From April 14–18, I had the pleasure of attending the first Deaf-Blind International Conference for the Network of the Americas. Organized by Deaf-Blind International (DBI), and the Perkins School for the Blind, this conference is geared toward children and adults who are, or live or work with, people who are deaf-blind. While many of the topics covered at this conference are beyond the scope of AccessWorld, some technology shown in the vendor areas might be of particular interest to those with hearing and vision loss. While the selection wasn't quite as varied as that reported on from CSUN by JJ Medaugh, there were some products on display at DBI that he did not showcase, and a couple vendors at this conference that were not at CSUN.
Potential Funding Resources
Before diving into the new technology, let's touch on two other booths. Both are potential sources of funding for deaf-blind individuals wishing to get assistance obtaining telecommunications equipment. The National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, also known as ICanConnect, is a federally funded program that provides a wide range of free telecommunications equipment to individuals with any combination of vision and hearing loss who meet specific income requirements. Recommended equipment is ordered based on a formal assessment performed by a qualified professional. Upon receipt of the equipment, ICanConnect recipients are given the opportunity to receive training in its use specifically related to telecommunications. One of the solutions covered in this article may be available to you through the ICanConnect program, although the specific technology an individual receives depends upon many factors such as cost-effectiveness, specific circumstances, and the like.
For people with significant hearing loss, there is another resource potentially available, irrespective of vision status. Most states have a Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and each provides varying amounts of telecommunications equipment to help participants make and receive phone calls. The Hearing Loss Association of America has a list of State Telecommunications Programs that lists Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program information for the states that participate. SPOILER ALERT! Delaware, Washington DC, Idaho, Michigan, New York, and Ohio offer no such program.
The insideONE Tactile Braille Tablet from insidevision
The insideONE is a Windows 10, 64-bit tactile braille tablet constructed of anodized aluminum and featuring a touchscreen made of Gorilla Glass and a 32-cell braille display. Engraved into the glass is a braille keyboard. On each side of the keyboard is a vertical groove that allows users to use touchscreen gestures to perform various functions. The insideONE has 4 GB of RAM and a 128-GB solid state drive. The user has the option of expanding storage capacity by 256 GB using the built-in micro SD card reader. This tablet has a front-facing 2-MP camera, a rear-facing 5-MP camera, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a microphone, and stereo speakers. WiFi and Bluetooth are also available. The tablet is charged via the Micro USB port. There is also a Mini USB port, USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI port to which an external screen can be connected. The manufacturer claims eight hours of use on a fully charged battery. NVDA comes pre-installed, though you can install JAWS if you wish. The insideONE offers a suite of applications called Home which can be used independent of Windows.
Above the 32-cell braille display is an engraved line, which allows you to pan the display as well as manipulate the cursor just as you would using physical cursor routing buttons on conventional braille displays. When in a text field, an onscreen keyboard appears that can be used to type text, which can then be read on the built-in braille display. A sighted person using the insideONE to communicate with someone who is deaf-blind will find that the tablet operates no differently from any other off-the-shelf product. A blind person can make use of speech output from NVDA and the onscreen keyboard while the deaf-blind person can use the braille keyboard to type back to their hearing and/or sighted counterpart. This could make face-to-face communication much easier for individuals who are efficient braille users, as only one device would be needed instead of the multiples that are currently needed to achieve a similar result. For example, I currently use an iPhone, Focus braille display, and Bluetooth keyboard to make face-to-face communication easier for myself. Other individuals may use a Microsoft Surface or other Windows tablet, with an external braille display and Bluetooth keyboard connected to achieve similar results.
From the very brief time I had to test the device at the conference, I felt comfortable typing on the engraved braille keyboard. Stay tuned to AccessWorld for a full review of the insideONE in a later issue.
Captel Captioning Service and Captioning Phones: I Can't Hear You, but I Can Read You
One of the many challenges someone faces when losing their hearing is the ability to easily talk on the phone. This challenge, like many, can be partially overcome through the use of adaptive technology. Captel is a company that offers captioning services for those who struggle to understand others on the telephone. A Captel user can choose to listen to call's audio while receiving captions of what the other person is saying. with a brief delay between their speech and the caption. To use this service, you need a high-speed Internet connection and phone line.
Captel has a wide range of captioning phones available to meet low vision and blind users' needs. One model, the 880iB, offers braille display support through either USB or Bluetooth. Supported braille displays are manufactured by Baum, HIMS, Humanware, and the VFO Group. A few of the displays the 880iB supports only work via Bluetooth, so check the Captel braille display compatibility page for details on whether the device you have works using USB or Bluetooth. Once connected, the braille display can be used to dial numbers, check for new voice messages, navigate phone menus, and read captions. Captel is a one-way service; the captioner can only hear the person whose speech they are captioning. Therefore, it is not possible to use a braille display's keyboard to respond to the other party through text.
Other models of Captel phones make the process of reading captions easier on low vision users, as a user can adjust the font size, color, and contrast. By default, all phones feature a larger dial pad and 7-inch screen with user-adjustable brightness. While it is possible for a consumer to purchase a Captel phone, the company strongly recommends checking with both the Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program and/or ICanConnect to see if you are eligible to receive a phone at no cost.
The Video Phone Meets The Braille Display: Video Relay Services and MYMMMX DB Software
Over the past several years, there has been a shift from using traditional text relay to using Video Relay Services (VRS). This is due in part to the fact that those whose first language is American Sign Language (ASL) prefer to use ASL to communicate. In most cases, it's also much faster to sign a conversation than it is to type, which makes a call using VRS quicker than one using traditional text relay. For those unfamiliar with how VRS works, the ASL user makes a video call through a smart TV, smartphone, or other Internet-enabled device with a camera to an interpreter. A VRS user signs call-related information to the interpreter, who places a voice call to a hearing person. The interpreter speaks to the hearing party as the other person signs, and communicates what is said in return using sign language. American Sign Language users can also contact other ASL users directly using videophone.
For an individual who has low vision, each Video Relay Service provider offers the ability to magnify the interpreter's image and the ability to narrow the image if the person has a significant field restriction. A low-vision ASL user can also request that an interpreter wear colors that contrast with their skin.
Until recently, no method was available for a deaf person lacking sufficient vision to see an interpreter to place a Video Relay Service call independently. MYMMX DB, a software developed by a Swedish company called nWise and distributed by Access256 Productions in the US, is addressing this issue. At the moment, the solution is only available on Windows. The software allows the individual using sign language to run the application entirely from a refreshable braille display. All braille displays that are compatible with JAWS will offer the same amount of functionality with the MYMMX DB software. Once a call is placed, all communication with the interpreter shows up as text on the braille display. When an individual who is deaf-blind wishes to respond, they sign into the camera as they normally would when using VRS. I was told that nWise plans to have a text relay option available at some later date, as well as releasing apps in the US for iOS and Android. Before you can use MYMMX DB, it is necessary to register with Global VRS, the only Video Relay Service Provider supported by MYMMX DB. Global VRS offers both English and Spanish sign language services, and also offers Spanish spoken to ASL. It is possible, then, for someone who uses Spanish Sign Language to call Global VRS and get a translation to and from spoken English. For more information about using Video Relay Service, please see this FAQ put together by the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Access256 Productions is actively working to put individuals who are deaf-blind and would benefit from this software in touch with agencies and programs that may be able to help them get the software free-of-charge. In fact, when I inquired about the price for MYMMX DB, I was strongly encouraged to explore these avenues. The owner of the company, who is also deaf-blind, indicated that there is often a disconnect between the deaf-blind customer and the company producing the product. He said that this is not the case with MYMMMX DB, as he uses it and oversees its functions personally.
It was very encouraging to attend this deaf-blind conference, and see companies making a concerted effort to help bring the world back into the hands of people with combined vision and hearing loss. It is my hope that the next DBI conference will offer attendees yet another opportunity to experience first-hand proof that some in the adaptive technology industry are working tirelessly to help offset communication challenges faced by members of the deaf-blind community.
Cost: $5,495 (in the US)
Manufacturer: insidevision Inc.
- CSUN 2018 Heralds The Year of Wearables—Unless It Doesn't by Shelly Brisbin
- ATIA at a Glance: What We Saw at the 2018 Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference by J.J. Meddaugh
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