SignAll is slowly but surely building a sign language translation platform

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Translating is difficult work, the more so the further two languages are from one another. French to Spanish? Not a problem. Ancient Greek to Esperanto? Considerably harder. But sign language is a unique case, and translating it uniquely difficult, because it is fundamentally different from spoken and written languages. All the same, SignAll has been working hard for years to make accurate, real-time machine translation of ASL a reality.

One would think that with all the advances in AI and computer vision happening right now, a problem as interesting and beneficial to solve as this would be under siege by the best of the best. Even thinking about it from a cynical market-expansion point of view, an Echo or TV that understands sign language could attract millions of new (and very thankful) customers.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case — which leaves it to small companies like Budapest-based SignAll to do the hard work that benefits this underserved group. And it turns out that translating sign language in real time is even more complicated than it sounds.

CEO Zsolt Robotka and chief R&D officer Márton Kajtár were exhibiting this year at CES, where I talked with them about the company, the challenges they were taking on and how they expect the field to evolve. (I’m glad to see the company was also at Disrupt SF in 2016, though I missed them then.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about the whole business is how interesting and complex the problem is that they are attempting to solve.

“It’s multi-channel communication; it’s really not just about shapes or hand movements,” explained Robotka. “If you really want to translate sign language, you need to track the entire upper body and facial expressions — that makes the computer vision part very challenging.”

Right off the bat that’s a difficult ask, since that’s a huge volume in which to track subtle movement. The setup right now uses a Kinect 2 more or less at center and three RGB cameras positioned a foot or two out. The system must reconfigure itself for each new user, since just as everyone speaks a bit differently, all ASL users sign differently.

“We need this complex configuration because then we can work around the lack of resolution, both time and spatial (i.e. refresh rate and number of pixels), by having different points of view,” said Kajtár. “You can have quite complex finger configurations, and the traditional methods of skeletonizing the hand don’t work because they occlude each other. So we’re using the side cameras to resolve occlusion.”

As if that wasn’t enough, facial expressions and slight variations in gestures also inform what is being said, for example adding emotion or indicating a direction. And then there’s the fact that sign language is fundamentally different from English or any other common spoken language. This isn’t transcription — it’s full-on translation.

“The nature of the language is continuous signing. That makes it hard to tell when one sign ends and another begins,” Robotka said. “But it’s also a very different language; you can’t translate word by word, recognizing them from a vocabulary.”

SignAll’s system works with complete sentences, not just individual words presented sequentially. A system that just takes down and translates one sign after another (limited versions of which exist) would be liable to creating misinterpretations or overly simplistic representations of what was said. While that might be fine for simple things like asking directions, real meaningful communication has layers of complexity that must be detected and accurately reproduced.

Somewhere between those two options is what SignAll is targeting for its first public pilot of the system, at Gallaudet University. This Washington, D.C. school for the deaf is renovating its welcome center, and SignAll will be installing a translation booth there so that hearing people can interact with deaf staff there.

Continue onto TechCrunch to read the complete article.

How Xbox Adaptive Controller Will Make Gaming More Accessible

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On Wednesday night, Microsoft unveiled its new Xbox Adaptive Controller for the Xbox One console, aimed at making gaming more accessible for those with disabilities and mobility limitations as part of their Gaming for Everyone initiative.

The device allows for individual customization through a series of peripheral attachments that allow gamers to cater the controls to their own specific comfort.

For many, the current Xbox controller design (and those of other consoles’ controllers like Nintendo’s Switch and Sony’s Playstation 4) presents a challenge to use as it was not designed for individuals with mobility impairments. The Adaptive Controller is a foot-long rectangular unit with a d-pad, menu and home buttons, the Xbox home icon button and two additional large black buttons that can be mapped to any function.

On its back are a series of jacks for input devices and various peripheral accessories, each of which can be mapped to a specific button, trigger or function on the Xbox controller.

“Everyone knew this was a product that Microsoft should make,” Bryce Johnson, inclusive lead for product research and accessibility for Xbox, told Heat Vision.

The original inspiration for the Adaptive Controller came during 2015’s Microsoft One-Week Hackathon, an event where employees develop new ideas and tackle issues with their products. Through a partnership with Warfighter Engaged, an all‐volunteer non-profit that modifies gaming controllers for severely wounded veterans through personally adapted devices, a prototype was put together that would eventually become the Adaptive Controller.

“We had been doing our own stuff for a couple of years before that, making custom adaptive items for combat veterans, and it was kind of a challenge for even the most basic changes, requiring basically taking a controller apart,” Warfighter Engaged founder Ken Jones said. “Microsoft was thinking along the same lines. It was really just perfect timing.”

As development on the project went on, Microsoft began working with other foundations aimed at making gaming more accessible such as AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Craig Hospital, a Denver-area rehabilitation center for spinal cord and brain injuries.

While third-party manufacturers have created more accessible peripheral controllers in the past, Microsoft is the first of the major gaming publishers to make a first-party offering.

“I think we’re always open to exploring new things,” Johnson said of Microsoft developing their own peripherals for the Adaptive Controller. “Right now, I think the challenge is that there is a super large ecosystem of devices that we intentionally supported as part of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and we want people to go out and find that vast array of toggles, buttons, etc. and have those work with that device.”

Continue onto The Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article.

Pinterest Just Redesigned Its App For Blind People

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Here’s how the company confronted its own shortcomings on inclusive design–and systemically redesigned its app for everyone.

Last year, Long Cheng sat down with a group of engineers as they studied people using Pinterest. For Cheng, lead designer at the company, this sort of user testing was commonplace. But that day, something was different. The testers weren’t thirtysomething moms, or whatever stereotypical demographic pops in your head when you picture one of Pinterest’s 200 million users. They were people with a range of visual impairments, from macular degeneration to complete blindness. And Cheng wanted to see how well they could use the app.

To his dismay, many couldn’t even get past the sign-up screen. People literally couldn’t even create an account. While iOS and Android each have an accessibility feature–called Voice Over and Talk Back, respectively–which read aloud the buttons and options on the screen for visually impaired users to navigate, Pinterest had failed to properly label its own user interface for this feature to even work properly. Similarly, when people did eventually get into the app, recipes read aloud would be missing steps or ingredients. People found themselves trapped inside pins, unsure how to escape. Even for partially sighted people, Pinterest design, with its minuscule type, was a challenge to discern.

“It was definitely personal for me, and me specifically. Because I’ve been a designer here for five years, and it’s a product I really love to work on, and I want everyone to be able to use it,” says Cheng. “For the group of engineers and designers sitting there, we felt like we weren’t doing enough. We wanted to do more.”

Blind people using Pinterest–the app for visual inspiration–may sound like an oxymoron. But in fact, Pinterest, like all mainstream apps, has a contingent of blind users (though the company admits to not tracking them). Many use Pinterest simply to bookmark stories on the web they’d like to read later. And those who don’t use the service might like to, if they were better welcomed.

“We asked one user, would you use Pinterest? You can’t see what’s on the screen!” Long recounts. “She said, ‘of course I would.’” Visually impaired or not, we all want tasty recipes, better haircuts, and fashion advice. And Pinterest is loaded with billions of pins full of this stuff.

Over the past year, Pinterest has committed to practicing inclusive design, and making its product more accessible to everyone. With a team of a dozen designers and engineers, Cheng developed a multi-part approach to redesigning Pinterest as a product that could be more accessible to everyone, leading to a fully redesigned app and desktop experience that’s been slowly rolling out for months.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

This New Prosthetic Limb Transmits Sensations Directly To The Nervous System

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Even with the most advanced prosthetics, amputees cannot feel the ground when they walk on a synthetic leg, or know if someone is touching a mechanical arm. This new MIT tech hopes to change that.

In 1992, Hugh Herr, now head of the Biomechatronics Group at MIT Media Lab, had both of his legs amputated below the knees after sustaining frostbite during a mountain climbing accident. “I”m basically a bunch of nuts and bolts from the knees down,” Herr says, demonstrating his prosthetic legs on the stage at TED 2018 in Vancouver, “but I can skip, dance, and run.”

Herr’s team at MIT focuses on building prosthetic limbs that respond to neural commands with the flexibility and speed of regular limbs. Around 24 sensors and six microprocessors pick up neural signals from Herr’s central nervous system when he thinks about moving his legs. They transmit those signals to the prosthetics, which move accordingly. But despite this remarkable connectivity between man and machine, it’s not a complete fusion. “When I touch my synthetic limbs, I don’t experience normal touch and movement sensations,” Herr says. In order to know his neural commands worked, he has to look and actually see his foot hit the ground–he can’t feel it.

Reproducing the sensations of having a real limb in prosthetics is, Herr believes, the last remaining hurdle to creating truly effective synthetic limbs. “If I were a cyborg and could feel my legs, they’d become a part of myself,” Herr says. But for now, they still feel separate.

His team, however, is working on a new type of limb that would receive not only commands, but sensations, from the central nervous system. This principle, which Herr calls neuro-embodied design, involves extending the human nervous system into synthetic body parts.

Since the Civil War, when limbs are amputated, doctors have generally truncated the tendons and nerve endings, which minimizes sensation and often leads to the “phantom limb” feeling experienced by many amputees. But in a new process Herr’s team pioneered at MIT, doctors leave the tendons and nerve endings intact so they can continue to feed sensations down past where the human leg ends and the prosthetic begins.

Last year, a fellow mountain climber and old friend of Herr’s, Jim Ewing, became the first patient to undergo the new amputation process and get fitted with a cyborg-like synthetic limb.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

AI technology helps students who are deaf learn

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As stragglers settle into their seats for general biology class, real-time captions of the professor’s banter about general and special senses – “Which receptor picks up pain? All of them.” – scroll across the bottom of a PowerPoint presentation displayed on wall-to-wall screens behind her. An interpreter stands a few feet away and interprets the professor’s spoken words into American Sign Language, the primary language used by the deaf in the US.

Except for the real-time captions on the screens in front of the room, this is a typical class at the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. About 1,500 students who are deaf and hard of hearing are an integral part of campus life at the sprawling university, which has 15,000 undergraduates. Nearly 700 of the students who are deaf and hard of hearing take courses with students who are hearing, including several dozen in Sandra Connelly’s general biology class of 250 students.

The captions on the screens behind Connelly, who wears a headset, are generated by Microsoft Translator, an AI-powered communication technology. The system uses an advanced form of automatic speech recognition to convert raw spoken language – ums, stutters and all – into fluent, punctuated text. The removal of disfluencies and addition of punctuation leads to higher-quality translations into the more than 60 languages that the translator technology supports. The community of people who are deaf and hard of hearing recognized this cleaned-up and punctuated text as an ideal tool to access spoken language in addition to ASL.

Microsoft is partnering with RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of the university’s nine colleges, to pilot the use of Microsoft’s AI-powered speech and language technology to support students in the classroom who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“The first time I saw it running, I was so excited; I thought, ‘Wow, I can get information at the same time as my hearing peers,’” said Joseph Adjei, a first-year student from Ghana who lost his hearing seven years ago. When he arrived at RIT, he struggled with ASL. The real-time captions displayed on the screens behind Connelly in biology class, he said, allowed him to keep up with the class and learn to spell the scientific terms correctly.

Now in the second semester of general biology, Adjei, who is continuing to learn ASL, takes a seat in the front of the class and regularly shifts his gaze between the interpreter, the captions on the screen and the transcripts on his mobile phone, which he props up on the desk. The combination, he explained, keeps him engaged with the lecture. When he doesn’t understand the ASL, he references the captions, which provide another source of information and the content he missed from the ASL interpreter.

The captions, he noted, occasionally miss crucial points for a biology class, such as the difference between “I” and “eye.” “But it is so much better than not having anything at all.” In fact, Adjei uses the Microsoft Translator app on his mobile phone to help communicate with peers who are hearing outside of class.

“Sometimes when we have conversations they speak too fast and I can’t lip read them. So, I just grab the phone and we do it that way so that I can get what is going on,” he said.

AI for captioning

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, who is deaf herself, said the pilot project with RIT shows the potential of AI to empower people with disabilities, especially those with deafness. The captions provided by Microsoft Translator provide another layer of communication that, in addition to sign language, could help people including herself achieve more, she noted.

The project is in the early stages of rollout to classrooms. Connelly’s general biology class is one of 10 equipped for the AI-powered real-time captioning service, which is an add-in to Microsoft PowerPoint called Presentation Translator. Students can use the Microsoft Translator app running on their laptop, phone or tablet to receive the captions in real time in the language of their choice.

“Language is the driving force of human evolution. It enhances collaboration, it enhances communication, it enhances learning. By having the subtitles in the RIT classroom, we are helping everyone learn better, to communicate better,” said Xuedong Huang, a technical fellow and head of the speech and language group for Microsoft AI and Research.

Huang started working on automatic speech recognition in the 1980s to help the 1.3 billion people in his native China avoid typing Chinese on keyboards designed for Western languages. The introduction of deep learning for speech recognition a few years ago, he noted, gave the speech technology human-like accuracy, leading to a machine translation system that translates sentences of news articles from Chinese to English and “the confidence to introduce the technology for every-day use by everyone.”

Continue onto Microsoft’s Blog Room to read the complete article.

Google Debuts Wheelchair Accessible Routes in Google Maps

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Google Maps will now show wheelchair accessible routes in cities like Boston, New York, and London.

The search giant said Thursday that people can now use Google Maps to get directions that are catered specifically to people with mobility problems.

Although people can use Google Maps to get around using public transit, those routes may not be best suited for people with wheelchairs or who have other disabilities.

Google (GOOG, -3.63%) said that it teamed with transit agencies to help it catalogue the best wheelchair-accessible routes. To find those routes, Google Maps users enter where they want to go, tap on the “Directions” tab, and then choose “wheelchair accessible” as one of the options under the “Routes” section.

The company is debuting the new feature in major metropolitan areas worldwide. In addition to Boston, New York, and London, the option is available for Tokyo, Mexico City, and Sydney.

“We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps,” Google product manager Rio Akasaka said in a blog post.

Continue onto Fortune to read the complete article.

This Smart Paint Talks To Canes To Help People Who Are Blind Navigate

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The Ohio State School for the Blind is pioneering new technology that causes canes to vibrate when it touches lines of traffic paint.

The crosswalk on a road in front of the Ohio State School for the Blind looks like one that might be found at any intersection. But the white stripes at the edges are made with “smart paint”–and if a student who is visually impaired crosses while using a cane with a new smart tip, the cane will vibrate when it touches the lines.

The paint uses rare-earth nanocrystals that can emit a unique light signature, which a sensor added to the tip of a cane can activate and then read. “If you pulse a laser or LED into these materials, they’ll pulse back at you at a very specific frequency,” says Josh Collins, chief technology officer at Intelligent Materials, the company that manufacturers the oxides that can be added to paint.

As the company explored how the paint could be used with autonomous cars–the paint could, for example, help a car recognize an intersection or lane, or provide markers that make GPS much more accurate–they realized that the paint could also be useful for people who are blind.

A person who is blind usually relies on the sound of parallel traffic rushing by them on the side to help stay oriented while crossing the street and not veer out of a crosswalk (in some cities, beeping walk signals also help). But that doesn’t always work well, and it’s particularly challenging on streets with less traffic.

“It’s much easier to stay oriented when you can hear those traffic sounds,” says Mary Ball-Swartwout, an orientation and mobility specialist at the Ohio State School for the Blind, who helps teach students skills for navigating. “When we talk about lower-traffic areas, that’s where [smart paint and a smart cane] could really have a lot of use.”

Students at the state-run boarding school, which has a large, enclosed campus in Columbus, Ohio, will help researchers test several crossings with the new paint on the school’s internal streets. The paint, which can be clear or gray on a gray surface so it’s essentially invisible to sighted people, could also be used in other locations. “We’re also thinking about providing them with guidance as they move down a sidewalk or guidance about whether or not they’ve arrived at a bus stop or at a certain destination,” says John Lannuti, a professor of materials science engineering at Ohio State University who connected Intelligent Materials with the School for the Blind.

GPS, which isn’t precise enough to distinguish between a street or a sidewalk–and occasionally doesn’t even recognize the right street–isn’t a foolproof system for navigation. But the paint could help someone identify, for example, if they are standing on the northwest or southwest corner of an intersection, or the exact location of an entrance to a building. The paint could also be used with other navigation tools.

“What we’re envisioning is sort of a Google Maps for the blind, that says, okay, you want to go to the barbershop, and sets a path for you and tells you when you’ve arrived because the cane senses a stripe of paint associated with the barbershop,” Lannuti says. “There may be a point where a smartphone connected to the paint speaks to the user.”

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

Good Jobs for People with Learning Disabilities

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Film editor

By Luke Redd

This category of disability sometimes gets overlooked, maybe because the different types of learning disabilities are so diverse. After all, one person might have imperfect reading, writing, or spelling abilities, whereas another person may have difficulty with using numbers, speaking, thinking, or listening. Even problems with memory, time management, and organization are sometimes considered learning disabilities.

Well-known conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD are only two of the many possible learning disabilities that can make it challenging to build a successful career. But you don’t have to be held back by your challenges. Some of humanity’s greatest contributors—such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein—may have had learning disabilities.

Although you might have challenges in one area, you may have real strengths and talents in another. For example, many people with at least one learning disability have valuable traits such as resilience, empathy, or creativity. Others seem to have a natural ability to speak in public or see the bigger picture. That’s why a lot of the careers that have already been mentioned (such as design and teaching) are often good jobs for people with learning disabilities. Here are a few other possibilities to consider:

Filmmaker

A lot of people with dyslexia or other learning disabilities have a heightened ability to distinguish different faces and objects from one another while also visualizing how various elements can come together into a single image. Frequently, they are also good at quickly processing a whole series of images. As a result, filmmaking is often a worthwhile path to explore.

Average yearly wages:

  • Film and video editors—$80,300
  • Directors of motion pictures—$105,550

Entrepreneur

Big-picture thinking is a trait that many professionals with learning disabilities use to their advantage. In fact, some of the world’s most successful business people have said that they achieved prosperity because of dyslexia or other learning difficulties. They’ve been able to find connections between ideas that other people can’t see. And they’ve had the courage to persist in the face of all kinds of challenges.

Average yearly wages: varies widely, from less than $50,000 to more than $200,000

Counselor

Since growing up with a learning disability can be very challenging, those who do often develop a lot of empathy for anyone else who is struggling. That’s why some people who have learning disabilities find that the field of counseling provides a good place for their talents. They can help comfort and advise other people with genuine understanding.

Average yearly wages:

  • Rehabilitation counselors—$38,040
  • Addictions counselors—$42,920
  • Mental health counselors—$45,080
  • School counselors—$56,490

Broadcast News Anchor or Correspondent

Special talents like public speaking come naturally to some people with learning disabilities. So it might be worth investigating careers that involve being in front of a camera or audience. Broadcast news is a fascinating option since you may be able to do a lot of public good by reporting on what’s happening in your community or around the nation.

Average yearly wages: $51,430

Nursing Assistant

This occupation is another option that can allow you to take advantage of your empathetic nature. Plus, providing basic care to medical patients or residents of nursing facilities can be a great way to experience a sense of pride and meaning. And you don’t have to learn much since the job typically involves relatively simple tasks like feeding, dressing, bathing, moving, and grooming patients.

Average yearly wages: $26,820

Source: Trade-Schools.net

Accessibility TechTalk: The Future Of Accessible IT

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Why does universal design matter, and how does it drive citizen engagement? How is the private sector approaching accessibility? What are some of the leading best practices that the government can learn from their partners in industry? What does the future hold for accessible IT? On December 13, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), supported by the General Services Administration (GSA), hosted a facilitated “Accessibility TechTalk” at Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC to explore these issues. During the event, federal and industry executives from across the technology sector joined forces to share experiences, learn from each other, and discuss the future of accessible IT.

Setting Best Practices

The session kicked off with a lively discussion about the importance of universal design in developing accessible technology. With modernization challenges such as mobile security and generational shifts, developers have an imperative to design products that have a broad sense of functions. If solutions are designed with all users in mind, and encompass the needs of people with disabilities, more users benefit overall.

Universal design is the mode to help companies develop accessible solutions.

Improving citizen engagement is a goal for both the government and the tech industry. Involving the user (i.e. citizen) in the design process generally results in better products. Attendees agreed that universal design is the mode to help companies develop accessible solutions. Companies must adopt a user-centric design approach throughout development, rather than reactively respond to user needs once a product has been launched. While agile development methods can create challenges from an accessibility standpoint, teams can use these techniques to highlight accessibility issues and apply user-centered design techniques from the beginning.

Offering some industry perspective, one Fortune 500 company challenged others to gauge how accessible they really are and to set measurable goals for improvement. With the Revised 508 Standards coming into effect on January 18, 2018, and the common appearance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in procurement and solicitation documents, compliance remains an important factor for accessible IT. Yet, both federal and industry representatives emphasized that the Section 508 standards should be seen as the starting line, not the finish line.

Section 508 standards should be seen as the starting line, not the finish line.

Another recommendation was for the government to involve senior management, executives, and policymakers in setting accessibility strategy. Without executive buy-in, an agency will struggle to embed an inclusive mindset into its culture. Without communication from senior executives echoing the need for accessible IT, agencies will ultimately fail to make accessibility a priority.

Challenges

The event also highlighted challenges and areas for improvement by both industry and government. While companies are developing innovative accessibility solutions using artificial intelligence and virtual reality, participants recognize that the journey to accessibility has only just begun. Though Section 508 defines compliance standards, there isn’t enough enforcement of 508 across the field. Standards should not be seen in isolation, but as part of the larger conversation around IT modernization.

Participants further pointed out the misguided assumption that technology alone solves accessibility challenges. Overreliance on technology means that individual user needs and access requirements aren’t considered in the design process. If accessibility was emphasized in higher education curricula, future developers and engineers would be better qualified to design solutions with accessibility in mind. The majority of TechTalk attendees agreed that greater training and awareness for technical and non-technical teams would help to push accessibility forward.

Accessibility is about improving access to systems, not limiting it.

Participants also discussed how Federal IT strategy is focused on modernization, upgrading legacy systems, moving to the cloud, and investing in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity, while a necessity, aims to limit access and protect information. However, the idea of building technology that is accessible for all relies on everyone being able to access tools and information. Several TechTalk participants emphasized that if the government invested a fraction of what it does on cybersecurity into improving access to systems, agencies would be better equipped to succeed with accessibility.

Key Takeaways

The event wrapped up with participants reflecting on key takeaways. It was clear that government and industry face similar issues when it comes to tackling accessibility. Moving forward, recommendations from the session include:

  • To shift how people approach accessibility, more public forums need to be created to incite citizen engagement.
  • Whether part of the design or testing phase, companies need to put the user at the center of the discussion.
  • Testing for accessibility provides a baseline standard and helps to better integrate users into the process.

Most importantly, participants highlighted that accessibility is a necessity, not a burden. To keep momentum, we need to broaden the mandate to provide universal access, and spread the word that accessible technology, designed for all, is the future.

For more information on accessible technology in the workplace, visit PEATworks.org.

Move Over Crutches and Knee Scooters, Now There’s Something Hands-Free and Much Better

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iwalkfree

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are around 6.5 million people in the country who use a cane, walker, or crutches to assist with their mobility. Many of these people are prescribed crutches or knee scooters for lower leg injuries. Yet those devices come with their own set of problems, making them difficult to use.

Crutches often lead to muscle atrophy, make it difficult to use the stairs, and if they fall to the floor it can become a gymnastics maneuver to try and pick them up. Millions of people are prescribed crutches or knee scooters for lower leg injuries. Now, those with lower leg injuries have a better option to consider, the iWALK2.0, which gives them hands-free ability to continue walking and having full use of their arms and hands.

“When people have the ability to try out the hands-free iWALK2.0, they can feel what a major difference and step up it is from using crutches or a knee scooter,” explains Brad Hunter, the innovator of iWALK2.0 and the chief executive officer of the company, iWalk Free. “It’s a revolutionary device that helps give people back their independence and mobility while they are healing from an injury. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Crutches are known for being uncomfortable, often making it difficult for people to remain independent. They take full use of someone’s arms and hands. Leg scooters are also difficult to use because they lack the ability for the person to feel they are getting around in a somewhat normal fashion. These problems are what motivated the iWALK2.0 innovator to find a better, more comfortable way to help heal a broken ankle. The original prototype was created by a farmer named Lance, and when Brad found it he purchased half of the company and innovated the device. Sales really took off when Harrison Ford was photographed wearing it. The rest, as they say, is history.

The muscles around your upper leg and hip atrophy by as much as 2% a day while on crutches. That’s not so with iWALK2.0. Also, one’s blood flow to the lower extremities is typically reduced when using crutches, thus hampering the healing process and the transition between using crutches and walking without them can be difficult, but the iWALK2.0 makes the transition seamless. The iWALK2.0 is an alternative to 2,000-year-old crutches, and won the I-Novo Award for “best design” of any medical product, as voted on by 120,000 medical experts from around the world at an international conference held in Germany.

The iWALK2.0 is hands-free, easy to learn to use, it’s intuitive, and safe. From the knee up, the leg is doing the same walking motion that comes naturally to it. The device is essentially a temporary lower leg, which gives people their independence and mobility back as they recover from an injury. The device is pain-free, and makes it possible for people to engage in many of their normal routine activities, such as walking the dog, grocery shopping, and walking up stairs.

Since 1999, the company has brought thousands of people a more comfortable way to heal from many common lower leg injuries. Made of lightweight aluminum and engineered plastic, the device fits onto the leg, and allows people to do what they have always done. The crutches and knee scooter alternative, it has been the subject of numerous scientific studies and has won multiple awards from Medtrade, the largest medical device show in North America.<

“If you hurt your leg, you have a choice between arm crutches or our leg crutch, the iWALK2.0,” adds Hunter. “With all the benefits of the iWALK2.0 there is no reason to ever want to choose crutches or a leg scooter. The iWalk will keep you moving comfortably throughout the duration of your recovery.”

Clinical research, the results of which are on the company website, shows that patients using the iWALK2.0 heal faster, have a higher sense of satisfaction, and a higher rate of compliance. The iWALK2.0 sells for $149 and is available online and through select retailers. Some insurance companies may cover the cost of the device. The device can be used with a cast or boot, and comes with a limited warranty. For more information on the iWALK2.0, visit the site at: http://iwalk-free.com. To see a video of the iWALK2.0 in action, visit:  iWalkFree.

About iWalk Free

The iWALK2.0 is a hands-free knee crutch, made by iWalk Free, that is a mobility device used instead of traditional crutches and knee scooters. It offers more comfort and independence, with the hands and arms remaining free. The device offers people a functional and independent lifestyle as they are recovering from many common lower leg injuries. For more information on the iWALK2.0, visit the site at: http://iwalk-free.com.

# # #

Source:

National Institutes of Health. How many people use assistive devices? https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/rehabtech/conditioninfo/Pages/people.aspx

Airbnb buys ‘Airbnb for disabled people’ startup Accomable in accessibility upgrade

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Airbnb, the accommodation and travel startup that is now valued at $31 billion, is today announcing an acquisition that points to how it wants to address the travel needs of more kinds of customers. It has bought Accomable, a startup based out of London that focuses on travel listings that are disabled-friendly. Along with the announcement Airbnb is refreshing its own accessibility features as the first stage in how it hopes to develop them.

As part of the acquisition, Accomable will be winding down its business, co-founder and CEO Srin Madipalli said in an interview this week here in London, as the startup’s team begins work on building out both more specific features for the Airbnb platform, and a community of hosts who can accommodate disabled visitors — and in turn, to attract more of those looking to book disabled-friendly travel.

This will start with accommodation for those in wheelchairs first, he said, with an invitation being extended to Accomable’s existing hosts to list on Airbnb as part of the transition. Accomable had amassed listings for 1,100 properties in 60 countries with details about step-free access, other accessibility adaptations and with photos to show it all to would-be visitors.

Over time, the idea will be to create communities for travellers with other accessibility needs, and potentially move into areas that are aligned with Airbnb’s own expansion into Experiences once you get to your destination, which is another important area of travel where those needing special accessibility have been underserved.

“It’s something that has frustrated me from the start, that we weren’t able to do everything for everyone,” Madipalli said. “One of the challenges in an early startup is that you have constrained resources, but within Airbnb we can diversify.”

And hopefully grow: he also added that one of Accomable’s biggest issues up to now has been that demand for places has far exceeded the supply of available listings.

Airbnb — which has booked accommodation for 260 million guests and currently features over four million listings — is coupling the news with some accessibility announcements of its own. While the company has offered the ability to search for whether a property is wheelchair accessible, the company now acknowledges that this wasn’t cutting it.

“Guests weren’t getting the information they needed to find the right homes, nor the confidence that the home they selected would actually be accessible for them,” Airbnb notes in a blog post. Now, the company is updating and enhancing this with more detail, including whether there is step-free entry to rooms, and if entryways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. These search features are now live on the web version of Airbnb and will soon get added to its iOS and Android apps.

Financial terms of the Accomable acquisition are not being disclosed, after the startup raised less than $500,000, mostly from angel investors. For now, Madipalli will be the only one who is relocating to San Francisco, with the rest of the small team continuing to work out of London.

Accomable was founded in 2015 by Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, who together previously had co-founded a magazine and online community called Disability Horizons. The two friends are avid travellers but found that it was a lot of work to organise trips: both have Spinal Musular Atrophy and use wheelchairs.

In the very crowded market of online resources out there for tourists of other stripes, they saw a gap: planning accommodation, travel and activities around accessibility needs should be as straightforward as planning for any other need, they thought. And thus Accomable was born.

“The original idea we had was to solve a problem that Martyn and I specifically had,” Madipalli recalled. “We said to ourselves, ‘we can fix this problem with tech.’”

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