Friday, 1 March 2013

Inclusive Technology

I recently attended an information day with Inclusive Technology Ltd. to learn about how computers and software have been developed to support people with special needs in learning, reading and writing. This day showed us how IT is developing beyond what most of us ever thought possible. It also gave me a greater insight to the e-book world for special learners and its potential for my YOU & ME Yoga Publications.

To wet your appetite, this video shows what we can expect in the future before tackling what equipment is already available.

Inclusive Technology is assistive technology with use of equipment, hardware, software, product systems and services. Specifically designed to help maintain and improve the functional capabilities of individuals, and provide easier ways for individuals to communicate, learn, enjoy life and be more independent.

As there is so much information I learnt on this day I’m going to cover the hardware first, followed by the software for assisting reading, writing and creating digital media for special learners in my next blog.

Apparently a lot of educational establishments are aiming to replace their traditional paper book libraries with e-books and issue students with e.reader devices such as iPads and Kindles. These accessible reader devices can display books in full colour with adjustable fonts, pictures and text size; convert text to speech with adjustable voice settings; magnify and highlight each word as its spoken. Cases and mounts for reader devices are available (and for wheelchair users) with switches, page turners, prevent sleep modes etc.

There is adaptive equipment for Keyboards and Mouses too, the ranges of which differ considerably. This is where Inclusive Technology experience can match the technology to facilitate an individual’s needs, abilities and expectations.

The traditional Keyboard was designed for those with use of two hands, 10 dextrous fingers and be right handed. The keyboard requires users to position the fingers and hands above the keyboard and be able to press the keys simultaneously, as and when required.

These days in most schools children are not taught how to type using the keyboard, instead they are expected to pick up the skills whilst learning different subjects across the curriculum. If it’s anything like some of us had to learn to use the keyboard later on in life - when computers became popular - its certainly not easy without having been taught basic typing skills.
In addition, slow learners with a learning difficulty and/or physical disability must be overwhelmed with the ‘querty’ (established in 1868)  keyboard and the more recent Mouse (popularized by Apple in 1984) device. The arrangement of the ‘qwerty’ keys on the keyboard was originally designed to prevent old fashion typewriter arm-keys from clashing if used quickly together.  Such typewriters are now obsolete, yet the ‘querty‘ system still reigns!
Some alternative keyboards now available:
Smaller keyboards which are suitable for those with fine motor movement, limited movement or children with small hands. By providing a fixed positioning in a small area.
Larger keyboards are more suitable for those with gross motor movement needing a wide spatial area. The upper/lower case letters and high contrast colours make it cognitively easier for them to learn. The same applies with mainstream young childrens’ first keyboards.
Overlay keyboards for visual aid with tactile layout of foam, paper, shapes etc. with software that can be interpreted in text, moon letters or braille.
Keyboard accessories: sticky keys, filter keys, toggle keys, keyboard guard, angled keyboard rest, keyboard gloves.
Note: Our presenter Jamie Munro did recommend AlphaSmart Neo2 as a cheaper alternative to using a computer for learning how to type with its built in KAZ typing tutor for all novices.

The Traditional Mouse requires hand dexterity and arm movement. Click-drag requires ability to hold the mouse button down while moving it. Double clicking requires ability to quickly press the button twice. Acknowledgement of moving the mouse on the desk causing something to move on the screen, requires reasonably good cognitive level.

Some Mouse options available:
Nearly three decades on we’ve come a long way from students using head pointers or mouth devices as alternatives for the mouse. Here are a few of the developed adaptable devices:
The Trackpad is already built into laptops, tablets and reader devices operated by light pressure and minimal movement, but requires considerable precision.
The Trackball can be used for large ‘sweeping’ movements which can be useful for people with limited motor control, or for greater accuracy of smaller detail. It is available in various sizes and ball positions (e.g. for use with the thumb) and it stays fixed in place.
The Joystick is a fixed and vertical device which can be pushed and pulled that can be easier for some physical disabilities.
The Apple Magic Trackpad is a multi-touch gesture control that can be scrolled, swiped, pinched and rotated. It connects to the Mac via Bluetooth wireless technology and used just like the trackpad on the MacBook or Laptop, only with nearly 80 per cent more surface area with a button that clicks for typing and gesturing.

Going Wireless with mouse alternatives enables devices to be passed between persons in a group, different rooms and even different computers. This allows for use with interactive whiteboards and Plasma LCD display screens from a distance of 10 metres away.

The Head Control alternatives require no limb movement, are faster than switch access, but are only suitable for those with voluntary head movement.

The Silver Reflective Dot Sticker is stuck on the middle of the forehead looking just like the Indian red spot ‘Bindi’ (used to retain energy and strengthen concentration).
Only the silver reflective dot’s frequency is connected to a SmartNav USB infrared camera for tracking one’s head movements.  In fact there are other incredible FaceMouses that use facial gestures for navigating the Mouse, and this link will source some of these options:

Lastly, not far behind the system that knows what your reading, as shown in the video, there is the highly developed Eyegaze system. This requires no physical movement just eye movement, it can even be used by those with involuntary movements while lying prone.

So why include all these technological details into the YOU & ME Yoga Blog. Basically because I was impressed from what I learnt about Inclusive Technology. As I needed to keep up to speed for digitalising my YOU & ME Yoga Publications. I also wanted to share it with followers in preparation for you and me to progress together in Yoga!

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