Mobile Accommodation Solution for Workplace Accomodation

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.4 percent of people with disabilities were employed in March 2017, as opposed to 68.7 percent of people without disabilities. Therefore, creating better support for job applicants and employees is critical to creating a diverse pool of talent in the workplace, optimizing the productivity of every worker, and increasing job satisfaction.

The Mobile Accommodation Solution (MAS) app – the iOS version of which is now available in the app store – is a first-of-its kind tool that helps employers and others manage workplace accommodation requests throughout the employment lifecycle. Using the app, employers can track the status of requests; access fillable forms; and store, print and export records that can be imported into enterprise information systems. The app was developed by West Virginia University’s Center for Disability Inclusion in partnership with the Job Accommodation Network and IBM; funding came from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

Meet The Kenyan Engineer Who Created Gloves That Turn Sign Language Into Audible Speech

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Kenyan engineer is seated at work station holding up the sign language glove wtih his right hand

Twenty-five-year-old Kenyan engineer and innovator, Roy Allela, has created a set of gloves that will ultimately allow better communication between those who are deaf and those who are hearing yet may not necessarily know sign language. The Sign-IO gloves in essence translate signed hand movements into audible speech.

Allela’s gloves feature sensors located on each finger that detect the positioning of each finger, including how much each finger will bend into a given position. The glove connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone which then will leverage use the text-to-speech function to provide translated speech to the hand gestures of a person signing.

The inspiration behind the Sign-IO gloves comes from the personal experience of having a young niece who is deaf. He nor his family knows sign language and often struggled to adequately and consistently communicate with her.

“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” Allela shared in an interview with The Guardian.

Allela’s vision for the gloves is to have them placed in schools for special needs children throughout his home country of Kenya and then expand from there to positively impact the experiences of as many deaf or hearing-impaired children as possible. His gloves are amongst a number of cutting-edge projects that are contributing to the growing market of assistive technology devices that seek to provide aid to those with specific impairments and limitations.

Continue on to Because of Them We Can to read the complete article.

Wheelchair users may soon have more chances to hail Lyft, Uber rides

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BER driver assisting man in a wheelchair

As Lyft and Uber became part of the nation’s transportation systems, people who use non-folding wheelchairs felt left on the sidelines because the cars couldn’t accommodate them. That’s slowly starting to change. The two San Francisco companies on July 1 began collecting 10 cents on every ride in California to go to an accessibility fund established by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The agency has not yet said how and where that money will be allocated, but its purpose is to make sure that the apps offer sufficient vehicles with “ramps, lifts and adequate space to accommodate users who cannot leave their wheelchairs during a trip.” The fund grew out of a state bill passed last year, SB1376, requiring the companies to provide accessible services.

Meanwhile, Lyft, which so far has referred wheelchair users to call paratransit, taxi companies or other third parties, is starting a pilot on Tuesday in San Francisco and Los Angeles to offer five wheelchair-accessible vehicles in each market. Although the number seems modest, each will operate for 14 hours straight (with different drivers), a time frame spanning the most popular ride-request periods, according to Lyft.

The cars, modified 2019 Toyota Sienna minivans, will be driven by trained employees of paratransit provider First Transit. Lyft riders will be able to summon them via the app and will pay the same prices as for similar Lyft rides.

Lyft offers bonuses to independent-contractor drivers who happen to have wheelchair-accessible vehicles, though the company was unable to say how many people have them.

Continue on to SFC.com to read the complete article.

Elon Musk is making implants to link the brain with a smartphone

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image of a memory boost implant inside head

Elon Musk wants to insert Bluetooth-enabled implants into your brain, claiming the devices could enable telepathy and repair motor function in people with injuries.

Speaking recently, the CEO of Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX said his Neuralink devices will consist of a tiny chip connected to 1,000 wires measuring one-tenth the width of a human hair.

The chip features a USB-C port, the same adapter used by Apple’s Macbooks, and connects via Bluebooth to a small computer worn over the ear and to a smartphone, Musk said.

“If you’re going to stick something in a brain, you want it not to be large,” Musk said, playing up the device’s diminutive size. Neuralink, a startup founded by Musk, says the devices can be used by those seeking a memory boost or by stroke victims, cancer patients, quadriplegics or others with congenital defects.

The company says up to 10 units can be placed in a patient’s brain. The chips will connect to an iPhone app that the user can control.”

The devices will be installed by a robot built by the startup. Musk said the robot, when operated by a surgeon, will drill 2 millimeter holes in a person’s skull. The chip part of the device will plug the hole in the patient’s skull.

“The interface to the chip is wireless, so you have no wires poking out of your head. That’s very important,” Musk added.

Continue on to CNN News to read the complete article.

Meet Grace Hopper Celebration 2019’s Honoree Jhillika Kumar

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Jhillika Kumar poses outside smiling wearing a white blouse and smiling

The Student of Vision Abie Award honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build. This year’s winner is Georgia Tech student Jhillika Kumar.

When Jhillika’s parents brought home an iPad for the first time, they could not have predicted how much it would improve their family’s lives. Accessible technology, for the first time ever, allowed her autistic and nonverbal brother to enjoy his passion for music. It distracted his mind from the physical world of disability. She watched her brother instantly swipe and tap swiftly across the interface. The smile that it brought him is the smile she wants to bring to millions of others with disabilities.

Jhillika’s family experience ignited her passion to advocate for disability rights and a career driven by a mission to create an inclusive world. She is a UX/UI designer, aspiring entrepreneur, and a third-year Georgia Tech student with a desire to improve the lives of the differently abled. She advocates to lift the barriers that exist within technology, design, and even policy, and empowers the largest underserved group by bringing attention to the importance of empathy and mutuality in design.

Knowing the impact that UX Design could make on someone who once couldn’t communicate, Jhillika decided to pursue a focus in computer science and interaction design through Georgia Tech’s undergraduate Computational Media program and Digital Media master’s program. Over the summer of her sophomore year of college, she interned at Disney where she created a short film to raise awareness to the product teams on the capacity that their technology had to empower entire communities of untapped potential, purely through improved accessibility. Expanding on this, Jhillika presented a talk at TEDxGeorgiaTech last fall, where she spoke about the importance of accessibility in the industry.

All of Jhillika’s efforts in this space have come together in her current initiative: an on-campus organization she founded called AxisAbility. In order to augment the capabilities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, AxisAbility is creating a virtual platform to understand family needs and match them with the technology engineered to directly generate physiological changes in the brain to improve cognitive function.

At the School of Interactive Computing, Jhillika currently works in academia, collaborating with Dr. Gregory Abowd and Ivan Riobo to study how non-speaking autistic individuals could use technology-led therapies and assistive technologies to communicate. The study looks at evaluating cognitive competency through eye-gaze tracking software (retinal movement). This could provide vast insight into their cognitive abilities. Jhillika returned to school to her junior year of college engulfed with the spirit of empathy for the differently abled, and was invited as a speaker at World Information Architecture Day and FutureX Live, as well as Women in XR. Her initiatives won her the Alvin M. Ferst Leadership and Entrepreneur Award for 2019 awarded by Georgia Tech.

Continue on to “How Our College Startup’s Autism App Is Flowering Into Fruition – Enlighten Mentors to read Jhillika’s personal story and how you can help her mission.

Google announces literary activities to help kids evaluate and analyze media as they browse the Internet

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Mom and Daughter are lying in bed together looking at an ipad and smiling

Google is pleased to announce the addition of 6 new media literacy activities to the 2019 edition of Be Internet Awesome. Designed to help kids analyze and evaluate media as they navigate the Internet, the new lessons address educators’ growing interest in teaching media literacy.

They were developed in collaboration with Anne Collier, executive director of The Net Safety Collaborative, and Faith Rogow, PhD, co-author of The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy and a co-founder of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. Because media literacy is essential to safety and citizenship in the digital age, the news lessons complement Be Internet Awesome ’s digital safety and citizenship topics.

Overview of new activities:
1. Share with Care: That’s not what I meant!
● Overview: Students will learn the importance of asking the question: “How might others interpret what I share?” They’ll learn to read visual cues people use to communicate information about themselves and to draw conclusions about others.

2. Share with Care: Frame it
● Overview: Students will learn to see themselves as media creators. They’ll understand that media makers make choices about what to show and what to keep outside the frame. They’ll apply the concept of framing to understand the difference between what to make visible and public online and what to keep “invisible.”

3. Don’t Fall for Fake: Is that really true?
● Overview: Students will learn how to apply critical thinking to discern between what’s credible and non-credible in the many kinds of media they run into online.

4. Don’t Fall for Fake: Spotting disinformation online
● Overview: Students will learn how to look for and analyze clues to what is and isn’t reliable information online.

5. It’s Cool to Be Kind: How words can change a picture
● Overview: Students will learn to make meaning from the combination of pictures and words and will understand how a caption can change what we think a picture is communicating. They will gain an appreciation for the power of their own words, especially when combined with pictures they post.

6. When in Doubt, Talk It Out: What does it mean to be brave?
● Overview: Students will think about what it means to be brave online and IRL, where they got their ideas about “brave” and how media affect their thinking about it.

Expanding resources to families
YMCA
We teamed up with the YMCA across six cities to host bilingual workshops for parents to help teach families about online safety and digital citizenship with Be Internet Awesome and help families create healthy digital habits with the Family Link app. The workshops, designed for parents, coincide with June’s National Internet Safety Month and come at the start of the school summer holidays.

Continue on here to read more.

CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Showcases Innovations For a More Inclusive World

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Photo by Lee Choo

By Jacob Bennett

The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference has a specific purpose — to advance knowledge and the use of technology that improves the lives of individuals with disabilities — but its impact is wide-ranging.

In addition to companies that specialize in such things as captioning technology for people who are deaf and hard of hearing and voice-controlled devices for people who are visually impaired, the 34th annual conference, held March 11-15 in Anaheim, was attended by representatives from banks, grocery stores, retail chains, medical companies, airlines and many more companies with vast customer bases.

If attendees weren’t developing assistive technology, they were certainly interested in using it.

At a corner booth in the bustling exhibit hall, the three-person team from Feelif, a tech company from Slovenia, found themselves addressing a steady stream of potential business partners. There was no time to check out other areas of the conference, as the Feelif team was busy showing off their premium tablet for people who are blind and visually impaired, which uses vibrations to simulate the experience of feeling Braille dots.

“It’s very busy,” said Rebeka Zerovnik, the company’s international business development associate. “We don’t have enough people to work the booth.”

The 34th CSUN Assistive Technology Conference — organized by the California State University, Northridge Center on Disabilities, and known in the industry as the CSUN Conference — attracted exhibitors, researchers, consumers, practitioners, government representatives and speakers from around the world.

For the first time, the conference was held at the Anaheim Marriott after a long run in San Diego. The change of venue didn’t seem to hurt attendance — final attendance numbers hadn’t been tallied early this week, but attendance approached 5,000.

Peter Korn, director of accessibility for Amazon Lab126, a research and development team that designs and engineers high-profile consumer electronic devices such as Fire tablets and Amazon Echo, said this was his 28th CSUN Conference, beginning when he was with Berkeley Systems, which developed the outSPOKEN screen reader so that Macintosh computers could be used by people who were blind or partially sighted, and continuing for the past five years with Amazon. In that time, he said, the company has dramatically expanded its footprint at the conference.

“CSUN is the premier assistive technology conference in the world,” Korn said. “Of course we’re here.”

The conference included more than 300 educational sessions, with updates on state-of-the-art technology as well as insights into where the industry is headed. For example, attendees could learn about how artificial intelligence will be critical to improving assistive technology applications, and best practices for including people with disabilities in usability studies.

A seventh annual Journal on Technology and People with Disabilities will be published after the conference and will highlight the proceedings from the conference’s science and research track.

A highlight of the conference was the exhibit hall, where 122 booths showcased time-tested and brand-new solutions. A wristband used sonar to locate obstacles near people with visual impairments, then vibrated to help navigate around the obstacles. An app connected people who are blind or have low vision to trained agents who serve as “on-demand eyes.” A real-time transcription and captioning service helped students who are deaf and hard of hearing access distance-learning courses.

The new venue kept all informational sessions and the exhibit hall on the same floor, which had not been the case in San Diego.

“We were very pleased to see that the attendance stayed strong at our new venue for the 2019 event,” Sandy Plotin, managing director of the Center on Disabilities. “The benefits of having all the conference activities consolidated on one floor in a ‘mini-convention’ space seems to be providing the positive outcome we were looking for. I’ve heard people say they’ve been able to network even more, and that’s probably the most important component to having a successful conference experience.”

Johanna Lucht, the first NASA engineer who is deaf and who has taken an active role in the control room during a crewed test flight, delivered a keynote address that aimed to remove barriers to developing assistive technology. She noted that many of the most beneficial technologies for people with disabilities were not designed with that purpose. As an example, she noted that ridesharing services such as Uber removed potential miscommunications that occurred when people who are deaf and hard of hearing ordered taxis through interpreter services — the new apps have enabled people to type in exact addresses.

Conversely, closed captioning can benefit even people without disabilities: For example, it enables people to understand what sportscasters on TV are saying in a noisy and crowded bar.

Lucht noted that assistive technologies are designed to level the playing field for people with disabilities, which implies a sense of “catching up.” Instead, she advocated for designers to think in terms of “universal design,” identifying potential barriers and fixing them before products are launched. She showed a zoo fence that would disrupt the view for visitors in wheelchairs. An assistive design would install a ramp to see over the fence, she said. A universal-design alternative would be a see-through barrier that provides views for everyone.

“The point I’m making is, society is too hung up on the definition behind assistive technology,” Lucht said. “This technology can also benefit everyone.”

STEM Professor Receives Award to Study Technologies for Disability Community

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Ashley Shew standing on porch with arm around pillar smiling

By Leslie King

The trichotillomania bracelet looks unassuming, just like any other smart technology worn around the wrist. But rather than counting steps or heartbeats, it serves another purpose.

The wristlet vibrates an alarm when it tracks the user subconsciously beginning to pull out strands of hair. For those with trichotillomania, instead of following the compulsion to yank out their hair, the wireless device helps them notice the gestures and change their behavior.

This tool, along with other technologies for the disability community, intrigues Ashley Shew, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Science, Technology, and Society. In July 2018, she received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award that will allow her to investigate the personal accounts of people with disabilities, as well as their opinions of the technologies designed for them.

The prestigious honor, given to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research and education, is better known as the CAREER award.

“I’m interested in the storylines that disabled people tell about their bodies and how their relationships with technology differ from popular and dominant narratives we have in our society,” said Shew, who herself identifies as disabled.

Her research focuses on discrepancies between how scientists and engineers understand and explain their work related to disability and the actual needs and wants of people with disabilities. Shew said there is a disconnect between media-based depictions and reality within the realm of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and technology design.

“This means people aren’t always designing with real users in mind, but with ideas about what users want based on the entertainment media,” she said. “This is problematic because nondisabled people create and depict disabled people. There is little authentic disability representation in the media, so all these media-driven narratives about technology get fed into engineering.”

Shew cites several misleading media-supported tropes. Negative stereotypes encourage the public to view disabled people with pity, as sinners or fakers, or as resource burdens. And while the trichotillomania bracelet is small and unobtrusive, many technologies, such as wheelchairs or exoskeletons, are not. Some people who could benefit from viable supportive devices might shy away from them to avoid public skepticism or castigation.

And the reverse depictions are just as misrepresentative.

“There are also tropes about inspiration and courage,” Shew said. “The one people lean on, which I’ll be assessing through this grant, involves a focus on inspiration and courage, along the lines of, ‘You’re such an inspiration because you’re disabled in public.’ If you’re not inspiring, you’re courageous to overcome what you’re overcoming. If we believe you’re truly disabled, then if you’re out having a regular life, you’re considered heroic in ways that don’t map onto real life at all.”

Designers often create technologies with this trope in mind. An example of this is a surge of 3D-printed hands for young amputees. Marketed with terms such as “superhero” hands or arms, the branding presents these children as different from people without disabilities. Shew describes this phenomenon as techno-ableism, when technology makers try to empower others with helpful tools but use rhetoric that has the opposite effect. As part of her CAREER award, Shew will publish a book about this phenomenon.

Shew will also seek to counter unrealistic portrayals of people with disabilities by educating creators of disability technologies. Her research will incorporate interviews, memoirs, and the compilation of existing materials into classroom public outreach, an open-access website, and a textbook to complement existing STEM educational resources.

Shew is collaborating with Alexander Leonessa and Raffaella De Vita, associate professors in the College of Engineering, who have also received CAREER awards. In 2019, she will work with them through Virginia Tech’s STEMABILTY, a summer camp for students with disabilities.

A Virginia Tech faculty member since 2011, Shew received a Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2017 and a Diversity Award in 2016, both from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Also in 2016, she received the Sally Bohland Award for Excellence in Access and Inclusion from the Virginia Tech office of Services for Students with Disabilities.

Shew co-edited Spaces for the Future: A Companion to Philosophy of Technology with Joseph Pitt, a Virginia Tech professor of philosophy. She is also the author of Animal Constructions and Technological Knowledge, published by Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield.

Shew is the fourth faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to receive the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award in the past several years.

Source: vtnews.vt.edu

 

Cox and Comcast Focusing on Accessibility

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The Cox Communications new Contour voice remote, powered by Comcast’s X1 platform, empowers customers who have limited mobility or dexterity or a visual disability. With the push of a button, you can search, surf and record your favorite programs, all with the sound of your voice.

Plus, the new Contour features Voice Guidance, a “talking guide” developed by Comcast, that speaks what’s on the screen, including program descriptions and navigation options. Now individuals with accessibility needs can easily explore thousands of TV shows and movies.

This proactive step is not limited to their product offering. Cox is also hiring individuals with disabilities to test their products.

Mona Lisa Faris, president and publisher of DIVERSEability Magazine spoke with representatives from Cox and Comcast to discuss how their collaboration is helping both companies become more proactive.

Ilene Albert, Executive Director, Value Added Services and Diversity Products at Cox, began with some history behind this new focus at Cox.

“Last December we launched a center of excellence for accessibility, to focus on developing products, support and services for our customers who have disabilities and accessibility needs. We are very excited about this; we work with all of our peers across the product organization to make sure we are looking at the broad picture of accessibility,” Albert explained. “We partner well with Comcast, who has been the leader in helping develop products for the accessibility community.

Jennifer Cobb is Director of Diversity Products at Cox. She told us, “Last year, we worked to set up the business processes so that, going forward, we were included in all new product development. One of the things we are working toward is integrating more research with persons with disabilities into our overall processes.”

Thomas Wlodkowski is the Vice President of Accessibility at Comcast. He was brought in to start up an accessibility office and, because he is visually impaired, he provides a unique perspective for Comcast, helping the company open products and services to the widest possible audience.

“I’ve been in the accessibility field before it was really considered a field—since the early 1990s,” Wlodkowski reports. At Comcast, our program is founded on three pillars: customer experience, product capabilities and infrastructure. My team is in the product group, and we launched voice guidance, which enables people who are visually impaired to navigate onscreen menus. We have an accessibility lab in our Philadelphia corporate headquarters that we use to drive employee awareness, and we also bring external community members in to help with user testing. It’s a big piece of our effort.”

Wlodkowski went on to say, “There is a saying in the disability civil rights community: Nothing about us without us. We really need to bring people with disabilities into the development process to find out where the barriers are.”

“At Comcast, we are building a lot of the accessibility solutions that, essentially, Cox would have had to build on their own. They get accessibility as part of the relationship. Then the two accessibility teams can partner to share best practices.”

“X1 has been a great product for us,” Wlodkowski said. “It’s based in the cloud, so we don’t have to install additional software or hardware in the box. We can roll new features in—and as we do that, Cox can also pick them up as well.”

New features were recently added just as Tom said, as Cox released a statement earlier this month announcing that YouTube is now available for Cox customers via their Contour app.

As Tom Wlodkowski pointed out, “By building accessible products, it builds a better product overall for everyone.” Accessibility is a fairly new frontier, as more and more companies realize that dedicating teams to ensure accessibility not only improves the products offered to those with disabilities but it provides a better experience for all customers.

Cox’s licensed version of Comcast’s X1 platform, Contour, is now its flagship video product.. And fans of The Voice who have Comcast or Cox as their cable provider will be happy to know they can now use their remote to cast their votes on the popular live show. The Contour/X1 technology is truly changing the television viewing experience, offering something for everybody to love!

The Ability Hacks: The story of two hackathon teams embracing the transformative power of technology

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Microsoft's Hackathon

This week is the Microsoft One Week Hackathon, where employees from around the company work tirelessly to “hack” solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. The opportunity to empower people through technology, particularly those with disabilities, has never been more important.

Back in 2014, we had 10 ability hack projects, last year we had 150 projects and 850 people, and this year – well, it’s going to be exciting to see. This is a wonderful testament to our employees and their passion for innovation and conviction in the importance of empowering every person and organization to achieve more.

An inspiration for many was two Ability Hack projects that won the company hackathon in 2014 and 2015, and this year we will be giving away copies to hackers of a new book covering the journeys of those hackathon teams. “The Ability Hacks” shares the behind-the-scenes stories of the hackers who pioneered two innovative hacks-turned-solutions used today by people with disabilities around the world – the Ability EyeGaze Hack team and Learning Tools Hack team.

We hope this book, and the journeys these teams have been on, can help spark a conversation about the transformative power of technology, and encourage engineers and developers to build the next wave of inclusive technology. I encourage you to read, and as a teaser, here are a few highlights:

EyeGaze: Reinstating independence by revolutionizing mobility

“Until there is a cure for ALS, technology can be that cure.” – Steve Gleason, former NFL player

In 2014, former NFL player Steve Gleason, who has a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sent an email to Microsoft challenging employees to develop a technology that could allow him to drive a wheelchair with his eyes. A group of software engineers, program managers, marketers and advocates formed the Ability Eye Gaze hack team and accepted this challenge ahead of the 2014 Microsoft hackathon.

Through hard work, determination and despite a few twists and turns, the team collaborated to build a solution complete with duct tape that allowed Steve to control his wheelchair with his eyes. This invention had impact, ultimately inspiring the formation of the Microsoft Research NExT Enable team, who have continued working on technology for people with ALS and other disabilities. This has already resulted in a new feature named Eye Control, which was developed in collaboration with the Windows team, and was included in Windows 10 last year.
Learning Tools: Transforming education and learning in the classroom
“If you design things for the greatest accessibility – Learning Tools is like that – it makes everything accessible to all, and why wouldn’t we want that?” – A fourth-grade teacher

While Learning Tools involved a different set of players in a different part of Microsoft, its story shares the same lessons, opportunities, passion and impact experienced by the Eye Gaze team. Winner of the 2015 Hackathon, Learning Tools helps students with dyslexia learn how to read and is now transforming education for teachers, students, administrators and parents.

What’s amazing about this story was the diversity of the team, which included developers, a reading team and a speech pathologist, working extensively with students and educators to create the product. While originally created for folks with dyslexia, the Learning Tools team is seeing benefits to folks with dysgraphia, ADHD, English language learners and emerging readers. Today, Learning Tools is incorporated into apps, Office, and Edge, reaching 13 million active users in more than 40 languages. Like the Eye Gaze team before it, the Learning Tools team evolved from a passionate hackathon into a strategic business.You can even read “The Ability Hacks” using Learning Tools, just download the PDF and open in Microsoft Edge.

‘It’s not about the technology. It’s about the people.

As Peter Lee, corporate vice president, Microsoft Healthcare, shares in the book’s foreword, “A focus on inclusion helps a team become more empathetic with its users, which in turn affects deeply the design and development process of products.”

Personally, I go to work every day feeling humbled that I represent a company with an incredible mission to empower every person on the planet to achieve more. I’m grateful for the chance to share just a few of their stories in “The Ability Hacks.” Trust me, it’s two stories of many that have taken place over the last four years and there will be a lot more in our future.

While we’ve come a long way in incorporating accessibility and inclusivity in everything we do, the truth is that accessibility is a journey. There is more in front of us than behind us. Please read the book and join the conversation about inclusive technology design on Twitter via #abilityhacks. And if you want to create products for people with disabilities, do check out our AI for Accessibility program, which provides access to advanced Microsoft Azure cloud computing resources to individuals and organizations working on empowering people with disability across the world at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai-for-accessibility.

The Ability Hacks

Aligned with the first day of Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon, Microsoft will launch a new book which shares the behind the scenes stories of two Microsoft Hackathon teams who embraced their passion and pioneered two innovative hacks-turned-solutions used today by people with disabilities around the world.

The book includes a foreword by Corporate Vice President Peter Lee and an afterword by Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie, and is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.com and for download on PDF and EPUB.

We hope this book and the journeys these teams have been on, can help spark a conversation about the transformative power of technology, and encourage engineers and developers to build the next wave of inclusive technology. If you want to create products for people with disabilities, do check out our AI for Accessibility program, which provides access to advanced Microsoft Azure cloud computing resources and grants to individuals and organizations working on empowering people with disability across the world at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai-for-accessibility.

Continue on to Microsoft’s newsroom to read the complete blog.

 

How Xbox Adaptive Controller Will Make Gaming More Accessible

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xbox adaptive controller

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.