Adaptive and Assistive Technology – Help!

I’m very interested by Hazel Phillips’ post over at the NBR. The social media aspect of it is a distraction, but the underlying question is interesting. I’m really keen to help out, and think we can do amazing things with the tech community, sponsorship, and fundraising. BUT! I have a bunch of questions first. If you can add any information to the comments below, or over on Facebook, please do.

Is it the case that deaf people in New Zealand have little or no access to modern technology to help them out? Or is it more the case that “standard” technology like iPads and Android devices simply aren’t usable by the people that would need to use them? What are accessibility standards like on these devices, from a real user point of view – not just someone like me who might just play with the “high-contrast” option to see what it looks like?

Is someone already doing this somewhere? I’m more than happy to help this happen from scratch, but are we wasting effort if we could be helping out an existing organisation doing similar work? Or are existing organisations not doing it “right”?

Nic Steenhout pointed out in a comment that ACC only covers adaptive technology for disabilities that come from injury. Even in this case, do they cover the choice of the user, or provide some standard technology from a catalogue, a-la Pharmac?

So many questions, and this is just scraping the surface.

Basically I’d love to know: would a fund to provide new, touchscreen and/or tablet-style devices to New Zealanders with disabilities be a useful thing?

Consider this a clearinghouse – lets just braindump all ideas, issues, and questions here and then work out the next step in a few days.

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  1. Not sure if anyone us already doing this but the deaf society were looking into some interesting technology a few years back, but I think the cost of the devices at the time were prohibitive and would not be suitable for the basic end user. One of the devices was a speech to text translator system that would was going to be quite big back then. Ie notebook, microphone and, maybe, dragon speaking for the system.

    Now that could be done with an iPad with a microphone that plugs in to the headphone socket like the ones used for the iPod. I don’t know if there is a speech to text app out there but it shouldn’t be too hard to get one made if not.

    The device for the blind might be a little harder, because it would have to use some sort of image capture device to 1) recognize the item or 2) translate the text that the camera was looking at, abs the software would gave to be smart enough to be able to work out what it is looking at. Also adding an external braille keyboard to an iPad like device might be a little expensive/hard.

  2. The technology is not the main issue, it’s the funding and the politics of implementing it fairly and effectively.

  3. My suspicion is that the devices currently filling these roles are very costly. Until fairly recently these types of devices would have to be custom-made product, the market is small, the development and production costs and small, and there’s very little competition.

    Now, of course, the tablet has arrived (as have smart phones) and more are on the way. Replicating the, until now, specialist functions of assitive technology devices on commodity hardware is a pretty viable option.

    A 5″ Android tablet is currently available with a wholesale cost of around US$90/unit – with sponsorship or funding they could quite realisitcally be made available at no-cost to qualifing individuals, complete with software and training.

  4. Just checking – did anything come of this? I have $500 burning a hole in my wallet that needs donating to either whatever came of this or directly to the National Foundation for the Deaf. Thanks.

    1. I’m planning to resurrect this in the coming weeks. I’m catching up with Sacha to get his opinion, then will see where we can go. I’ll definitely update during September.

      1. Nice one, thanks Ben. Let me know if there’s any need for a cash injection, I’ll hold fire till later in Sept.

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