From the BlogSubscribe Now

NASA Paves A Way for People Who are Blind to Experience A Total Solar Eclipse

Aug 17, 2017

app screenshot On August 21, 2017, just a few days away, the United States of America will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse. Said to be an unforgettable experience, many people plan to descend upon this path of totality and view complete darkness.

But what about those who will not be able to “see” this event NASA now has a solution. The Eclipse Soundscapes Project by NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium will help deliver a multisensory experience of this celestial event.

The project will include audio descriptions of the eclipse in real time along with recordings of the changing environmental sounds during the eclipse. Moreover, one of the most fascinating features of this project is an interactive “rumble map” that will allow users to visualize the eclipse through touch. The sounds will be paired with vibrations.

Although the eclipse will only last for a few hours, the recordings will be available as an open source file for everyone to experience. Currently this app can be found on the Apple Store but will soon be available for Android phones as well. Those without smartphones will also be able to enjoy this remarkable event through MP3 and MP4 files which will be made available for streaming and download at

Original at

Doing More For People With Disabilities Is Doing More For Canadians

People with disabilities still make up a disproportionate number of professionals working in jobs that are below their skills level. 08/11/2017

Most of us take for granted the ability to easily perform daily activities or engage in social interactions. We do not wake up each morning with debilitating pain, or require the assistance of a guide dog to leave our homes. For the over 3.8 million Canadians living with a chronic health condition or health-related problem, however, performing what some might consider routine tasks can be a serious challenge.

Statistics Canada reports that as of 2012, 14 per cent of the country’s population is living with a disability. Take a moment to put a face to this number. These are our parents, our sons and daughters, our friends. As a country that takes great pride in being inclusive and kind, it is time we do more for people with disabilities.

During my time as Ontario cabinet minister, I had the distinct pleasure of consulting with both disability groups and business owners to author the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In June of 2005, Ontario became a world leader in accessibility when the legislation came into law. Business owners were informed that they had 20 years to take the appropriate measures to make their businesses accessible. More importantly, people with disabilities were shown that they are valued members of society. Twelve years later and more than halfway towards the 2025 deadline of making Ontario accessible, how are we doing?

People with disabilities still make up a disproportionate number of professionals working in jobs that are below their skills level. This is called mal-employment. Moreover, the Canadian Survey on Disability reports that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Ontario is 16 per cent. Hoping to improve these numbers, Ontario just unveiled a strategy called Access Talent which asks employers with more than 20 staff members to hire at least one person with a disability.

Meanwhile, DiverseCity onBoard is helping place qualified candidates from underrepresented groups on the boards of governance of Canada’s not-for-profit organizations. The program recently became AODA compliant. In my opinion, serving on a board is an invaluable opportunity to ladder one’s leadership skills.

“Why wait to do the right thing?

During the time I was consulting for the AODA, there was one interaction in particular that really resonated with me. Following a meeting, a senior executive approached me to confess, “Minister as a businessman, you are scaring me. But as a father of a girl with a disability, you are not moving fast enough.” His words really pulled at my heartstrings. Making our businesses accessible is not only the smart thing to do, it is the right thing. We are all affected by disability.

Carla Qualtrough, Federal Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, is currently working to develop national accessibility legislation. Visually impaired since birth, Minister Qualtrough travelled the country earlier this year consulting Canadians on accessibility. Her goal is to have legislation ready to present in the House of Commons next spring. I have a great deal of admiration for the minister and the progress she has made.

I recently visited the offices of The Ability Project at NYU where they support research and innovative projects that make use of technology to create services and products for people with disabilities. Back in Canada, Mayan Ziv used crowdsourcing to fund the development of an app called Access Now. Incubated at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, the app helps people with disabilities identify local accessible businesses. And Canada’s favourite coffee chain, Tim Horton’s, has shown their commitment to accessibility by supporting multiple initiatives such as the eSSENTIAL Accessibility tool for their website.

Of course, change will not happen overnight. There is still a lot of work to be done. Activism needs to continue, and compliance with the law needs to be enforced. However, what business owners sometimes do not consider is that people with disabilities are a potential revenue source. Money spent on renovations or development would be paid back tenfold if these clientele are treated equally and with respect. They will be loyal customers for life. So why wait to do the right thing?

Original at

World’s Blind Population to Triple by 2050 : study

Published: Thu, Aug 03 2017

The number of blind people across the world is set to triple from about 36 million to 115 million by 2050, due to a growing ageing population, says a study in ‘The Lancet’

The researchers estimate that crude prevalence of global blindness declined from 0.75% in 1990 to 0.48% in 2015, while the rate of moderate to severe vision impairment reduced from 3.83% to 2.90%.

London: The number of blind people across the world is set to triple from about 36 million to 115 million by 2050, due to a growing ageing population, a study warned on Thursday.

Researchers led by Anglia Ruskin University in the UK analysed the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment in 188 countries between 1990 and 2015, as well as providing projections for 2020 and 2050.

The study published in The Lancet Global Health journal is the first to include figures on presbyopia, a condition that affects one’s ability to read and which is associated with ageing. It reveals that worldwide, there are an estimated 36 million people who are blind, with the greatest burden occurring in developing countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The researchers estimate that crude prevalence of global blindness declined from 0.75% in 1990 to 0.48% in 2015, while the rate of moderate to severe vision impairment reduced from 3.83% to 2.90%. This is likely to be a result of socio-economic development, targeted public health programmes, and greater access to eye-health services, researchers said.

However, with most vision impairment being a result of ageing, as the population continues to grow and age, the number of people affected has increased globally. Their numbers rose from 30.6 million blind people in 1990 to 36 million in 2015, and from 160 million to 217 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment, researchers said.

In addition, the study projections suggest that prevalence rates could see an upturn by 2020 (to 0.50% for blindness and 3.06% for vision impairment). It also predicts further increases in the number of cases by 2050 if treatment is not improvedwith almost 115 million cases of blindness and 588 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment.

“Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a person’s life, for example reducing their independence in many countries as it often means people are barred from driving, as well as reducing educational and economic opportunities,” said professor Rupert Bourne, of Anglia Ruskin’s Vision and Eye Research Unit.

“With the number of people with vision impairment accelerating, we must take action to increase our current treatment efforts at global, regional and country levels,” he said. “Investing in these treatments has previously reaped considerable benefits, including improved quality of life, and economic benefits as people remain in work,” said Bourne.

Original at

Federal Disabilities Minister ‘Frustrated’ After Family Denied Residency Over Daughter’s Health Needs

Carla Qualtrough hopes to reverse presumption that people with disabilities burden the system By Cameron MacLean
CBC News, July 28, 2017

An advocate who says it is “unfair” that an American family was denied permanent residency due to the potential costs of their daughter’s health problems has found an ally in Canada’s minister of persons with disabilities.

The family of six moved to Canada from Colorado in 2013 and have built a business in the town of Waterhen, Man. Their work permits expire in November.

When they came to Canada, Jon and Karissa Warkentin didn’t know that their daughter Karalynn, then two, had special needs. She was diagnosed in 2014 with epilepsy and global developmental delay.

In April, they received a letter of rejection from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which stated Karalynn’s health condition might cause “excessive demand” on health or social services.

Allen Mankewich, an advocate for people with disabilities, criticized the immigration system, which he said excludes people if their health needs are expected to cost more $6,655 annually.

“I think it’s unfair because it just puts a price on someone’s life, and as people with disabilities, we’re always trying to work against those kind of attitudes that our lives are expensive or that we’ll create excessive demand or that we’ll be a burden on society,” he said.

In an interview with CBC’s Information Radio on Friday, Carla Qualtrough, minister of persons with disabilities, said she agreed “wholeheartedly” with Mankewich.

“Especially when he talks about how we as Canadians with disabilities feel like we are told from the very beginning that our needs are expensive and burdensome,” said Qualtrough, who is legally blind.

Qualtrough said her mandate as minister is to create a new law to address barriers to civic and economic participation “so that it’s not presumed that a disability will impede someone’s ability to achieve anything, whether it be citizenship or employment or anything,” she said.

Qualtrough said she has worked “very hard” with Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen on this issue.

“It’s something that frustrates me and has frustrated many Canadians with disabilities over the years.,” Qualtrough said. “And hopefully with the creation of this new law, we’re going to have a process to look at all of our policies at the federal level to ensure that these barriers are not created on a number of different tracks.”

One of the goals of the new law will be to prevent discrimination before it occurs. Currently, Canada’s human rights system only takes action after people experience discrimination, Qualtrough said.

“We’re going to create a law that removes those barriers and sets expectations so that we don’t have to wait for people to be discriminated against,”she said.

Presumption of burden

Mankewich acknowledges that Canada’s immigration system is set up to protect health and social services, but he argues immigration officials can’t predict how much Karalynn’s health problems will ultimately cost.

“Doctors have made mistakes before with their diagnoses, so maybe there’s a chance that she’ll be able to contribute to our economy,” he said.

“We have to reverse that presumption [of excessive demand] and if it’s actually proven, then that’s a more difficult conversation to have. And I can tell you personally that I don’t think that’s the lens through which we should make these kinds of decisions,” Qualtrough said.

On Wednesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada sent an emailed statement to CBC News stating that it “is tasked, by way of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, with protecting Canada’s publicly-funded health and social services.”

The federal official handling the Warkentins’ file had asked them to explain how Karalynn would not be a burden on the health-care system, and to submit relevant documentation before the final decision was reached.

In the office’s email statement, it said that with no additional information sent, the “decision to refuse the PR [permanent resident] application was maintained.”

The agency added: “Such decisions are not arrived at lightly.”

Original at

Committed to Technology Equality for People with Disabilities

July 26, 2017
Written by: Dr. Ruoyi Zhou

The year 2017 will be remembered as a major milestone in the relationship between technology and equality.

Earlier this year, updates were finally approved to the Section 508 Amendment of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that transformed turn-of-the-century accessibility guidelines for procurement and services of the U.S. federal government to encompass modern challenges and solutions. This new set of requirements provides organizations with a roadmap toward creating inclusive technologies that can benefit all individuals, including people with disabilities.

In anticipation of these new changes, IBM has already published a unified accessibility checklist and techniques in the public domain covering software, documentation and web content. We are one of the first to combine guidance for the Revised 508 Standards with the EN 301 549 standard in Europe, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. The new checklist complements other IBM tools and open source that build on accessibility standards, such as the Dynamic Assessment Plug-In and the Verified Accessibility Samples (Va11yS).

As today marks the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is important to reflect upon the evolving role technology plays in creating a more inclusive workplace and society. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also how much work is left to do. We must continue pushing technology to eliminate barriers so everyone can achieve their full potential at work and through life.

Our mission to is to enable our products and services to be accessible and develop new assistive technologies to help people of all abilities navigate the physical and online worlds.

With technology emerging at an unprecedented pace we have an opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence, mobile, and the Internet of things (IoT) to supplement or enhance our human abilities in ways not possible before.

This is why IBM has always been at the forefront of establishing accessibility standards as they play a critical role in ensuring the interoperability of new technology and the acceleration of innovation upon a common foundation.

Additionally, IBM is pushing the boundaries of accessibility with new cognitive technologies. Our team in Japan has created a cognitive mobile voice navigation application that guides people with disabilities with an accessible route to their intended destination. It has been experimented and demonstrated in an underground pedestrian walkway and shopping center of Nihonbashi-Muromachi, a popular downtown district in Tokyo, Japan.

In our Almaden Research Center, we are working with U.C. Santa Cruz and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to leverage cognitive technology to develop accessible public transit services so passengers have more confidence in boarding the correct train or bus. And, to help students with learning disabilities, we developed Content Clarifier, which simplifies, summarizes, and augments content into a simplified form so people can consume and comprehend the most important concepts.

Finally, aging is a key priority. No other group faces more obstacles than the senior demographic from acquiring disabilities associated with age to the loss of independence, and ability to stay connected with friends and family. The complexity, scale, and impact of aging motivates us to tackle one of the most challenging problems across the globe.

To tackle this challenge, we have launched a Cognitive Eldercare initiative to transform the way seniors age in place. IBM is working with clients, such as Avamere and Sole Cooperativa, to develop cognitive IoT solutions where we use sensor data to monitor the daily activities and general health of our growing aging population to provide insights to improve care quality and operational efficiency.

On this important anniversary, we all need to re-commit to global inclusion and do our part to make “access for all” a true reality.

Dr. Ruoyi Zhou

Director of Accessibility Research, IBM

Original at

A Robot to Help Visually Impaired Schoolchildren Find Their Way

03.07.17 – Summer series students works:

Alexandre Foucqueteau has taught Cellulo, a little hand-sized robot, how to help visually impaired children find their bearings and avoid obstacles in the classroom.

For his semester project, Alexandre Foucqueteau came up with a new application for a little multifunctional robot called Cellulo. Created at EPFL two years ago in a collaboration between the Computer-Human Interaction Lab for Learning & Instrution (CHILI) and the Robotic Systems Laboratory (LSRO) with the support of NCCR Robotics, the robot can now help visually impaired children get around their classroom. The child moves the little robot around a map of the room. When the robot bumps virtually into something, such as a table or the teacher’s desk, it can recognize the object. That may sound like a piece of cake, but getting a tablet to interact with the robot and recognize the objects was actually quite complex.

Foucqueteau worked on the project in partnership with Agnieszka Kolodziej, a PhD student from the cognition, language and ergonomics unit at the University of Toulouse who is studying spatial awareness and language learning among blind people. “I spent five months observing classes of visually impaired children aged between three and nine years old. The classes were very mixed, and the learning tools available did not really meet their needs. Thanks to our partnership with EPFL, we’ve been able to come up with a really fun and interactive project.” That’s how this new application for the little robot came to be.

To enable the children to visualize the classroom in 2D and understand where furniture is located, Foucqueteau had to create a model of the room and teach Cellulo to clearly indicate anything blocking the way. “This is how it works: the robot stops, moves back and vibrates when it touches something. The child then has to say what the robot has hit. If the child is spatially lost and doesn’t know, the tablet can say what it is the crayon cupboard or the teacher’s desk, for instance.”

Cellulo is particularly solid and easy to handle. Its mechanism is magnetic, which means it’s not easily damaged. It can also be moved quickly without breaking. So children can take their time to find their way they can bump virtually into every cupboard, chair and table if need be. The teacher can also program the robot to follow a given path.

For Foucqueteau, the most difficult part was working out how to guide Cellulo. He had to delve into the programing interface, learn how to use it and modify it for his needs.

Now that Cellulo knows its way around the classroom, Foucqueteau wants to create a collaborative treasure hunt, in which two children work together to find the virtual treasure on the map and the real treasure in the classroom.

Original at

Uber Discriminates Against Riders With Disabilities, Class-Action Suit Says

New York Times, July 19, 2017

All around Valerie Joseph, there is a fleet of Uber cars rolling by on New York City streets.

But though she could really use the ride-hailing app, Ms. Joseph said she does not bother because Uber has so few wheelchair-accessible cars to dispatch. “It’s plain unfair,” said Ms. Joseph, 41, who relies on a wheelchair.

Now, Ms. Joseph is part of a class-action lawsuit accusing Uber of discriminating against New York City riders with disabilities by providing scant access to wheelchair-accessible cars at a time when ride-hailing apps are becoming a common alternative to public transit in the city. The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan by Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit organization.

While Uber offers wheelchair-accessible cars through its UberWAV service, the lawsuit claims that these special cars, which typically have lifts and ramps for mobility devices, account for a tiny fraction of the 58,000 for-hire cars dispatched by Uber in New York City’s five boroughs. Moreover, this already limited pool of cars can be used for other riders, and vehicles may be unavailable when needed by those with disabilities, the lawsuit said.

The result is that “even when an UberWAV vehicle is technically available, because so few exist, there are typically frequent and lengthy delays,” the lawsuit suit. It added, “As such, people who use wheelchairs and use UberWAV must contend with missed appointments, being late for events and other stress and inconvenience.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups and individuals, including the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, Taxis for All Campaign and Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York. It follows two other discrimination lawsuits involving handicapped travelers filed this year against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the scarcity of elevators and electric lifts in the subway system.

The Taxis for All Campaign previously led a similar discrimination lawsuit over yellow taxis, which resulted in a settlement that requires half of all yellow taxis to be wheelchair accessible by 2020.

Today, there are 1,859 yellow taxis and 655 green taxis, which primarily serve northern Manhattan and the other boroughs, that are wheelchair accessible. Last week, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission proposed broad new requirements for wheelchair-accessible service for the entire for-hire industry, which would include Uber and the other ride-hail companies. These requirements, which will be reviewed at a public hearing in September, would have to be approved by the commission’s board before they could go into effect.

Alix Anfang, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company had already voluntarily taken steps to serve riders with disabilities. In 2016, it started a pilot program for wheelchair-accessible cars that has since expanded to nearly 200 vehicles. (The lawsuit filed against Uber said there were fewer than 100 accessible cars, based on city data.)

Ms. Anfang said the company had offered incentives to drivers of wheelchair-accessible cars, including offering $10 for each completed trip, $500 after completing 40 trips in the first week, and reduced commissions paid to Uber. The company has also called for a city law that would add a 5-cent “accessibility fee” on all black car and livery car trips to raise money for a fund, which would be administered by the city, to provide financial incentives for companies and services that provide rides in wheelchair-accessible cars.

“Uber’s technology has expanded access to reliable transportation options for all riders,” Ms. Anfang said. “While there is certainly more work to be done, we will continue advocating for a solution that offers affordable, reliable transportation to those who need a wheelchair accessible vehicle.”

Still, it is not enough for some riders with disabilities and their advocates. Ms. Joseph, who lives in Queens and works in Brooklyn, said she had friends and colleagues who had tried to hail an Uber car, only to find long wait times if the car arrived at all. She said she was limited by having few other good options for getting around the city.

“I feel frustrated because I have to plan my day,” she said. “I can’t do things on a whim. I have to plan it days in advance.”

The lawsuit claims that Uber, in discriminating against riders with disabilities, has violated the city’s human rights laws; the plaintiffs ask that the court require Uber to “develop and implement a remedial plan to ensure full and equal access to its services for riders who require accessible transportation.”

“Uber claims it’s a revolutionary company, but it’s engaged in old-fashioned discrimination against people with disabilities from its first day in New York City,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “Our lawsuit against Uber’s discrimination makes it clear: It’s 2017, not the 1950s, when it comes to equal access to transportation.”

The lawsuit is the latest challenge for a troubled company, whose chief executive, Travis Kalanick, was forced out amid widespread criticism over the company’s handling of sexual harassment, executive misbehavior and its internal culture. Uber, which has a fraught relationship with its drivers, recently reversed course to allow passengers to tip their drivers through the Uber app.

Original at

nTIDE June 2017 Jobs Report: Ongoing Job Growth Reflects Americans with Disabilities Striving to Work

by Anna Brennan-Curry
Jul 07, 2017

Kessler Foundation and University of New Hampshire release nTIDE Report Monthly Update

Durham, NH Americans with disabilities continued to engage in the labor market, reaching 15 months of job gains, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). This extends the longest stretch of recorded gains for this population.

As the nation implements the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014, vocational rehabilitation (VR) services are evolving to better serve people with significant disabilities.

By aligning VR with programs for students and young adults with severe disabilities, there are more options for their transition to competitive, integrated employment.

National Trends in Disability Employment: Comparison of People with & without Disabilities (June 2016 & June 2017)

In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, July 7, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 28.1 percent in June 2016 to 29.8 percent in June 2017 (up 6 percent; 1.7 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 73.2 percent in June 2016 to 73.9 percent in June 2017 (up 1 percent; 0.7 percentage points). The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).

“Fifteen consecutive months of employment growth for people with disabilities is outstanding news,” according to John O’Neill, PhD, director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation. “However, there is still a long way to go before people with disabilities reach their pre-Great Recession employment levels, not to mention parity with people without disabilities,” he added.

The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 32.1 percent in June 2016 to 33.0 percent in June 2017 (up 2.8 percent; 0.9 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also increased from 76.9 percent in June 2016 to 77.3 percent in June 2017 (up 0.5 percent; 0.4 percentage points). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work.

“The growth in the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities continues to outpace that of people without disabilities, which is a strong indicator that people with disabilities are working, want to work, and are indeed striving to work,” said Andrew Houtenville, PhD, associate professor of economics at UNH, and research director at the Institute on Disability.

“Congress has given a clear directive to focus on competitive integrated employment and to positively impact the workforce participation rate of persons with disabilities,” states Stephen A. Wooderson, CEO of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR).”As outlined in WIOA, the priority for public vocational rehabilitation programs is serving job seekers with significant disabilities.” With the emphasis on more comprehensive preparation for employment and extended support services in the workplace, connecting with VR is essential for youth and adults who are striving to work. “Incorporating work experiences during high school increases the likelihood of employment after graduation,” notes Wooderson, “and options for customized employment and supported employment help meet the needs of jobseekers with significant disabilities.”

In June 2017, among workers ages 16-64, the 4,719,000 workers with disabilities represented 3.3 percent of the total 144,945,000 workers in the U.S.

The next nTIDE will be issued on Friday, August 4, 2017.

Join our nTIDE Lunch & Learn series today, July 7, at 12:00pm Eastern. This live broadcast, hosted via Zoom Webinar, offers attendees Q&A on the latest nTIDE findings, provides news and updates from the field, as well as invited panelists to discuss current disability-related findings and events. Wendy Parent-Johnson, Executive Director, Center for Disabilities, Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, will join Drs. Houtenville and O’Neill, and Denise Rozell, policy strategist at AUCD, to discuss today’s findings. You can join live, or watch the recordings at:

NOTE: The statistics in the nTIDE are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, but are not identical. They are customized by UNH to combine the statistics for men and women of working age (16 to 64). NTIDE is funded, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) (9ORT5022 and 90RT5017) and Kessler Foundation.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes — including employment — for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire

The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was established in 1987 to provide a coherent university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the NIDILRR-funded Employment Policy and Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, visit

For more information, or to interview an expert, contact:

Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382,

Laura Viglione, 973.323.3675,

Original at

Microsoft’s New iPhone App Narrates the World for Blind People

The app uses AI to recognize people, objects, and scenes
by James Vincent@jjvincent
Jul 12, 2017

Microsoft has released Seeing AI a smartphone app that uses computer vision to describe the world for the visually impaired. With the app downloaded, the users can point their phone’s camera at a person and it’ll say who they are and how they’re feeling. They can also point it at a product and it’ll tell them what it is. All of this is done using artificial intelligence that runs locally on their phone.

The company showed off a prototype of Seeing AI in March last year at its Build conference, but starting today, the app is available to download for free in the US on iOS. However, there’s no word yet on when it’ll come to Android or other countries.

The app works in a number of scenarios. As well as recognizing people it’s seen before and guessing strangers’ age and emotion, it can identify household products by scanning barcodes. It also reads and scan documents, and recognizes US currency. This last function is a good example of how useful it can be. As all dollar bills are the same size and color regardless of value, spotting the difference can be difficult or even impossible for the visually impaired. An app like Seeing AI helps them find that information.

The app uses neural networks to identify the world around it, the same basic technology that’s being deployed all over Silicon Valley, powering self-driving cars, drones, and more. The app’s most basic functions are carried out directly on the device itself. This means they can be accessed more quickly and in situations where there’s no stable internet connection. However, Seeing AI’s experimental features like describing an entire scene or recognizing handwriting require a connection to the cloud.

Speaking to The Verge at a Microsoft event in London, Saqib Shaikh, the tech lead on Seeing AI, said he most commonly used the app for reading documents like signs and menus. He points out the app doesn’t just perform the basic task of optical character recognition technology, but also directs the user telling them to move the camera left or right to get the target in shot.

Shaikh says that the difference between this and similar apps is the speed of the neural nets: “One of the things we wanted to do was face recognition on device, and we’ve done that so within a few milliseconds you’ll hear the result. It’s all about the speed, and we try to do as much as we can on the device.”

Original at

Low-Cost Smart Glove Translates American Sign Language Alphabet

By Liezel Labios, UC San Diego
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

“The Language of Glove”: a smart glove that wirelessly translates the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet into text and controls a virtual hand to mimic ASL gestures.

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a smart glove that wirelessly translates the American Sign Language alphabet into text and controls a virtual hand to mimic sign language gestures. The device, which engineers call “The Language of Glove,” was built for less than $100 using stretchable and printable electronics that are inexpensive, commercially available and easy to assemble. The work was published on July 12 in the journal PLOS ONE.

In addition to decoding American Sign Language gestures, researchers are developing the glove to be used in a variety of other applications ranging from virtual and augmented reality to telesurgery, technical training and defense.

“Gesture recognition is just one demonstration of this glove’s capabilities,” said Timothy O’Connor, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student at UC San Diego and the first author of the study. “Our ultimate goal is to make this a smart glove that in the future will allow people to use their hands in virtual reality, which is much more intuitive than using a joystick and other existing controllers. This could be better for games and entertainment, but more importantly for virtual training procedures in medicine, for example, where it would be advantageous to actually simulate the use of one’s hands.”

The glove is unique in that it has sensors made from stretchable materials, is inexpensive and simple to manufacture. “We’ve innovated a low-cost and straightforward design for smart wearable devices using off-the-shelf components. Our work could enable other researchers to develop similar technologies without requiring costly materials or complex fabrication methods,” said Darren Lipomi, a nanoengineering professor who is a member of the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego and the study’s senior author.

The ‘language of glove’

The team built the device using a leather athletic glove and adhered nine stretchable sensors to the back at the knuckles two on each finger and one on the thumb. The sensors are made of thin strips of a silicon-based polymer coated with a conductive carbon paint. The sensors are secured onto the glove with copper tape. Stainless steel thread connects each of the sensors to a low power, custom-made printed circuit board that’s attached to the back of the wrist.

The sensors change their electrical resistance when stretched or bent. This allows them to code for different letters of the American Sign Language alphabet based on the positions of all nine knuckles. A straight or relaxed knuckle is encoded as “0” and a bent knuckle is encoded as “1”. When signing a particular letter, the glove creates a nine-digit binary key that translates into that letter. For example, the code for the letter “A” (thumb straight, all other fingers curled) is “011111111,” while the code for “B” (thumb bent, all other fingers straight) is “100000000.” Engineers equipped the glove with an accelerometer and pressure sensor to distinguish between letters like “I” and “J”, whose gestures are different but generate the same nine-digit code.

The low power printed circuit board on the glove converts the nine-digit key into a letter and then transmits the signals via Bluetooth to a smartphone or computer screen. The glove can wirelessly translate all 26 letters of the American Sign Language alphabet into text. Researchers also used the glove to control a virtual hand to sign letters in the American Sign Language alphabet.

Moving forward, the team is developing the next version of this glove one that’s endowed with the sense of touch. The goal is to make a glove that could control either a virtual or robotic hand and then send tactile sensations back to the user’s hand, Lipomi said. “This work is a step toward that direction.”

Paper title: “The Language of Glove: Wireless gesture decoder with low-power and stretchable hybrid electronics” by Timothy F. O’Connor, Mathew Fach, Rachel Miller, Samuel E. Root, Patrick P. Mercier and Darren J. Lipomi, all at UC San Diego.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award (1DP2EB022358-01). An earlier prototype of the device was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program (grant no. FA9550-13-1-0156). Additional support was provided by the Center for Wearable Sensors at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and member companies Qualcomm, Sabic, Cubic, Dexcom, Honda, Samsung and Sony.


Liezel Labios

UC San Diego
(858) 246-1124

Original at