Measurements the start to STEM pathways for the blind

Brailled calipersScience, technology, engineering and mathematics or the stem subjects all begin with the concept of measuring. For those who are blind, measurement is inherently difficult because it requires vision. Recently two PhD candidates at MIT developed a simple nonelectronic device for measuring called the squirrel device. It is basically a caliper that has braille markup, and can introduce students who are blind to measuring objects.


Electronic refresh will braille displays often costs over $2500 to $5000. And they do not have any means of measuring items for students. They are amused mainly as alternative displays – rather than a visual monitor, the textual information is displayed in braille using mechanical pins. Below you can see a picture of one.

braille display example

It is said that most blind students drop out of math and science after eighth grade because the content becomes unavailable in the laboratories become inaccessible. The obstacles demotivate blind individuals from learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In a previous article, we discussed a chemistry probe that can be used help students learn to measure different things in a chemistry lab. But basic mathematics is relevant to these fields of study, and so an understanding of geometric principles and a knowledge of how to measure physical objects is a basic requirement for blind individuals. So this new device really is foundational.


Because the PhD candidates understood that electronic devices are prone to failure and are also prohibitively expensive they chose a mechanical solution when designing the calipers.  They also chose this route to keep the cost down.  They sell on National Braille Press for $18.00.


Their efforts were supported by the ideas global challenge which is an annual competition run by the Priscilla King gray public service center. The center support force them to create a business plan, prototypes, posters and to receive feedback from judges. That help them to redefine their objectives in designing the calipers.

After the success of their device Squirrel Devices they also designed a tactile protractor. So be on the lookout for both devices.

Referenced Articles

MIT News Article



More amazing technology produced at MIT which may help people with disabilities


Squirrel Devices webpage:


Have you heard of AIRA?

smart glassesI was reviewing software that can help individuals who are blind, especially when involved with travel and came across this new technology service.  The service is titled AIRA.  The technology is a smart glasses with integrated video, audio and Wifi camera and communication device that connects a person who is blind with a sighted agent, who can see and take snap shots of images in the blind persons surroundings.

This is quite useful when someone is traveling to a new location and they don’t know the city or the area well or when they encounter unforeseen obstacles in their travel such as detours or construction.  Agents also can help them read and find signage and details such as price tags, etc. when they are in stores when shopping. 

What makes it valuable is that the person who is blind taps the glasses and this sends a message to an agent who quickly connects with them, and finds outs what information they are requiring.  Once they are completed with a task that required a sighted person, they tap the smart glasses and end the call.

Could such technology be used in higher education for students with visual disabilities?  Instead of having to be in the classroom taking notes, could a notetakers take notes from afar?  These things are possible, but most likely readers and notetakers are more effective if they are in the class or meet with the person one on one.  However, for travel situations, the service does seem to be a dream come true for persons who are visually impaired.



Aria Demo on YouTube


Vision Aware blog article

Changing the Meaning of Our Words in the World of Access for People with Disabilities

When I began working as a technology specialist at Purdue University in the 1990, I began writing documentation on the use of adaptive technologies.  These were additions to computer that made computing  technology accessible for those with disabilities.  This was in the same time frame the people who were in wheelchairs, still referred to themselves as ”crips” (most notably the Vietnam vets) in a time before politically correct language had cemented itself into campuses.  We had signs on campus for the “handicapped ” when  some buildings had no wheelchair access points available.

At that time, the word “assistive” was not even consider a word at all, and our work to help people with disabilities to have access on the computer were adaptions to the current system.  We added synthesizers and software so that computers could speak.  We added soundcards and software so that people who were paralyzed could use voice activation, which was about 20 words per minute in speed.  We modified hardware like mice and keyboards so that people with disabilities could gain access to the otherwise inaccessible technology.Jouse 2

The Change

Some years later our adaptions were being built into computers, and our adaptions were then being considered assistive in nature – they helped people, but we didn’t have to engineer solutions, they were being to be common place.  Prototypes turned into commercial products, and only the ones many people would use survived.

Today, people don’t recognize the trail of inventions and the blood sweat and tears that went into these developments.  Often a family member with a disability would have an engineering relative, father or mother, aunt or aunt, or brother or sister, and they would be in their home workshop adapting some aspect of the computer.  Adding larger monitors, writing software for speech, adaptive the keyboard, a joystick or a mouse.  The Darci (see page 6),  input device being one such product – the equipment allowed people to use morse code to input on the computer.

Today even the terms “adaptive technology” has come to be sweep up in a new use of the term to mean technology that adapts to users who are learning.  The actual term is adaptive learning technology, but many people use the shorter term adaptive technology to mean the same.

Worst is the use for the word “access.”  I cannot count the number of times I’ve been forwarded work because someone used the terminology access in their inquiry, when they mean having “access to a product, account or software.”  They just can’t login or download something, and they are not interested in the level of accessibility a product may have.  The vast majority of common folk think of access in this way.  Only when they cannot use a piece of equipment due to injury or after developing a medical condition, do they understand what it’s really like not to be able to access technology.

As we build a 508-compliant environment, adapting it so that those with disabilities can use the tool with their “assistive” technologies, even the term “assistive” will fade away into the distant past.  We’ll have assistive AI to help learners to find information, and probably we’ll have voice input technology  like Siri to ask questions.  No longer will “adaptive” mean anything to do with helping people with disabilities, and no longer will “access” either.  These terms will default to conventional meanings once access is open to all, and that is a very good thing. 

New Shoes for Running in the Right Direction

Lechal shoes


These are shoes with inserts that connect to a phone app.  It uses GPS and Bluetooth technology, and when you were walking the right direction, nothing is happening, but when you need to turn the sole in the right or left shoe vibrates to let you know that you have to turn that direction.  They clechal smart  shoean also help joggers, vacationers, and people hitting the trails.

So far 30,000 folks have bought them. I wonder how many visually impaired people have laced up a pair? Read more about these shoes at CNET. Or watch the Video on Youtube.


Big Ten Librarians Tackling Accessibility

The big ten conference artworkThe Big Ten Alliance of Libraries is working on providing excellent services and have determined that inaccessible library electronic resources are an issue they would like to tackle. What can we learn from this group?  We can see that an organized effort can maximize the use of resources for testing e-resources for accessibility, for one, and we can also find a good source of documentation to share with our own academic libraries related to the accessibility of these resources, many of which are readily used nationally.

Some of the e-resources tested include the following:

  • Alexander Press
  • Cambridge Core
  • Elsevier
  • Gale
  • Proquest
  • Web of Science


You may be interested in reading their findings, if you are employing these specific resources, but many of these have not been tested.

A common task at work is testing the accessibility of online software applications. Library resources are part of the type of products that I review.  I have found that the e-resources that libraries secure are often overlooked as far as accessibility testing.

When the Big Ten libraries’ consortium scrutinized the technology of Alexander Press, they observed the following:

“The media player shows issues when it comes to accessibility, both from the perspective of keyboard navigation and screen reader compatibility. There is an issue with synchronicity between the captions and the transcript that gets in the way of screen readers.”

This is consistent with the results of my work when looking at other online streaming services. A university library may deploy multiple media services, and frequently those tools are not accessible for all.  These resources are not necessarily easy to find, as they may be placed under a variety of research categories.  In my case, I found that there are six media sources under the category Arts and Humanities.

Then I found a term Films, and located a listing of 32 streaming video databases that the university subscribes to.  In my work here, I have only been asked to look at one.  In looking at this one e-resource, I found what are obviously two critical lapses in accessibility:  The Player and the Captioning.

2 Key Components Omitted

As an example, when I looked at the player shown below for the film American Sniper, which is in this streaming catalog, I found that it had no accessible controls for screen readers or for those using the keyboard as their access method. I could not interact from the keyboard with the play button, the pause, the advance, etc.  Plus, the big missing component is the lack of captioning.  You see there is no CC button.  That means all deaf and hard-of hearing students and faculty would not benefit much from the film.


Buried and Forgotten

This is all too common. Unaware of these resources, probably because they are buried within the labyrinth of library resources, x-levels deep, they are a forgotten issue.  Federal law requires that Hollywood caption these films, so it’s not that the captions haven’t been created.  Warner Brothers had the film captioned:

In my opinion educational resources are the prime reason higher education institutions have been continuously shaken by federal civil lawsuits and/or office of civil rights complaints. We should not forget our overworked colleagues in the library.  Rarely do I ever find an academic library in compliance with the ADA or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Online content is a huge part of providing accessibility for a university these days.

Required Captioning

Closed captioning was designed to aid individuals with hearing impairments. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the FCC’s CVAA, and the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) all require captions for multimedia. These laws and guidelines apply across government, education, entertainment, and business to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities.  They certainly apply to library streaming e-resources.

While captions focus on accessibility, they are provided additional benefits for all viewers. For example, captions allow viewers to follow the story when sound can’t be heard, either because of noisy locations, such as the restaurant, bar, or gym, or because of a sound-sensitive environment, such as a hospital. Additionally, instructional video, pod casts, video in social media also require captions. Even more prevalent these days, captions allow viewers to understand videos that show up on social media news feeds, which play the video on silent by default.

In our example film, American Sniper, the Amazon sales page lists the following information:

Promoting Greater Collaboration

Libraries at major universities and even small colleges all have the same mandate to provide accessible e-resources. By working together, and sharing the cost of the analysis of these very important educational sources, and by challenging the providers of these problematic streaming services, higher education institutions will benefit.  We can take the lead from the Big Ten.  Streaming video services are just one of the many e-resources everyone is using.  After multimedia, we have to tackle OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs), e-books, and interlibrary loan inaccessible PDF files.  Furthermore, online magazines, databases, and journals need to be inspected.

How to Educate Electronic Resources Librarians

I provide faculty and staff classes on the accessibility of a variety of topics, including the following: PDFs, Web Pages, and Internal email communications.  While our libraries create online content in the form of websites, (OPACs), research guides and tutorials, videos, and podcasts, I have never been fortunate enough to have a university library attend one of my trainings.  I believe they would be better approached within their own learning circles.  National library association provide training and information about accessibility readily.

Some Resources for librarians from the ALA

ALA | Mates, Adaptive Technology for the Internet

The full text of the book in HTML format so that it might be accessible to more readers. … Making Electronic Resources Accessible to All –The Online Version.

Accessibility Issues | Tools, Publications & Resources

Here is information relating to accessibility issues of e-books and digital content … This website provides resources for libraries and librarians as they struggle to provide an equitable online library experience.

Accessibility and Libraries: An American Libraries Live Webcast …

Sep 26, 2017 CHICAGO—Technology highly influences accessibility—many patrons … and speech input, to access and use library materials and e-resources.

1128 words

A world without color

rainbow glassesEveryone knows there are people who are color blind, and others who carry the genetic defect. But nobody talks about that.  It’s a secret.  In all my working years, I’ve no recollection of someone sharing with me they have the disorder. (Color blindness affects millions of people worldwide. It affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women.)

I’ve read about a set of glasses that correct red/green color blindness.  Seems someone with genius found a way to make glasses that offset the color of a lens to correct one type of color blindness.  Color blind see color for the first time video – this is awesome BTW! [hint: correction glasses cost about $350]

I’ve given talks about designing web pages with color blindness in mind. It’s a strange concept for many people.

But most people with colorblindness find it only slightly problematic. It’s the type of disability people easily overcome – leave a comment if you disagree.

To help those who are straining their minds with understanding colorblindness, a tool has been developed which allows you to experience images as someone with color blindness.*

When looking at your design work, try looking at the color choices you’ve made through a new lens.

More importantly, when choosing to use color as a primary information choice, think if you are leaving those hiding in the color-blind shadow.

Color mapping for statistical analysis is one of the problem areas I’ve witnessed in my career. When the data is represented only by color, they may see the following graphic and not understand it’s meaning.

Here is a graphic I designed to give you an idea of how to represent color and then provide a secondary method for adding meaning.

other ways for color blind

*The Color Blind Simulation function is copyright (c) 2000-2001 by Matthew Wickline and the Human-Computer Interaction Resource Network ( ). It is used with the permission of Matthew Wickline and HCIRN, +and is freely available for non-commercial use. For commercial use, please contact the Human-Computer Interaction Resource Network ( ).


Related articles:

How to Design for Color Blindness

Colorblind test

Why all designers need to understand color blindness

Several views of the same picture


normal color map













Anomalous Trichromacy




























What the 508 Refresh means to Public Higher Education Institutions

What does non-public facing means in the refresh?  Here is the language that the federal government has included about that in the 508 refresh:

E205.3 Agency Official Communication. Electronic content that is not public facing shall conform to the accessibility requirements specified in E205.4 when such content constitutes official business and is communicated by an agency through one or more of the following:


A. An emergency notification;


B. An initial or final decision adjudicating an administrative claim or proceeding;


C. An internal or external program or policy announcement;


D. A notice of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunity, or personnel action;


E. A formal acknowledgement of receipt;

F. A survey questionnaire;


G. A template or form;


H. Educational or training materials; or


I. Intranet content designed as a Web page.

How do we interpret that in higher education where we are trying to make education materials accessible. The fact is that the murky waters of whether or not to caption video content held within a learning management system seem to not be pronounced even with the refresh.

A Universities content is not public communication.  It is a product that people have to pay for.  Higher Education usually doesn’t place place course content in the public setting.  The lawsuit against Harvard and MIT regards the placing of courses for public consumption.  The well endowed educational institutions have a philanthropic idealism in doing this.  Give the world free course!  Empower humanity.  The deaf did not want to be excommunicated in this idea world.

But for public schools with limited or diminishing funding, the concept of captioning every video they have on their servers is preposterous.  Schools using lecture capture software can generate up to 100,000 hours of video content.  At a cost of $1 to $3.25 an minute, captioning one year’s content can cost between $6,000,000 and $19.5 million.

For now a more sane approach of captioning only video content for those who have received an accommodation, verified through the disability office, makes for a practical and lucid resolution.  Only the content that is publicly displayed should require to be accessible to all.

H. Educational or training materials

This section refers to internal training and educational materials that the federal government creates for federal staff.  Creating content that is designed to improve or inform the workforce also needs captioning.  The same is true for state government employees.  That content should also have captioning.  One should caption that upon request, but should have the content created with all employees in mind.

Related previous article


Free Text-to-Speech with OneNote enhancement download

As expected many of the ordinary computer technologies we use for everyday tasks are encountering a crossover from the accessibility world. This transformative direction of AT (assistive technology)  is normalizing accessibility features.  Such is the case with Microsoft  OneNote.  You just have to download the learning tools.

If you don’t know what OneNote is.

Microsoft’s OneNote has emerged as one of the most powerful note-taking apps available for any platform. OneNote is great for typing and handwriting notes, clipping web pages, and generally organizing your various content in one location that can be accessed from anywhere.

But by adding Learning Tools to One Note, you all of a sudden have a means to listen to text you have store within OneNote. This text to speech feature is also significant in that is helps individuals with print disabilities to comprehend text better.  Much like ReadNWrite, Wynn, and Kurzweil Reader, assistive technologies which are used frequently in educational institutions like universities, community colleges  and high schools.

Learning Tools Features:

Immersive reader feature in OneNote adds text to speech and additional functionality for those who need assistance in their reading. Especially good for ESL students and those with learning disabilities

Insert Graphic

I have marked up this image to show you where these features are.

Immersive reader snapshoot featuring the clickable areas.

Adds the following:

The red circle on the above image represents the tools for adjusting (1) text size, (2) text spacing and (3) the reading background and foreground.




















The green circle is for adjusting the way the reader appears to read text, adding coloration for nouns, verbs and adjectives, or a break of the words into syllables, all to improve student’s reading comprehension will the immersive read reads content.

















The blue circle is for adjustments to the reading voice.


Video for those of you who are visual learners.

About the Voices

Beginning with Windows Vista and Windows 7, Microsoft Anna is the default and only English voice. It is a SAPI (Speech Application Programming Interface) 5-only voice. However TTS (Text to Speech) engines compatible with SAPI 5 version voices are available from third parties. You can use your favorite search engine to browse for one such.

Here is a thread you might be interested in.

Add TTS Voice To Windows 7 and Set AS Default

Or you read the Microsoft file for “How to Download Text-to-Speech languages for Windows.”  The file covers Windows 10, Windows 8.1, and mentions Windows system 7.

No Guarantees for Third Party Downloads

Note: We cannot guarantee that any problems resulting from the use of Third Party Software can be solved. Using Third Party Software is at your own risk.  Microsoft Anna should be on your Windows machine already.

Additional Languages offered by Microsoft include the Following:

Language (Region) Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 Windows 8 Name Gender
Chinese (Hong Kong) Y N Tracy Female
Chinese (Taiwan) Y Y Hanhan Female
Chinese (People’s Republic of China) Y Y Huihui Female
English (United States) Y Y Zira Female
English (United States) Y Y David Male
English (Great Britain) Y Y Hazel Female
English (India) Y N Heera Female
French (France) Y Y Hortense Female
German (Germany) Y Y Hedda Female
Italian (Italy) Y N Elsa Female
Japanese (Japan) Y Y Haruka Female
Korean (Korea) Y Y Heami Female
Polish (Poland) Y N Paulina Female
Portuguese (Brazil) Y N Maria Female
Russian (Russia) Y N Irina Female
Spanish (Mexico) Y N Sabina Female
Spanish (Spain) Y Y Helena Female




Video Demonstration

If you want to learn more watch this video by Fred Lee, as it does an excellent job of demonstrating OneNote Learning Tools on YouTube.



* This tool is designed as a text to speech improvement for those with sight. Those using screen reading software can use their assistive technology to read within OneNote.


Someone who does not use a mouse

Everything Keyboard

Some disabilities are beyond the scope of most folk’s imaginations.  Frequently people who have severe disabilities can splint sticksdo amazing things: like go to college, graduate and work a job.  These individuals are rare, but they are out there defying expectations at every turn.  When limitations are extreme most non-disabled people just haven’t had  any personal experience or association with that type of disability.  The general population often discuss disability in terms of blind and deaf individuals, while  ignoring the million other types of disabilities, including medical conditions.  Several medical conditions which preclude users from interacting with the computer with anything but the keyboard.  This small group of individuals uses only the keyboard to do everything that everyone else does using their hands.  They for some reason can’t operate a mouse at all.  Individuals using only the keyboard are often restricted from using the mouse because they can’t control it, grip it, click the buttons, or simple don’t have enough range of motion to move it properly.

Some individuals drive the computer using only a stick attached to their head, or two sticks strapped to their non-functioning hands (as in quadriplegia).  What ever the reason, the control aspect is very difficult to accommodate.  However, different assistive technologies have been designed fro these most severely disable individuals.

Key guards are the most simple solution. That would be a good reason to see one of these type of keyboard guards:

keyguard for computer



This type (above)  of key guard is not often seen any longer as most people using keyboard only access solutions are using iPads or communication devices.  That means they can’t speak as well or at all; otherwise they might be recommended to use a voice input solution like Dragon.   They will also have very limited motor skills, which make using a mouse impossible, or at least improbable.

The key guard for iPAd and and iPad mini look like this:

Plexiglass keyguard

I’ve been to many conferences where folks who have the most severe disabilities are in attendance.  Technology is a life line for them.  You might think that they barely function, but you’d be surprised.  Many of them eventually possess PhD’s and other advanced degrees.  I’ve meet some who have written books, worked on federal commissions, been scientists. The barriers they overcome are many, to try not to provide extra obstacles on your website.  Test it to see if you can navigate through the pages and controls using only a keyboard.

Here is a picture of someone who might like to have keyboard only access:

Someone who does not use a mouse


AVA Accessibility Tool for Hard of Hearing

AVA Accessibility app

Product: AVA -24/7 Accessibility

The phone app helps solve more or less the most essential problem today for some deaf and hard-of-hearing people: understanding and participating to group conversations.  Group conversation is one of the most problematic issues for hard of hearing users is the ability to distinguish the conversation in a group meeting.  AVA translates group and one-on-one conversations into something that can be read on a cell phone screen, like text messages.

It was just released within the last year on the Appstore and Playstore, and the company would love to hear from their users community. Email them at With professional interpreter/captioner costs at approximately  $100/hour. Conversation over coffee can be an expensive enterprise.

The Reviews

So far this product looks like it is headed in the right direction. People who have left comments on the Google Play site mention that calibrating the microphone makes the app work better, and that a good internet connection is essential.

Learn more about the product! If you know a deaf/hard-of-hearing person, pass it around please: this little app might actually change the life of someone!

AVA review ratings

See AVA here

Product video advertisement

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