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.

Alice Sheppard Proves It’s Time To Redefine Virtuosity

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It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.

Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson’s bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.

And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you’re missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.

“Often for non-disabled audience members,” she says, “the work isn’t real until they see the chair.” Curious requests to know why Sheppard uses a wheelchair are telling of how disability typically traffics in the public imagination. “The movement and the art somehow challenge what they think is possible,” she says.

Excellence in dance is often de ned at the exclusion of disability. The idea of virtuosic performance involves dancers with precise technical control over each body part. The best dance, it’s often assumed, is performed by artists who are intensely able-bodied.

But Sheppard’s work models a truth that is rarely understood among dance audiences: Disability does not signify incompleteness. In fact, it offers novel pathways to several movement styles, each of them whole and generative of unique choreographic forms.

Disability Is A Creative Force

Alice Sheppard initially became a dancer to make good on a dare. It was 2004 and she was a professor in medieval studies at Penn State. During a conference on dis- ability studies, she attended a performance by Homer Avila, a renowned dancer and choreographer who had lost one of his legs to cancer. Sheppard got to talking with him in a bar after his performance. He dared her to take a dance class. About a year after Avila died, she did—and shortly after resigned from academia.

What hooked Sheppard was a question that has motivated her work ever since: How can we move beyond questions of ability to culture and aesthetics? In popular culture, disability often stands in for a vague and generalized adversity. Sheppard wanted to find a radically different process.

“Disability,” Sheppard writes in her “Intersectional Disability Arts Manifesto,” “is more than the deficit of diagnosis. It is an aesthetic, a series of intersecting cultures and a creative force.”

After leaving academia, Sheppard began exploring the techniques of dancing in a wheelchair and learning how disability can generate its own movement. She trained, performed and toured with several physically integrated dance companies, including AXIS Dance Company, Infinity Dance Theater, Full Radius Dance and Marc Brew Dance Company.

Eventually, she launched the New York–based Kinetic Light, which has been invited to residencies at places like the prestigious Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography and Gibney, and to perform at Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out. She chose to form Kinetic Light as a production company rather than a dance company in an attempt to bring the work “outside of the arts bubble,” as she puts it on her website.

The Pursuit Of Wheel Joy

Intersectionality—a term that has become increasingly conspicuous in the dance world—is what activates Sheppard’s work from content to process. As a queer disabled woman of color, she makes dance that explores the multiple identities she inhabits. DESCENT, for instance, imagines a queer and interracial love affair between the mythical figures Andromeda and Venus, performed through the disabled bodies of Sheppard and Lawson.

In their wheelchairs, the dancers pursue what Sheppard often calls “wheel joy.” The pleasures of wheeled movement are palpable when the chairs produce beautifully tight and precise turns, often using inclined planes to harness momentum.

During one sequence, Sheppard lies downstage on her back. Lawson tips forward and launches over Sheppard as her wheels lift behind, her stomach resting on Sheppard’s shins. The dancers spread their arms and hold each other’s stare with intimate tension. Lawson’s wheels spin silently, each spoke catching the cool hues of the lights.

The movements do not represent the triumph over disability. They do not shore up myths about independence. And, even when Sheppard and Lawson dance without their wheelchairs, they do not scorn the wheelchair.

The intersectionality that drives Sheppard’s work also leads her to collaborate with other artists. To design the ramp for DESCENT, Sheppard tapped Sara Hendren, an artist and design researcher for the Accessible Icon Project, which seeks to dislodge the staid blue-and- white wheelchair symbol as the central iconography of disability. And Sheppard turned to Michael Maag, also a wheelchair user, to design the production’s intricate projection system.

Just as she dispenses with the notion that one’s identity can be simplified to just one thing, Sheppard dispenses with the idea that disability artistry must be produced by a sole pioneer. She stresses the interdisciplinary nature of disability art, and recognizes the lineage, influence and conversation amongst artists of the past and the present.

Continue onto DANCE Magazine to read the complete article.

Huey Lewis Opens Up About Sudden Hearing Loss: ‘I Haven’t Come to Grips with the Fact That I May Never Sing Again’

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In mid-April, Huey Lewis shocked fans when he canceled all upcoming tour dates, citing a battle with Meniere’s disease that robbed him of his hearing. While he hopes the health problems are treatable, the “Power of Love” rocker says he’s facing the possibility that he may never return to live performance.

It’s a reality that Lewis, 67, admits he’s finding hard to accept. “I haven’t come to grips with the fact that I may never sing again,” the Huey Lewis and the News frontman said in an interview with the Today show on Monday. “I’m still hoping I’m gonna get better. They say a positive attitude is important.”

Meniere’s disease is an inner ear disorder that produces feelings of vertigo, as well as tinnitus (or ringing) and hearing loss. Lewis says he first noticed the symptoms in March during a performance in Dallas. “As I walked to the stage, it sounded like there was a jet engine going on,” he continued. “I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t find pitch. Distorted. Nightmare. It’s cacophony.”

In a tragic twist, the lifelong rocker says his hearing loss is most severe when it comes to music. “Even though I can hear you, we can talk, I can talk on the phone — I can’t sing,” he told Today‘s Jenna Bush Hager. “I can’t hear music. I can do everything but what I love to do the most, which is a drag.”

While there’s no known cure for the disease, Lewis says that his hearing may improve with a new dietary regimen. “No caffeine, lower salt, and keep your fingers crossed. It can get better. It just hasn’t yet.”

On April 13, Lewis posted a message to social media announcing the cancellation of all upcoming tour dates because his condition made it “impossible” to continue singing for the time being.

Continue onto PEOPLE to read the complete article.

Special Olympics USA to host its first-ever video game tournament

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Esports is coming to the Special Olympics. The organization announced Tuesdaythat its first ever video game tournament will take place on July 2 as part of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

Special Olympics is partnering with Microsoft’s Xbox division for the tournament, in which teams will compete in rounds of Forza Motorsport 7.

Competitors have been chosen from qualifier events that took place at Microsoft stores last month, creating eight “Unified” teams that will consist of one athlete with and one athlete without an intellectual disability.

“Many of our athletes are avid gamers and research indicates playing video games can potentially boost cognitive and motor skills of people with intellectual disabilities,” said Beth Knox in the announcement, who is the president and CEO of this year’s games.

Continue onto CNet to read the complete article.

Getty is trying to bring disability inclusion to stock photos

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Nearly one in five people have a disability, but just 2% of publicly available imagery depicts their lives. The photo company, alongside Oath and the National Disability Leadership Alliance, is working to change that.

In the stock photo world, images of people with disabilities tend to cluster at two poles. “They’re either depicted as superhuman or super pathetic,” says Rebecca Swift, Getty Images’ director of visual insights. “There doesn’t seem to be that broad range that you get with able-bodied people.”

Getty has seen searched for disability-related images spike in the past year–“wheelchair access” searches were up 371% from 2016 to 2017, and autism-related searches climbed 434%–and the issue of representation became impossible to ignore.

That also became clear to Oath, the parent company of Yahoo and Tumblr, as they were working to set up a website highlighting their work around accessibility in tech and having difficulty finding representative images. So the company, with consult from the National Disability Leadership Alliance, tapped Getty to help change the current representation paradigm from the inside out. Launched May 17, The Disability Collection, a new subcategory of Getty images, will feature people with disabilities in everyday settings.

What you notice first are people’s faces. In contrast to those common images that focus on a person’s hands gripping a wheelchair, or frame a blind person before a window to show what they can’t see–or depict the blur of a prosthetic leg as it strikes a track–the images in the new Getty collection focus on human interaction and people’s facial expressions.

Of course, there are challenges to capturing a range of disabilities. Visual media gravitates toward visual cues, but not all disabilities are necessarily visible. “That’s why the wheelchair tends to be the icon of disability,” Swift says. “This project for us as a business is about getting it all down and saying: Don’t just focus on wheelchairs. Think about the entire range, and think about how people with disabilities want to be depicted.”

For Getty, that meant building out a set of guidelines for photographers in their network to follow. They emphasize focusing on mundane moments from everyday–texting, taking selfies, grocery shopping. A lot of the guidelines come from focus groups with disability organizations that Oath hosted and shared with Getty. “We’ve taken input from a host of advocacy groups about how people in their communities want to be depicted,” Swift says.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

One-Handed Player Shaquem Griffin Makes NFL History With Seahawks Draft

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Shaquem Griffin just made history.

The University of Central Florida linebacker became the first one-handed player to be drafted into the NFL after being picked by the Seattle Seahawks on the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.

Griffin — whose twin brother Shaquill also played for UCF and is now a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks — was born with a congenital birth defect that affected his ability to use his left hand and had the extremity amputated when he was a child because of extreme pain.

Following his pick, which took place in the fifth round, the 22-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, told ESPN that he was speechless from the news.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say. I was trying to get the words out, but I couldn’t talk.”

Griffin had previously told multiple outlets that he expected to be picked up by a team during this year’s draft. But despite making history, the athlete told Today he would rather others not concentrate on his disability.

“One day I’m going to be called ‘Shaquem Griffin the football player’ and not ‘Shaquem Griffin the one-hand wonder,’” he told the outlet. “I don’t need that name. Just call me Shaquem Griffin the football player. I’m good with that.”

Continue onto PEOPLE 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.

The 2018 Winter Paralympics Kick Off Today in PyeongChang

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Friday’s Google Doodle celebrates the opening of the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang.

This year’s competition is the biggest winter Paralympics to date, with more athletes and countries participating than ever before. More than 560 athletes will vie for more than 80 medals in six sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, Para ice hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling.

Three countries will be making their first Winter Paralympics appearance in South Korea. North Korea and Georgia are sending two athletes each, while Tajikistan has entered their first athlete.

The U.S. is sending the largest delegation of 68 athletes, with Canada sending 52. As with the Olympic Games, Russia’s athletes will again be competing as part of a neutral delegation, called the Neutral Paralympic Athletes, after a doping scandal resulted in Russia’s disqualification from both the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics.

The Winter Paralympics have been held since 1976, when the Games debuted in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.

Google’s colorful Doodle depicts a line-up of athletes racing in all six qualifying sports.

The Paralympics will run from March 9-18 this year.

Continue onto TIME to read the complete article.