CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Showcases Innovations For a More Inclusive World

LinkedIn
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.”

How Interior Design Can Be A Tool In Managing Life With Autism

LinkedIn
Jess Faerman at home in her apartment with her dog

Justin Moehn’s vast amiibo collection, comfortable gaming chairs and a large screen set up in a very specific way in his Richmond bedroom are evidence of his highly focused affection for video games. Jess Faerman’s small apartment in Houston has a single chair she’s willing to sit on and a circular path for her compulsive need for pacing.

For Hannah Warren, who lives in Southeast Houston, a velvety soft covering on an air mattress and drops of lavender oil are her keys to a good night’s sleep, for now, anyway.

All three have autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, a developmental disability whose cause is still a mystery to researchers. As they, educators and parents all look for ways to cope in the classroom and at home, one thing they know for certain is that the right interior design can help children and adults manage the anxiety and behaviors that typically accompany autism, improving life for them and other members of their families.

Important elements include color, texture, lighting and the durability of furnishings, say parents and experts.

Don Lawrence, who works in health care facility planning at CannonDesign, comes to the topic with two points of view: one as a trained design planner and the other as a father of a 29-year-old son who has autism.

“Research has taken off in the last five years,” Lawrence said of both searching for information about cause, treatment and daily coping skills.

Lawrence, who lives in Sugar Land, had a background in health care when he returned to the University of Texas to study architecture years ago. Now he works exclusively in health care design planning, and recently finished work on an autism clinic at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California.

“We did research on current thinking about interventions, primarily looking for ways to create a calming and relaxing environment. There’s a lot of research on color and sound and transitions from space to space,” Lawrence said, noting that design elements that work in a clinical setting work in homes and schools, too.

Color and light — both natural and artificial — are two important elements of home design, and they’re big factors in homes that have a child or adult with autism.

Lawrence explained that the slight flicker of a fluorescent light bulb, which are still used extensively in offices, stores and schools, can seem to a person with autism as the rest of us might see a strobe light. Imagine all of the homes built in the 1980s and 1990s with light boxes for fluorescent tubes over their kitchen islands — every one of them is a problem if someone in the household has autism.

Lawrence and special education consultant Robin Rettie of Lighthouse Learning & Resource both said that soothing colors are essential. In a bedroom, pale greens and blues with gray undertones are often talked about as calming colors — the same holds true for people with autism. Muted shades of lavender or purple also help calm people with ASD. Bright colors such as red, orange or yellow — colors you see often see in classrooms and toys for young children — appear so harsh that they can cause outbursts.

Nearly everyone with autism avoids bright lights. In Moehn’s bedroom — where he spends a good deal of his time — he has just a single bulb in the three-light ceiling-mounted light fixture and usually keeps the plantation shutters on his only window closed.

Rettie and Lawrence both said dimmable lights and bulbs with a warmer glow are best, so they can be adjusted.

Texture is a huge factor — people with autism generally prefer soft, silky fabrics over anything rough or scratchy — so bedding and upholstery have to be chosen carefully. You don’t have to use them everywhere in your home, just in the bedroom of the person with autism — it’s advisable they have their own room — and in a place they like to sit when they’re with others.

Moehn, 37, who lives with his parents, treats his room as his own retreat, with satin sheets on his bed to help him sleep. Faerman, 33, who has her own apartment, puts a soft blanket on the only chair she will sit on in her apartment. The softness of the plush toys on her bed helps soothe her.

Janice Warren has struggled to help her daughter, 12-year-old Hannah, whose challenges change as she ages. She slept on a twin bed but wore it out — jumping on furniture can be an issue, so it needs to be more durable. While she looked for a new bed, she let Hannah sleep on an air mattress that had a soft, velvety cover. Her daughter was getting the best sleep she’d ever had, so she halted the new-bed search.

Warren has also incorporated aromatherapy, using plant-based lavender oil that helps calm her daughter, who is mainstreamed in school but not highly functional and has poor verbal skills. She adds the oil to shampoo and lotion and occasionally puts a couple of drops on her pillow and in dresser drawers, which, by the way, have labels for individual items that go in them.

Structure is vital for people with autism, so organizing systems help them cope. Knowing which shelf in a pantry, drawer in a refrigerator or container in a closet has their things fosters independence via daily living skills and is comforting. When things are out of place, though, it can be overwhelming, and the person may shut down or act out.

PHOTO: Jess Faerman / Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Continue on to The Houston Chronicle to read the complete article.

‘Beautiful moment’: Mom moved to tears seeing 2-year-old in awe of inclusive Target advertisement

LinkedIn
Young child sitting in wheelchair in Target stops to see advertisement of a young boy in a wheelchair

PEORIA, AZ — An Arizona mother was moved to tears when an advertisement at Target caused her son to stop in his tracks and stare in awe at the sign.

“It was just a beautiful moment to see. Him admiring somebody like him because he doesn’t get to see that often,” Demi Garza-Pena said to KNXV in Arizona.

Garza-Pena’s son, Ollie, is almost two years old.

He uses a wheelchair to get around because he was born with a rare condition called caudal regression syndrome, which affects his lower spine and organs.

While the pair were shopping in Target, Ollie noticed something inspiring on a sign hanging above a rack of clothes.

The sign showed a young boy in a wheelchair.

Seeing her son’s response to the advertisement showed Garza-Pena how important representation can be, especially for children. She hopes other stores will follow Target’s lead.

“Everywhere…everybody, everywhere, all the time. That would make a huge difference,” Garza-Pena said about where she’d like to see more inclusive advertisements.

Target launched the more inclusive ads in 2017, mainly in apparel, and refreshes them regularly. The next batch will come later this month.

Continue on to ABC News to read the complete article.

The 2020 M-Enabling Summit is coming to Washington, D.C.

LinkedIn
M-Enabling Summit 2020 flyer announcing the dates and location

Please join us at the M-Enabling Summit, the leading conference and showcase promoting accessible technology and environments for seniors and users of all abilities, which will be held June 22-24, 2020 at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, in Washington, D.C. It is the annual meeting place for all who create and contribute to accessible ICT products, services and consumer technologies.

With its 2020 theme of “Digital Inclusion Strategies: A Catalyst for Action,” the M-Enabling Summit will highlight how organizations can successfully leverage innovative enabling technologies to make their digital workplaces, learning environments and product and services accessible to users of all abilities. It also offers an ideal platform to network with accessibility professionals, organizations, and decision makers seeking to address compliance challenges and market development opportunities.

This year’s thought-provoking agenda is set to be led by over 150 experts and industry leaders exploring how to further drive digital inclusion forward across all sectors of activity. A powerful differentiator in gaining a competitive advantage and establishing a positive culture, digital inclusion is embraced by leading organizations across all sectors of activity.

The M-Enabling Summit is proud to be welcoming Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, to deliver the opening keynote address at the 9th annual M-Enabling Summit.

REGISTRATION:

The M-Enabling Summit offers a discounted early bird registration rate through April 30th. Register today and save: https://m-enabling.com/conference-registration/

Paralyzed Veterans of America to host Wheelchair Rugby Tournament for wounded heroes and adaptive athletes

LinkedIn
PVA logo includes man in wheelchair saluting

Paralyzed Veterans of America will host 12 wheelchair rugby teams from across the country to compete in its 3rd Annual Code of Honor Quad Rugby Invitational.

The tournament brings together national league wheelchair rugby teams made up of disabled military veterans and civilian adaptive athletes, to compete in a 3-day round-robin style tournament. A wheelchair rugby skills clinic will be held prior to the start of the tournament to introduce novice players to the sport.

The clinic is free and individuals with disabilities as well as rehab health professionals who are interested in learning more about the sport are invited to attend.

The Quad Rugby Invitational is one of many year-round adaptive sports opportunities Paralyzed Veterans of America provides for disabled veterans and other individuals with disabilities.

WHEN: Friday, February 7, 2020
Wheelchair Rugby Skills Clinic 10:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Opening Ceremony 11:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Competition begins 12:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 8, 2020
Competition 8:45 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Sunday, February 9, 2020
Competition 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Championship Game 10:30 a.m.
Closing Ceremony and Awards 11:45 a.m. (approx.)

WHERE: The St. James
6805 Industrial Road
Springfield, VA 22151

The St. James is a 450,000 square foot sports, wellness and active entertainment destination in the Washington, DC metro area. Paralyzed Veterans of America hosted its 2019 Code of Honor tournament at The St. James, making it the first adaptive sports event to be held at the facility.

WHO: Paralyzed Veterans of America (host)

Eleven Division II teams from the U.S. Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) and PVA’s at-large team comprised of military veterans:

Northern Virginia Mutiny
Maryland Mayhem
MedStar DC NRH Punishers
PVA at-large team
Brooks Bandits
Philadelphia Magee Eagles
NEP Wildcats
New York Warriors
Oscar Mike Militia
Raleigh Sidewinders
Richmond Sportable Possums
Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch

For more information or to view the full tournament schedule, please visit pva.org/codeofhonor.

About Paralyzed Veterans of America
Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For more than 70 years, the organization has ensured that veterans receive the benefits earned through service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a life-long partner and advocate for veterans and all people with disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces and provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Learn more at pva.org.

About The St. James
The St. James is the premier sports, wellness and entertainment destination in the country. Our mission is to maximize human potential by designing, developing and operating sports, wellness, entertainment and hospitality programs, services and experiences that engage, inspire and empower people to pursue their passions and be their best at play, at work and in life. The St. James aims to serve as the center of the universe in every community where it is located by delivering the most comprehensive combination of best-in-class sports and wellness venues, developmental and elite coaching, training and competition, five-star lifestyle experiences and family centered active fun all in an environment that engages, inspires and delights everyone that comes through our doors. The St. James, which opened its first location just outside of Washington, DC in the fall of 2018, plans to open its second complex in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire in the fall of 2021. For more information, please visit thestjames.com.

Gears 5 sets a higher bar for accessibility with features that mean more people can play the game

LinkedIn
Two guys and two girls play on the game console. One of the guys is disabled in a wheelchair.

Video games have saved Cherry Thompson’s life many times, from ‘80s game Rainbow Islands providing escape from a difficult childhood to Pokémon Red giving solace when Thompson was a homeless teenager. Games were about community, therapy, adventure and passion.

But more than six years ago, Thompson had a stroke at age 31 that led to vestibular and cognitive disabilities and a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that weakens joints, skin, blood vessels and muscles. Thompson, who uses they/them/their pronouns, wanted to play games to cope with pain and surgeries, but found many games impossible to play without suffering severe migraines, motion sickness, hand pain and other barriers.

“I really, really struggled,” says Thompson, who’s also autistic with co-occuring dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which affect how they process information and play games. “But as I slowly came to terms with my disabilities, it was revolutionary, because I realized the problem was with the games, and not with me.”

Now a well-known game accessibility specialist and developer in Vancouver, Canada, Thompson recently got a chance to try out Gears 5 — a game with a long list of accessibility features that mean more people can play it. With a stronger focus on inclusivity than ever before, The Coalition studio developed the third-person shooter and latest installment in the Gears of War series, released in September by Xbox Game Studios. The game has since been widely lauded for its thoughtful accessibility.

Unlike with Gears of War 4, Thompson can actually play Gears 5, thanks to a new option to turn off “camera shake,” or quick camera movements that trigger their vertigo, nausea and headaches. They can customize an on-screen display of information to minimize distractions and sensory overload while playing. And even though their hearing is fine, improved subtitles in an adjustable text size helps them process information.

“I’m excited to play the game more,” Thompson says, still holding the controller on a recent Friday after killing a few monsters. “The accessibility really shows a commitment from the game developers that they care about their audience and they understand their players include different types of people with different types of experiences.”

The Coalition, also based in Vancouver, had wanted to make Gears 5 as approachable and accessible as possible while still appealing to its experienced fanbase.

“We have a very hardcore franchise with a lot of fans with Gears tattoos,” says Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson. “How do you grow a franchise like that and welcome new players? How do you remove barriers and help them enjoy the experience? One of the ways was through inclusive design and the principle of ‘solve for one and expand to many.’”

Early in development, the studio hosted a two-day inclusive design sprint in 2017, bringing in Thompson and other people with disabilities who discussed their challenges, work-arounds and passions in gaming. It was at the sprint where many Gears 5 accessibility ideas first took root, including the message that the series’ subtitles needed improvement to better serve gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“There were a lot of light bulbs that went off in our team,” says Otto Ottosson, lead multiplayer producer and accessibility lead for Gears 5. He was the one who brought team members to a Microsoft gaming and accessibility boot camp, where they worked with the Gaming for Everyone team and met more gamers with disabilities.

“The players were explaining why they love games, and it was all the same reasons why I love games, except they were limited from playing,” Ottosson says. “That really affected me. I remember coming away thinking, ‘This is not good enough. We need to do better.’ It was definitely the launching point for us to understand and be inspired to make accessibility something we took seriously.”

In the past, game developers sometimes saw accessibility features as serving only a niche audience, says Fergusson. Good subtitles, for example, take more work, time and resources, but also appeal to many people beyond those with hearing disabilities. They include parents who want to play on silent while their baby sleeps nearby, or players who game in a public space like an airport.

Continue on to Microsoft News to read the complete article.

U.S. Access Board launches study to assess feasibility of equipping aircraft with wheelchair restraint systems

LinkedIn
rear view of a man in wheelchair at the airport with focus on hand

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) is pleased with the launch of the U.S. Access Board’s study to assess the feasibility of equipping aircraft with restraint systems so that passengers who use wheelchairs can remain in them while in-flight. The Board announced in October 2019 that it would conduct a study.

The U.S. Access Board is carrying out this study through the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board (TRB). TRB organized a team of experts to serve on the Committee on the Feasibility of Wheelchair Restraint Systems in Passenger Aircraft for the study’s evaluation. PVA members Peter W. Axelson and Dr. Rory A. Cooper were both appointed to serve on the Committee.

“We appreciate that the U.S. Access Board is conducting this study, which was required under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018,” said Carl Blake, Paralyzed Veterans of America’s executive director. “During air travel, catastrophically disabled veterans and others with mobility impairments have to transfer from their wheelchairs which causes serious risk of injuries and limits their freedom.

Passengers with disabilities also frequently have their wheelchairs damaged or mishandled while being stowed in the aircraft cargo hold. We look forward to the results of the U.S. Access Board’s study, which has the potential to be life-changing for airline passengers who use wheelchairs. We thank PVA members Peter W. Axelson and Dr. Rory A. Cooper, who are both experts in their fields, for serving on the Committee.”

Visit pva.org/travel to learn more about PVA’s work on accessible air travel.

About Paralyzed Veterans of America

Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For more than 70 years, the organization has ensured that veterans receive the benefits earned through service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a life-long partner and advocate for veterans and all people with disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces and provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Learn more at pva.org.

Clothing Size Guide In Works For Those With Down Syndrome

LinkedIn
young man with Down Syndrome looks on as two women review clothing laid out on a table

It’s often difficult for people with Down syndrome to find clothes that fit, but now researchers are working on a solution: the country’s first size guide for this population.

When Jayden Niblett wakes up each morning, his mind races to remember what he is doing that day, and what he can wear to impress his friends.

The last often leads to annoyance. Jayden, 11, who has Down syndrome, struggles to find clothes that fit his unique body type and are accommodating of his motor deficits, an issue that people with physical disabilities face every day in a world where fashion is built on single-size body standards.

“It’s really frustrating for him,” said Janet Littleton, Jayden’s grandmother. “It absolutely affects his mood and how his whole day is going to go.”

People with Down syndrome have shorter limbs, rounder bodies and common sensitivities to tags and fabrics, which make it difficult to find everyday clothes, like jeans, that fit them and feel good. Jayden would often wear women’s capri pants because they fit his waist and shorter legs. But as he has grown into a more muscular body, capris are no longer working.

Now, though, Jayden and his grandmother are working on a solution: They’re participating in a research study at the University of Delaware’s Innovation, Health and Design Lab to generate the country’s first size guide for people with Down syndrome. The lab’s mission is to provide a whole community with access to outfits that help them function with more independence and confidence.

At the end of the study, Jayden and the nearly 1,000 other participating children with Down syndrome will receive a free custom-made pair of jeans that accommodate their size and limited motor functions.

The lab, which opened in September 2018, is powered by the vision and leadership of Martha Hall, a fashion designer turned biomechanical engineer. Hall, who was born in Newark, Del., earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Delaware and then a Ph.D. in biomechanics from the school in 2018. She started her career designing cocktail dresses, but once she saw the work that University of Delaware professor Cole Galloway was doing for children with motor deficits, she dedicated her work to improving minority populations’ quality of life through functional clothing.

“People think of fashion as a sort of fluffy science,” said Hall. “But I’ve always encouraged people to consider fashion as being all about self-advocacy and self-expression.”

The lab started with two students working on four projects, and now has 34 students — and a wait list — with 22 projects, which address everything from inclusive apparel and athletic wear to medical devices that can increase the survival chances of premature babies. Its work centers around improving quality of life through clothing, and has been so successful that by fall, Hall plans to launch health design as a major at the university, the first program of its kind in the country.

Some brands have tried to make accessible, sensory sensitive clothing lines, but they’re not using accurate size guides, said Hall.

“There’s not a lot of evidence for the design decisions that (some brands) are making,” said Hall. “It’s great that there are designers interested in serving the population, but you have to talk to the community and understand what the actual issue is … in order to design something that actually suits them.”

That’s where Hall’s student researchers come in. With the Down syndrome size guide and jean project, Kiersten McCormack interviews caregivers to learn their child’s specific needs. Senior Elizabeth deBruin built an “obstacle course” for kids to pick out fabrics, designs and colors for their jeans. Sydney Solem, a senior majoring in medical diagnostics, manages the body scanner. Together, the group focuses on fashion, function, fit, fasteners and fabric.

To generate the size chart, the lab uses a three-dimensional scanner that scans participants’ bodies and creates a 3D colored avatar with exact measurements of their size and shape. Once all participants are scanned, the company that created the machine, Human Solutions, will take the measurements, create a size guide, and sell the guide to companies, which will be able to design clothing based on accurate measurements for this population of people.

While learning to dress themselves independently is a key rite of passage for children, for those with disabilities who need assistance, it can become one more thing that makes them feel different from their peers.

Continue on to DisabilityScoop to read the complete article.

Lexilight is a reading lamp designed to help people with dyslexia

LinkedIn
The Lexilight is pictured on a desk

The precise causes of dyslexia remain a mystery, though research out of France two years ago suggests the condition occurs when someone has two dominant eyes, rather than the usual one.

This means letters appear mirrored or blurred, making it difficult to read. The Lexilight lamp tackles this problem with LEDs — it pulses at a customizable rate, enabling the brain to process information from a single “dominant” eye and clearing up mashed-together letters instantly.

The Lexilight is completely adjustable — knobs on the back of the light change the pulsation, allowing users to find the rhythm that works for them.

Lexilife is a new company out of France, and it showed off at the Lexilight at CES 2020.

The lamp itself is available now in Europe and will come to the United States soon, according to Lexilife founder Jean-Baptiste Fontes. It costs €549, and is available for a free 30-day trial.

Lexilife partners with dyslexia support organizations, and it’s tested the lamp on more than 300 people with dyslexia. Ninety percent of them found it improved their reading abilities.

Continue on to Engadget to read more.

Discussions on Artificial Intelligence Dominate HR Tech 2019

LinkedIn
Collage image of people attending and speaking at the HR tech conference

The team observed three key themes for accessible technology and the impact of emerging technology on people with disabilities while participating in HR Tech 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The HR Technology Conference & Exposition (HR Tech) is one of the top global events showcasing emerging technologies and tools transforming the human relations (HR) industry.

This year, platforms utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) continued to trend at HR Tech.

The conference also infused a new focus on mitigating bias and ensuring that AI tools can align with corporate goals for diverse and inclusive hiring.

Our team observed three key themes for accessible technology and the impact of emerging technology on people with disabilities while participating in HR Tech 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

These themes included AI activities at the forefront, C-suite support for access to emerging technology, and bridging gaps in inclusion in AI focuses.

Artificial Intelligence is Front and Center

HR Tech 2019 featured several sessions related to AI bias in emerging technology. Dmitri Krakovsky, the head of Hire for Google, emphasized that “AI will have the greatest impact when everyone can access it and when it is built with everyone’s benefit in mind.” Several other speakers at HR Tech 2019 outlined key strategies for mitigating the bias that AI can introduce into the hiring process. Himanshu Aggarwal, CEO & Co-founder of the AI-powered platform Aspiring Minds, described strategies for using AI responsibly.

Aggarwal and other speakers also noted that:

  • AI measurements can offer broad indicators about a candidate’s qualifications, but humans need to be involved in the process for selecting data sets and evaluating the data to minimize and mitigate bias.
  • The data measured and collected must be directly job-related; otherwise, companies may face increased risks for discrimination (intentionally or unintentionally).

John Sumser, Editor-in-Chief of HR Examiner (an online magazine), also illustrated the landscape of challenges presented by AI usage by adopting the metaphor of a fruit salad. He noted that AI programs can excel in identifying the individual ingredients that comprise the fruit said, while missing what he considers the best part entirely: “the mixed-up juice at the bottom.” Sumser also stressed that an AI system could mistakenly identify the polka dots on the fruit salad bowl as another ingredient. He offered this advice for working with AI-focused systems:

  • AI is here, so start planning for it and include your legal team in the discussion.
  • Be aware that machines may make major mistakes when using AI today.
  • Machines can have biases pre-programmed in because they are designed intentionally with algorithms that can reflect the biases of their designers and developers.

C-Suite Support is Essential

HR professionals at HR Tech and elsewhere have increasingly viewed accessibility as a business imperative—but only when it is driven and championed at the executive level. Vendors at HR Tech noted that they only observed enthusiasm for accessibility from HR professionals themselves when corresponding commitment from leaders in the C-suite was also present. These experiences dovetailed with our team’s own understanding and insight into how to drive adoption of technology accessibility–that making forward progress requires solid support from top-level corporate leadership to be strongly effective.

Awareness of Disability Inclusion Lags in AI Discussions

When approached with questions about the AI behind their products, HR Tech vendors eagerly described their strategies for mitigating bias. However, most vendors only discussed how their strategies dealt with biases for gender and race. Few vendors showed sufficient knowledge of the issue to respond to this question in depth with respect to disability. We know from our work in promoting accessible workplace technology that people with disabilities represent a very heterogeneous group; this group contains many people considered outliers when compared with people without disabilities.

Thus, we find it very critical that these platforms pay careful attention to multi-factored dimensions of inclusion. We also find it imperative to recall wisdom from leaders like Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada. She notes that success in reducing disability-related biases in AI requires approaches rooted in the jagged starburst of human data—rather than simple bell curves.

HR Tech 2019 also reminded our team that awareness about the impact of emerging technology on people with disabilities remains the major immediate hurdle—especially when companies increasingly seek to benefit from inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. Unless HR systems align with diversity-focused hiring goals, companies will not fully realize the business advantages of hiring people with disabilities. In fact, new research from Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities showed that businesses leading in inclusion of people with disabilities saw a 28 percent gain in revenue. These organizations also witnessed a doubling of their net income and a 30 percent increase in economic profit margins.

Actress With Autism To Debut In New TV Comedy

LinkedIn
Kayla Cromer is standing in front of a background with colorful butterflies wearing a bright blue floral dress

Autism is set to be front and center on a new television series starring a woman who’s on the spectrum. The cable network Freeform, which caters to teens and young adults, will introduce the show “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” this month.

The half-hour comedy is about a 20-something who steps in to take care of his two teenage half sisters when their father dies of cancer.

Matilda, one of the half sisters, is a high school senior with autism. The character is played by actress Kayla Cromer who disclosed last spring that she has the developmental disorder herself.

Cromer has spoken up about the need for people with disabilities and other differences to represent those like themselves on screen.

“So many characters on television today, they’re portrayed by people that do not have a difference. And, honestly, people with a difference, we’re fully capable of portraying our own type and we deserve that right,” she said while speaking on a panel at the Freeform Summit last March. “With so many changes in the industry right now, why not now? Just give us our chance. Include us. We can do this.”

Freeform said the show will tackle “navigating autism, budding sexuality, consent, parenthood, adolescence, family and grief” while following a family discovering the “importance of finding happiness in the middle of really difficult moments.”

Continue on to the Disability Scoop to read the complete article.