Monthly Archives: August 2013

My First Camera


Submitted By: Cathy McAdam

Okay, it’s actually an app, and it’s not the first app that allows people who are blind or low vision to take pictures, but I think it may be the coolest! It’s TapTapSee and it’s free!

As the name suggests, to take a picture, you simply double tap on the screen.  The picture is then sent over TapTapSee’s server,  where it is processed, given a tag, and sent back to the user with an auditory description of what the picture is. It has a very simple interface and it’s very detailed.  Just like in the iTunes review, it told me that my service dog is a yellow lab.

Below is my photo! So how’d I do? (Click on the title of this article to submit a comment.)

Yellow lab lying on the floor


I do think you should always have choices so you might want to try VizWiz and oMoby (both free), which also work for identifying objects. Additionally, the oMoby app offers an option to scan barcodes.

In terms of paid apps, for $19.99, Digit-Eyes offers barcode scanning that can tell you the full product name and often and full description, ingredients or usage instructions. Using Digit-Eyes, inexpensive off-the-shelf office supplies and a standard inkjet or laser printer, you can also record audio labels or make text labels that are read aloud by your phone.  The interactive tutorial included with Digit-Eyes is very good.

For more information about apps these apps and more, visit AppleVis iOS Apps Developed Specifically for the Blind or People with Low Vision

Scanning apps are more difficult for those of us who are totally blind as focusing is an issue and object recognition is a good option.  More about barcode scanning in a future blog.

In the meantime, have fun exploring!


3D Printing and Assistive Technology (AT)


by Norman G. DeLisle, Jr


3D printing is getting more and more notice in the media these days. A 3D printer “prints” 3 dimensional products layer by layer using plastic, wood, and other materials rather than ink. Prices on 3D printers are dropping, though sophisticated printers are still very expensive.

3 d printer 2 metal frames, one with spool of thin blue plastic going to other with plate and many electronics

Basics of 3D printing

The printer uses a material (blue plastic cord in the picture) and prints each layer of the object to match an electronic design file. Heat melts the material so that each layer can be printed separately. Objects can be very sophisticated, but currently only a single material can be printed at a time. It is also possible to print components made of different materials individually and assemble them after all the components have been printed.

Making 3D Printer Files

Object files are usually created with a “Computer Assisted Design” application or CAD app. There are many sophisticated, expensive CAD apps, but the development of personal 3D printers has supported the creation of free apps that can allow anyone to design an object. Autodesk, a maker of very high end design apps, also offers free apps for beginners. In addition to basic design, there are apps that can take multiple pictures of an existing object and create an electronic design file from the pictures (essentially scanning the object), and apps to help create components of an object. You can find an overview of many free design apps.

hand holding a round ivory colored object - ball within a ball on top of a column and base

Finding Already Existing Files

Needless to say, there are lots of people who have developed files for objects of all kinds, and most are willing to let you use the files for free. If you have a 3D printer, you can download an existing file and use it on your printer to create an object. My favorite repository of files in many categories is “Thingiverse”. Hobbyist files, toys, and various components are available, and the site is worth a browse, even if you don’t think you will ever own a 3D printer.

Assistive Technology and 3D Printing

There are a growing number of files that are designs for assistive technology objects. Over 500 are listed through “Yeggi”, a list that includes many interesting, simple, and useful items. The current frontier in printable objects in the disability community is prosthesis. But the possibilities are genuinely endless. There is work to print body tissues, food, multiple component objects in one printer, even computer and electronic gadget chips.

There are now companies that will print your file the exact number of times you want it and ship it to you overnight. Because of the way 3D printers work, there is no economic advantage to printing 50,000 of an item when you only need 237.

Take a few minutes to explore the possibilities. 3D printing is the fastest growing part of electronic gadgetry, and soon you will be using something made on a 3D printer. Start thinking about designs you’d like to see in the assistive technology universe of things!


Quelling the Feeding Frenzy with Assistive Technology


Submitted By:  Laura Hall

Taro, a black Labrador looking up with brown sad eyes

Taro says “feed me”

In my home, every morning brings the same routine.  At exactly 6 A.M., as if some invisible alarm clock has sounded, I am awoken, my eyes snap open and two brown, desperate looking eyes peer back at me.  It is Taro, my service dog, with his chin on my bed, wagging his tail and either sighing, sneezing or shaking his collar “accidentally” in an attempt to make noise.

I learned a long time ago that ignoring him does no good,  as he can assume this position for hours.  So, wearily, I transfer into my wheelchair and with the first click of my motors, the feeding frenzy is on.  Taro makes a mad dash for the kitchen, followed by my two cats who practically bowl each other over to be the first to their dish.

They climb on my counter-top and begin vying for space, thumping each other on the head and meowing in a maddening chorus.  I feed the cats first, because it I don’t they will begin knocking salt shakers and other small items off of the counter to make me move faster.

Meanwhile, Taro, well trained and more patient, sits and waits, but still can’t contain his excitement and knocks his tail loudly against the refrigerator as if this will be his final meal on earth.  For this  brief moment my anxiety rises as they all look at me as though their happiness and entire well being depends upon how well I perform in the next 30 seconds.

vittle vaults in four square sizes

Vittle Vaults

Thank goodness for assistive technology (AT).  While I will never be fast enough for the cats, simple AT devices have helped me become more efficient at quelling the feeding frenzy.  For example, their food is kept at waist level in vittle vaults, which eliminate the hassle of bags and clips.  I scoop the food with an angled measuring cup, allowing me to see how much to feed without needing to stoop down to read the measurements; and, use  raised food bowls because I dare not miss (or face the wrath of the kitties).

Too often, older adults or people with disabilities are discouraged from owning pets because of the difficulty in providing for their care.  Unfortunately, they are often even pressured to surrender or euthanize their pets when their ability to provide care changes.  However, research undoubtedly shows that pet ownership has a significant, direct, positive impact on physical and mental health.  Assistive technology is available to aid with pet care, but it is rarely talked about and almost never advertised.  For these reasons, I decided to spread the word myself.

On August 28th, from 1:30 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. EST, the Michigan Assistive Technology Project will offer free a webinar, Devices to Help with Pet Care that will highlight products and services to aid in caring for your dog, cat, fish and more in the areas of feeding, grooming, play and health.  Please register by August 23rd.

Come join us as I share what I have learned through research and personal experience, and share with others what works well for you or the people you provide services to.  If your pets are like mine – demanding and spoiled, but the masters of your heart, you will likely enjoy yourself and learn something new to provide them with even better care.



An Even Handier Handy Bar


When the Michigan Assistive Technology Project provides device demonstrations, a favorite item for some participants is the Handy Bar.  The Handy Bar is a portable handle the attaches to the U-lock in the door frame to provide a secure grip for getting out of the car.  It is well-loved by older adults and others with pain in their hips and knees, and can allow people to travel by vehicle easier and more independently.  I was delighted when flipping through the pages of Therese Willkomm’s newest book, AT Solutions in Minutes Book II, to see an even more inventive and practical use of the Handy Bar.  In her book,  Therese devotes an entire section to the use of flag pole brackets as mounting units for things like cupholders and umbrellas on wheelchairs.  In addition, the book outlines how the same concept can be used with the Handy Bar to attach an umbrella outside of the car door.  This is particular useful for people who use wheelchairs, who often need to assemble their chairs back together before transferring in – there is nothing like a wet seat cushion to start your day.  Without giving away all of Therese’s secrets (we highly recommend purchasing the book and all proceeds benefit the New Hampshire Assistive Technology Project) the design involves using 3/4″ PVC pipe, flagpole mounting brackets, a Handy Bar, Tommy tape, and cable ties.

Handy Bar inserted into the U-Lock

Some of the best assistive technology is homemade, products of the ingenuity and creativity of teachers, occupational therapists, people who work in assistive technology, and people with disabilities themselves.  For many more inexpensive, easy assistive technology creations, check out Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes, you’re bound to learn something new.