart and Target, job listings, weather alerts and forecasts and news about what's happening in the blindness community is also right at your fingertips. Most states have their own "information channel" focusing on resources and events within their borders.
The Massachusetts Information Channel has something a little extra but very special. By following the steps to this channel you will find The Blind Perspective. That's a great place to teach yourself how to add a publication to your personalized favorites list.
Steps to access The Blind Perspective Newsletter via a landline:
After logging in, press #5 (read newspapers in other states).
Press #9, four times, or until you get the the states that begin with the letter M.
Press #4 to select Massachusetts.
Press #9 once, then #1 for the Blind Perspective.
Then you can press 10 for the current issue, or 11 for the previous issue.
During the early days of NFB Newsline, subscribers would gain access to available publications by dialing a local or toll-free phone number on a touch-tone telephone. By entering desired selections with the phones keypad, users would navigate the system to hear the content they wanted. That access mode is still available today, and is still being used daily by thousands of members, but with the growth of digital technology, Newsline has found new ways to deliver content. Patrons can now log into the service using an app. on an Apple iOS device such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod. Content can also be directly accessed through a computer and can even be delivered through download on portable devices like a Victor Reader or the NLS Digital Talking Book Player. The newest way to use Newsline is by simply giving voice commands to an Amazon smart speaker, and letting Alexa do the work of looking up the publications you want to have read to you. I put
Alexa through her paces while preparing to write this article and discovered that she made my use of Newsline almost effortless. For those of you out there who already use the service but haven't tried it using your Amazon smart speaker, I encourage you to give it a try. Just start by saying, "Alexa enable National Federation". You will be asked to provide your login information, (that being your numeric user ID and four digit passcode), and then you can begin directing Alexa to read most of the content available on other devices.
Checking out more information about Newsline is not at all difficult, you can call the NFB Newsline national team at 1-866-504-7300 and ask about signing up, or you can review information online at: www.NFBNewsline.org or www.NFBNewslineOnline.org Heading to the second link will also allow you to log into your existing Newsline account where you can read the hundreds of newspapers and magazines participating in the service. I often use this method to easily download all or part of a publication to my computer or to have that information emailed to me.
So, now that you know about the wonderful service known as NFB Newsline, I hope you take the time to give it a closer look. Whether you are an existing subscriber or are just now learning about the service I think you will find there's much more waiting for you than you ever imagined.
I recently had a Q&A session with Emre Sarbak, a co-founder of Mediate. Read on to learn about this company and their app, SuperSense, which sounds to be very beneficial to the blind/ visually impaired community.
What is Mediate?
We are a Boston-based, MIT-spinoff AI startup that is developing computer vision applications for the visually impaired and the blind.
We believe computer vision, which is a field of AI, has immense potential for the community of the visually impaired and the blind. This technology offers an unprecedented level of understanding of visual information. In addition, widespread adoption of smartphones made this technology ubiquitous and very accessible.
We believe that the new AI technologies will make the next decade one of the most significant time of empowerment for this community. Technically, AI on a smartphone is now able to do most of what a sighted assistant can do for a visually impaired or blind person. We want to turn this possibility into reality.
On this direction, we have released the early version of our technology as a mobile app called Supersense.
Who is a part of Mediate?
Mediate has two co-founders, Myself and Cagri Hakan Zaman. I come from a social entrepreneurship background. Before this startup I was in St. Louis and helped build a nonprofit that got praised by President Obama. Cagri is a researcher at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The underlying technology of Mediate comes from Cagri's innovative research to get AI to understand space like humans do.
Our company is supported by National Science Foundation, US Department of Veteran Affairs and many community organizations in the US and around the world. Locally, Perkins School for the Blind and Carrol Center for the Blind both supported us in our grant applications.
In addition to organizations, we have a couple of user groups that give us constant feedback on our ideas and on our product.
Does Mediate get financial support?
Many groups have trusted in our vision and our plans, and provided generous support to turn our plans into reality. National Science Foundation, Veteran Affairs, MIT DesignX program, MIT Sandbox program, and a few angel investors have provided financial support so far.
What is the Supersense app all about?
At Mediate, we are developing a new AI technology for this community. Supersense is our first product that uses the early results of our R&D work led by Cagri Hakan Zaman.
Supersense is an app that helps people with understanding their environments. It helps people find objects that they are looking for, such as doors, seats, stairs, trashcans and many other objects.
Other apps either help with the information that is right in front of people, apps such as KNFB reader or Seeing AI, or with GPS-based navigation, such as Google Maps. Supersense helps with orientation and mobility needs in physical environments and empowers people in new ways.
What devices is it available on?
Right now, it is available on Android for free. We will be releasing the full iOS version very soon.
How can our iOS users get it?
People who are interested in accessing and testing an early version of our app can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
and we will invite them to our beta testing process.
What has the feedback been like?
The feedback has been phenomenal. We have users in more than 80 countries and many of them use our app regularly.
One user said that he used our app to locate his dumpster and take his trash out independently for the first time. Another user said that she regularly locates the stairs in front of her office using out application.
Are you working on any other accessible apps/ projects?
In addition to our current project, we are also talking to the Museum of Science about how to make the museum and similar public institutions more accessible.
Can you provide us with contact information?
Our website address is www.mediate.tech
We didn't have time to build a social media presence yet. Anyone who is interested in our work can sign up for our email list on our website or can reach me at: email@example.com
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is great to be featured in this newsletter. Thanks a lot for inviting us.
It feels like we are in a very exciting field that can help many people. We are always looking for people from this community who would like to participate and support our product development process.
A few weeks ago, I had an enlightening chat with Bryan Manning, one of the cofounders of Two Blind Brothers. Read on to learn about Bryan, his brother Brad, and their company, Two Blind Brothers.
Brad and Bryan were diagnosed during childhood, with the condition known as Stargardt�s disease, a juvenile form of macular degeneration. Over time, with this disease, there is a progressive loss of central vision. Tasks such as reading small print, recognizing faces, and doing any type of detailed work are quite challenging. Because there is no determination of how quickly one may lose their sight, Brad and Bryan prepared for vision loss by learning braille when they were young.
Great Hands Think Alike
In early 2016 Bryan moved to New York City, where Brad already resided. One day they went shopping at Bloomingdale�s. Like many other blind/ visually impaired people, they �look� at clothes with their hands. If it felt right, then they would investigate the other details: size, price, etc.
Well, this day they happened to get separated from one another. Once they met each other outside the store, they made a startling discovery. They both had walked out of the store buying the same exact shirt. It was then that they thought about making a clothing company based entirely around the sense of touch. Their idea was to begin making clothing with the thought of fabric first, with feel and fit absolutely paramount, and then focus on the other things.
In the Beginning
Both Bryan and Brad had full-time jobs, so, in the beginning this was just their side project. They networked with family and close friends who were in the fashion industry and made a few hundred shirts. Bryan said that initially this was just to be a night and weekend project to try to learn to grow a commerce brand, get a little smarter in the fashion industry, and really just have some fun.
It�s in the Name
Bryan and Brad shot off about a dozen or so names for the company to one another. Bryan gives credit to Brad (although reluctantly) for coming up with �Two Blind Brothers.� Brad stated that they shouldn�t be bashful about the name as they are giving to charity, and people have referred to them throughout their lives as the two blind brothers.
Brad and Bryan posted a video on Facebook telling their story. They explained about being two brothers, growing up visually impaired, and how they were on an adventure to produce the perfect shirt. Their video went viral, getting over several million views within the first few weeks. From this video, they heard from people in the visually impaired community. This was a piece of the business that Brad and Bryan never anticipated prior to starting.
After seeing Brad and Bryan�s Facebook Video, the Facebook news channel, Now This contacted Brad and Bryan and did a story on them. Then, producers from the Ellen DeGeneres Show saw the Now This coverage, and they contacted the Two Blind Brothers� customer service line. After five or six interviews, with different producers, Brad and Bryan were invited to appear on the Ellen Show, which they did on January 4, 2017.
Bryan and Brad are in the business to cure blindness. Hmm, you may wonder how these two brothers plan to do that! Well, they wanted to make the company as charitable as possible. So, neither Bryan nor Brad take a salary, instead they donate 100 percent of the net profits to retinal research. In their first three years of operation, they have been able to donate over $400,000!
Brad and Bryan went through thousands of fabric books from around the world to find their �perfect� tri-blend. They still use this tri-blend, however, within the last year they�ve begun producing their own.
The Two Blind Brothers have a wonderful partner located outside of Los Angeles where the fabric is woven, spun, dyed, cut, and sewn into shirts. The products are then sent to a facility in Kentucky where everything is shipped from.
Employment for the Blind/ Visually Impaired
For a couple of years, the Two Blind Brothers partnered with the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind to produce some of their garments. Then DLB merged with another organization and discontinued that portion of the business. Brad and Bryan are trying to find opportunities to work with organizations that employ the blind and visually impaired. Currently, they are working with Industries for the Blind in North Carolina on another new product that they will be releasing in a couple of months.
Two Blind Brothers tri-blend consists of bamboo fibers which creates the softness, cotton which provides the strength for holding the fabric together, and the spandex to maintain the fit and shape. Just a day or two after this interview Bryan said that all of the new basics will have the color of the garment embroidered in braille above the bottom hem.
Some of the clothing products they sell include henley shirts (what they actually started out with), hoodies, polos, short and long sleeve shirts, tanks, graphic tees, joggers, and shorts. These are available for men and women, and some are available for kids, too!
Their accessories include braille jewelry, backpacks, and candles.
At the conclusion of our interview, Bryan was kind enough to offer to send me a graphic t shirt to checkout for myself. Bryan picked out a shirt that I did not come across on their website since it was in the Men�s section. Regardless it being a �men�s� shirt, it was so �fitting� for what was on it. This particular shirt is forest green with the word �perspective� on the front. I know, how great is that! Not only that, the word is backwards and upside down, and the letter �I� in perspective is written in simulated braille! This shirt is as they advertise, very very soft to the touch, let alone when you have it on. I have already worn this t shirt a couple of times and I have to say it is a conversation starter. Thank you �Two Blind Brothers� for taking the time for the interview and for the wonderful t shirt!
If you are planning on going to the National Federation of the Blind convention in Las Vegas in July, be sure to stop over at the Two Blind Brothers� booth to check out their products and to say �Hey� to Bryan, Brad, and the team!
p: (917) 722-6284
YouTube: YouTube.com/ Two Blind Brothers
Last month I attended one of the National Conventions and I met Matt Baker, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Polara. Polara has designed and manufactured the most durable, technologically advanced, and pedestrian-friendly crosswalk devices available since 1996. They are the leading supplier of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) and ADA-compliant pedestrian technology and push buttons in North America.
Some of the major cities currently using these accessible crosswalk systems include Houston, Charlotte, Memphis, Miami, Seattle, Boston, and Washington DC, to name a few. In addition, they have them all across Canada. Matt added that Canada has been very proactive in installing APS. He also said that there are some units in Mexico, and Chile.
Polara’s first version of their APS was made in 1998. Since then, they have progressively made improvements and introduced many models. The INavigator APS was first launched in 2015.
Introducing the iNavigator APS with Bluetooth technology
This Bluetooth technology allows technicians on Android and iOS (Apple Devices) to wirelessly program/set up. They are working on a PedAPP, for pedestrians to locate their buttons, actuate them, and get crossing feedback information.
What the iNavigator APS does:
• Designed to replace existing pushbuttons and provide accessible crossing information.
• Provides signal information in multiple and alternative formats to assist vision and hearing impaired.
• APS provides an audible “Locate Tone” to alert the pedestrian there is equipment installed.
• APS provides a tactile raised arrow to point into the direction of the crosswalk.
• When button is pushed an audible “Wait” message is played.
• An extended button push (1-second hold) can provide more audible information such as the street name to be crossed and the direction of travel.
• When the “Walk” signal is activated, the pushbutton arrow vibrates, and an audible indication is given, either a “Speech Message” or a “Rapid Percussive Tone”.
• When “Don’t Walk” cycle is on, the button returns to playing the “Locate Tone”.
Matt demonstrated this iNavigator APS, and it is loud enough to hear, clearly spoken, and easy to understand. I think it is a great accessible device that would assist blind and hearing impaired individuals to safely cross intersections.
I will be reaching out to suggest installing the iNavigator APS in a few locations within the city I reside. Matt provided me with a product sheet brochure and a sample letter that can be sent to any of the following; local Traffic Engineer, City Accessibilities coordinator, City Council Member or Mayor within your city.
You can visit their website and on the home page you will find there is a section that has this information, its about ¾ way down. There you will find two buttons: “What is an APS”, and “How to request an APS”. The website also has their local distributors information for anyone to contact in their respective areas. These distributors have demonstration equipment, and can give demonstrations, and help provide the local traffic department/ engineer’s contact information for submitting APS requests.
Phone Number: 903-366-0300
Many of us may not know the meaning of this Danish phrase, leg gobt, but most of us around the world are familiar with Lego. The name was coined from that Danish phrase, when translated means play well.
You may be asking yourself, what does Lego have to do with blindness? The short answer is, Lego Braille bricks!
Read the Q&A I had with Diana Ringe Krogh, who oversees the LEGO Braille Bricks project for The LEGO Foundation.
Q: What are Braille Lego Bricks?
LEGO Braille Bricks is a fun way to teach Braille to blind and visually-impaired children. We’ve altered the traditional LEGO brick slightly, so that each brick features a printed letter or character of the Braille alphabet. Each brick is painted in with a black uppercase letter corresponding with the Braille letter represented in raised studs. This ensures the tool is inclusive, allowing sighted teachers, students and family members to interact on equal terms with the blind or visually impaired child.
The printed letters aren’t raised. We did ask partners and at focus groups with kids and parents, but most thought this would cause too much confusion when dealing with children who are just starting to learn Braille. The bricks used are what we call 2x4 bricks, meaning they have two rows with four studs on each side. The below row has been removed on all bricks so that the actual braille cell (2x3 studs) is what is left to work with. The empty space at the bottom of the brick is then where we have printed the letters. This also means that each Braille stud combination is created with a unique brick mold consistent with the Braille alphabet.
Our toolkit comprises of roughly 250 LEGO bricks, depending on the amount of special characters in the various Braille alphabets. A selection of five signature LEGO brick colors have been used - red, blue, white, green, and yellow. The colors were selected to ensure contrast and allow for a playful learning experience in an inclusive setting. In addition to the LEGO bricks, the toolkit comprises of two base plates on which to sort and work with LEGO Braille Bricks.
LEGO Braille Bricks will initially be available in Nordic (Danish, Norwegian (expected to launch second half of 2020), Swedish, and Finnish (expected to launch first half of 2021), English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese for market testing.
Once LEGO Braille Bricks is fully developed, the kit will be accompanied by a pedagogical concept that builds on a learning through play approach and also includes inspiration for socially interactive games with the bricks. By introducing a fun playful way to learn Braille we hope the toolkits will help children develop the confidence and breadth of skills needed to chase their dreams and ambitions on equal level with sighted children.
Q: What inspired/ motivated Lego to create Braille Bricks?
The LEGO Group has over the years been approached by many organizations with the idea to adapt LEGO bricks to Braille. In 2011, The LEGO Foundation was approached by the Danish Association of the Blind, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the Foundation was encouraged by a Brazilian charity – The Dorina Nowill Foundation - to start-up a project to develop a prototype for testing.
The LEGO Foundation is a philanthropic organization working with learning-through-play approaches to empower ALL children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. They provide a variety of free solutions to targeted areas of need where they believe they can make a difference and help develop certain groups of children through playful learning experience. Research shows that learning Braille can widen opportunities for blind and visually impaired children, enabling them to experience intellectual freedom, independence and equal access to study and work. Therefore, LEGO Braille Bricks will also be distributed free of charge through partner organizations.
Q: What is the purpose/ goal of these bricks?
The LEGO Foundation hopes the blind community will adopt LEGO Braille Bricks as a playful learning tool that can help revitalize Braille in a time when tech advancements in audio, sound, and synthetic speech are gaining ground. Some studies show that just 10 percent of American children who are blind learn to read Braille, even though it often means better job prospects as an adult. We hope this toolkit will allow early adoption of Braille and help blind and visually-impaired children gain better access to build the breadth of skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century.
Braille is a complex language to learn. We hope that by introducing Braille Bricks, fewer children will fall behind in the early stages of their learning and development. At the same time, LEGO Braille Bricks is fun and inclusive. Blind and visually-impaired children will be able to learn Braille together.
Q: When were the bricks first launched and to whom?
LEGO Braille Bricks is still in test phase but expected to launch during 2020 – though there is no set date yet. Testing is now taking place in four new markets (US, Germany, France and Mexico) and once feedback has been gathered and the pedagogical concept complete the first sets will be put into production, ready for launch during 2020.
Q: Can they be purchased where other Lego products are sold?
The intention is for the toolkits to only be distributed to select schools through partner organizations and as such won’t be available for private/in-home use. LEGO Braille Bricks will be distributed through established channels supplying resources for the blind and visually impaired or with the aid of Qualified Teachers for the Visually Impaired (QTVIs). This means that schools, who are affiliated with partner organizations, will receive one toolkit for every blind or visually impaired child who is registered with the school. The kit will follow the individual child, meaning they can move it between home and school as they please.
Q: How would a school and/ or blind organization go about obtaining the Lego Braille Brick Tool Kit, if not already preselected?
Through local partners – in the US this is American Printing House. Testing will begin this month for US.
Q: How have they been received/ feedback?
The response has been overwhelming positively received. Our partners call it “a new gateway to the world of Braille” and they hope it will lead to many more children wanting to learn Braille – and with learning through play, this makes it all more easy for all parties – children, parents and professionals. We continue to get positive notes and inquiries on a weekly basis from parents, teachers and media on LEGO Braille Bricks.
Q: Anything else you may want to add regarding the Lego Braille Bricks?
The LEGO Foundation is thrilled to support this project because it is a fantastic idea with great potential to make a difference for the lives of children with vision impairment at the same time as it is an obvious fit to the idea behind the LEGO System in Play – that you can build and rebuild anything you want, and through this process explore, create, make mistakes and learn from them in a playful way.
Furthermore, LEGO Braille Bricks is a true testament to our philosophy of “Learning-through-Play” in that joyful and engaging teaching methods and tools such as LEGO Braille Bricks help motivate children to develop essential life skills through the most powerful, intuitive way they know - through play.
As a former preschool teacher for twenty years, I say kudos to the Lego Foundation for creating these Lego Braille bricks. This is truly an innovative product that will help to foster braille learning, in a creative and fun way. I always felt, and still believe that the best way young children learn is through play!
Lego has not stopped with the Lego Braille Bricks when it comes to the blind community. The Lego Group just announced last week that they are piloting Lego audio and braille instructions. Read below, in part, the press release.
Inspired by blind entrepreneur, Matthew Shifrin, the new building instructions will help children with vision impairment build and learn through play using LEGO bricks.
What started as a kind gesture between friends living just outside Boston, US, is today being rolled out as a global pilot by the LEGO Group – using AI technology the initiative aims to make the LEGO play experience more accessible for those with vision impairment. We call it: LEGO® Audio & Braille Building Instructions.
The idea comes from Matthew Shifrin, who was born blind. As a child, he developed a strong passion for LEGO play. However, he always needed assistance when it came to specific LEGO building instructions.
“I had a friend, Lilya, who would write down all the building steps for me so that I could upload them into a system that allowed me to read the building steps on a Braille reader through my fingers. She learned Braille to engage with me and support my LEGO passion, and then spent countless hours translating LEGO instructions into Braille”.
Shifrin would pore over his customized instructions to create models such as the LEGO Creator Expert Sydney Opera House and London Tower Bridge, the latter of which required over 850 pages. For the first time ever, he was able to build LEGO sets by himself without being dependent on someone else guiding him through the instructions.
“This is extremely important for blind children because there aren’t a lot of places where we can say, ‘Look Mom and Dad! I built this on my own… I did this’ “says Shifrin. “For blind children, we don’t have access to what sighted kids are used to. LEGO bricks enable us to learn about our environment, to see the world. It is so important because blind kids get left out of a lot of social stuff, especially in elementary school. But LEGO building is one of the things we can do.”
When Lilya sadly passed away in 2017 Matthew was inspired to honour her memory by ensuring others benefitted from her idea of creating LEGO building instructions for those with no or limited sight.
Through a friend at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, he was then introduced to the Creative Play Lab at the LEGO Group.
The team took his idea to the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence who developed new AI software to translate LXFML data (LEGO Exchange Format Mel Script) from the visual digital building instructions to text based descriptions for braille and voice commanded instructions.
“Matthew’s story demonstrates the power of LEGO play. It brings people together, helps to build confidence and sparks creativity. It has been an honour to work with Matthew, his passion and energy are truly inspiring. But most importantly his project will help visually impaired children around the world experience the same joy of building and pride of creation that all our fans feel”, says Fenella Blaize Charity, Creative Director, LEGO Group.
Available in English as a free service for all through the accessible website www.LegoAudioInstructions.com
The first four instructions to be launched include a set from LEGO® Classic, LEGO® CITY, LEGO® Friends and LEGO® Movie 2™.
Consumers can either chose to hear audio instructions using their screen reader or with audio provided by the LEGO Group, or alternatively chose to read the instructions using a Braille reader. Depending on consumer feedback on the four pilot instructions, which will be collected until the end of 2019, the intention is to launch more Audio & Braille instructions first half of 2020.
While these instructions show radical innovation, there’s still a lot of progress to be made in terms of further developing the AI software and automating the process. The long term ambition is to add more languages and support all future product launches - most importantly however, is to ensure fun and high quality learning through play experiences.
“As I build a set, I develop a better sense of what a building looks like and how it is laid out and constructed. For blind people LEGO sets act as miniature 3D substitutes for real-life buildings in lieu of two-dimensional photographs. LEGO bricks allow me to see things that are impossible to explore by touch, such as the arches of a Middle Eastern palace or the towers of the London Tower Bridge.
I would like to get my instructions out to the blind community. I would like every blind person to be able to download the instructions, buy a set, have a sighted person sort the pieces, and feel on par with a sighted builder. I want every blind person to feel that the once impossible is now possible; that he or she can now build a miniature LEGO world.” - Matthew Shifrin.
A follow up question I asked:
Q: Where is the pilot program happening for the Instructions?
The instructions will be available in English as a free service for all, globally, through the accessible website www.LegoAudioInstructions.com
On this website we encourage people to fill in the survey (there’s an accessible survey for each of the four instructions) to ensure we can further improve the building experience and take these learnings into the development of new instructions which we’re aiming to launch early 2020. Anyone can purchase one of the four sets for which we’re introducing audio and Braille instructions, then either chose to hear audio instructions using their screen reader or with audio provided by the LEGO Group, or choose to read the instructions using a Braille reader.
How cool is this! Again, kudos to the Lego Group and the Lego Foundation for making products to include blind and visually impaired individuals, both young and old!
Thank you, Diana, for taking the time to answer my questions and to share the wonderful things Lego Foundation and Lego Group is doing for the blind community. I would also like to thank Ali Koper, Vice President of WE Communications, an organization that works closely with Lego to help them get the word out about their work. For it was Ali who was the liaison between me and Diana.
Go back to the beginning of content