Category Archives: Innovation

Our Increasingly Assistive Technology


By Norman G. DeLislethe earth with arrows to things with words The Internet of Things

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.” -Wikipedia Article on The Internet of Things

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in the attention that the IoT is paying to devices and networking that would be of use to people with disabilities, and the general use that the IoT is increasingly having for everyone, including people with disabilities.

The most obvious example is making driverless cars a reality. And it isn’t simply the goal of totally driverless cars. Each incremental effort by manufacturers to make cars safer by automating safety actions or reducing information and decision burden makes cars easier to use for everyone, including people with disabilities. (See post by M. Catherine McAdam “My Driverless Car“)

There are others. I recently posted a link to a device that uses ultra-small amounts of microwaves to detect glucose levels so that no finger prick is required. In addition, it uses an app to record ongoing glucose levels so that more information about the dynamic of blood sugar is available for use by the person in making short term glucose management decisions and in understanding the long term trend of, say, Type 1 diabetes.

In addition to “things” that increase personal control over health or physical status, there are other potential tools for supporting recovery on the horizon. If the core of the Recovery Movement is the expansion of personal control over life through management of symptoms that reduce control and the building of a personal social network that supports the recovery journey, then the IoT will have “things” to offer us as well.

The use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is currently only a research tool in depression, pain control, empathy development, and a variety of other issues because (it seems just plain weird) it is expensive to do, and there is no solid framework for understanding what it does. But it is also non-invasive and has predictably short term effects allowing for eventual actual personal control over its use. Is it too strange to envision a genuinely portable device that you could use as a specific method of controlling a specific symptom? Is it even much too “stranger” to imagine a social network of people using TMS as a part of their social interaction?

Although environmental control has been a possibility for people with disabilities for some time, it has traditionally been a very expensive tool requiring the development of highly customized control systems. Now, because of the ubiquity of wireless and smartphones, and the drop in price for small devices that can control house systems (the expansion of the whole consumer market for such devices and environmental control), it is possible to create a voice managed control system using something like the Amazon Echo inside the house and a smartphone app when outside the house. Your personal system can be assembled a bit at a time, allowing you to customize it to your needs as you go.

There is a distinction in disability studies between “accommodation” and “accessibility” which points to the fundamental difference between a community response that creates access (accommodation) for a specific individual (segregation) and one that allows everyone (accessibility) to use the community (inclusion). I think the IoT is beginning to muddy that distinction by making universal access to the community a part of the general development of the IoT and the parallel creation of devices that can be customized by the individual person to connect to that general community. IoT is a trend worth watching by our community. We will also, as always, need members of our community to be at the forefront of making IoT realize the possibility it has for all of us.


  • Internet of Things could be the low-cost ‘connectivity key’ that transforms lives in developing countries
  • Beyond the Hype: These Technologies at CES Can Help People in Need
  • Can the Internet of Things bridge the digital divide?

My Driverless Car!


By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

Driverless care with doors open and 2 people sitting insideYes, I want one,  a Self-driving car, and have been asking family and friends if they will take a ride with me, (a driver who is totally blind)!  Many have said yes, and some hesitate wondering as many do just how safe these autonomous-vehicles will be.

My initial excitement has been a bit dampened by the reality of licenses needed and the current demand for a steering wheel and breaks and in most cases a backup driver. (See The conversation about driverless cars.)  However I still feel for many of my low vision friends and others with disabilities that there is tremendous potential for driving, and adding to public transit options this the driverless taxi.

I did read one comment (buried within the references/inks listed)  where a wheelchair user expressed concern for maintaining his current adaptive equipment, and this of course is a valid concern. How many times do people make assumptions that something we love, use, and even need, is no longer a valid approach, and then removed from the market? (For example, simple, basic cell phones.)  For many others the increased support of warnings for backing up or changing lanes, and assistance for parallel parking may already be a welcome support. I choose to believe that somewhere on this winding trail there will be many benefits for those of us across the disability spectrum. Some with low vision now drive with the help of optical lenses, and surely will appreciate some of the progressive changes already in motion. Many who have difficulty concentrating, or processing information under stress will also silently benefit as safety features increase.

Google seems convinced that a true driverless car without a steering wheel is possible. (See lifeline for the disabled.) Some propose that the software is “the driver” leaving room for revising licensing: legal and ethical considerations.

One of the things I found when researching this was very exciting.  4 people sitting facing each other inside car, table in between and screen on one sideThe inventor of cruise control was an engineer who was blind. Fears of his invention parallel some of the concerns that drivers will day dream, not pay attention to their surroundings and lose control.

(Maybe you were pulled into the hoax of a Stella award given to a woman/man who left cruise control on to go make a sandwich in the back of their Winnebago: Incredible-lawsuit-tales.)

So I imagine we’ll hear many exaggerated stories about this awesome technology being developed for my driverless car. The more we include people with disabilities in the development, testing and real discussions about this technology the better the outcome! I’ll still be waiting to drive my real friends even if it takes 20 more years!

woman standing next to google driverless car, holding a white caneWill you come for a ride with me?




Virtual Reality and Assistive Technology


By MATP Staff Member Norm DeLisle

side by side view from a roller coaster seat out towards the track
Virtual Reality (VR) is beginning its ascent to a big media platform with the availability of Oculus Rift, various VR viewers and VR prominence at the recent Game Developers Conference.  Naturally, there is deep concern in our community over how accessible such technologies will be, especially if education, information, and financial services will become dependent on the use of VR. Also, if VR is genuinely accessible, it will allow everyone to have immersive experiences that would otherwise be unavailable.

Absent clear access capability, it would be foolish to spend $2,000 on a VR ready PC and the headset needed to make high end VR usable. But high-end isn’t the only way to dabble in VR. A smartphone and Google’s Cardboard Viewer (which can be made from scratch out of your cardboard, or purchased forless than $30 complete with a strap to hold it to your head) is a viable alternative with a surprisingly large number of apps.In some, your eyes can be used to trigger movement and change exploration direction. It is also possible to trigger effects in games with your eyes. Most of these apps are free, and are surprising in their variety.

In addition to the obvious game and entertainment uses, both VR and VR gaming have the potential to support choice and skill building for everyone as they age, regardless of disability. VR offers the possibility of performing tasks around the home through devices and hardware of the sort used in “Smart Homes”. Because VR can be immersive, and is only restricted in its “reality” by computing power, it would be possible to do detailed work in a 3-D environment that would be difficult or impossible in the real world or even on a PC. VR can assist in exercise, and even Physical Therapy, without the need for a trained personal assistant, since the VR app can be directive and self-correcting of you efforts.

We all know that learning is most effective when action is supported, and VR offers the possibility of direct action in VR environments when the real world examples are too expensive or physically unavailable. As accessories to increase the breadth and depth of the VR experience beyond sight, sound, and typical gaming movements become available, we need to advocates that all of them have access and accommodations built in.

Like any other big change in our relationship to reality, VR will pose moral issues as well.  Disabled World has a nice discussion of a proposed “Virtual Code of Conduct and Ethical Concerns” that opens what should be an ongoing conversation about the effects that VR is having on real people in the real world.

We need to embrace VR and drive the evolution of the technology by making sure we are at the tables of that evolution, constantly demanding and getting inclusion every step of the way. We need to Play for Real in VR and make it a tool of our personal autonomy and independence.

This entry was posted in Innovation, Recreation and tagged Access, virtual reality on by Norm DeLisle.

An Endorsement for Things That Talk


by MATP Staff Member Cathy McAdam

tv remote close up showing microphone buttonI’m going to spend some time writing about a cable provider who is getting this accessibility thing right, but it’s not an endorsement for Comcast, more of an endorsement for universal design in this digital age. Yes, I am a person who is blind who does “watch” TV. Most providers now are getting pieces of this puzzle known as accessibility, and that’s part of the problem. Part way there leads to wanting more and frustration when something doesn’t work.

I’m having a good time with my TV remote!

I can, if I choose, talk to it to switch channels, or I can press a button and get feedback that I’ve chosen the correct channel, no easy feat with HD. With the press of another button I hear “what’s on now” and if I choose to record something I’m given prompts all the way through the process.

This is truly the first time I can record, play back recordings and manage options for deleting programs when I’m done with them. I can also find and play on demand shows.

With my last provider I could do some of these things using an app, but I couldn’t delete recorded programs, or find on demand offerings. And, I needed a second device rather than the nearby remote. And, oh yes, I get detailed descriptions of shows so I can decide if they may be worth my time.

By the way, I’m not a huge TV fan these days, but I love the “control” I have in this mundane part of my life!

The Business Case

So, what do you think the effect on marketing is for businesses who “get it”. They know many and even most people will never use these options, but they also know it’s a smart business decision in the long run.

Do you have a favorite mainstream talking device?


  • Blog article: Technology for the Blind
  • US Business Leadership Network