Thursday, 20 April 2017

Accessibility Hardware: Environmental Controls

There once was a time where if you put all the electronic items such as TV remote controls that I may need during the day in very close proximity to me that I would be all right. Now, however that is simply not the way I work. Quite a few years have passed since I lost the ability to do anything really useful with my hands except just about use computer and drive my wheelchair. In that time I have needed more creative solutions to access things in my home like the TV, light switches and the telephone. I have always used an environmental control. This is a device which can record and fire out IR signals such as the ones that come out of the television remote control and activate some light switches.

The one I have at the moment is called a Vivo+ and it is produced by a company called Possum. This one has a screen on the front which allows me with the touch of a single button the ability to scan through a list of recorded infrared signals. The version I have also connects to a pager and my telephone. With this system I can easily navigate the menus on my TV and get hold of people in an emergency. The bonus features are that I could use it as an intercom and a light switch. I no longer need to worry about moving my hand over loads of controls which is something that is impossible for me now. It is also a darnn sight better than having to tell somebody else but I want to watch. That is just not the way you want to watch adult movies. The version I have is quite an old one and I have had it for at least 8 years but the new one which is available now runs of a Samsung tablet. It works exactly the same as the old one but with this one I can send text messages, use skype, surf the Internet and all those nice things that you would expect to be able to do with any smart device.

Suffice to say I think that pretty much covers this simple but invaluable device. If you are struggling and regulating TV controls and using the home phone and all that stuff that people just take the granted. Then I would highly recommend that you try and get hold of and OT and get some sort of environmental control. I guarantee you that it will increase your independence tenfold.



Sunday, 2 April 2017

Audiobooks and Alexa

I can still vividly remember the last physical book I ever read. It was a compilation of all the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books. We were on holiday at the time and I needed something to do whilst next to the swimming pool. I always find it very hard to have my brain set to idle so I've always had to have something occupying my mind. Ever since then I have struggled more and more to use my hands right up to a point where reading books for pleasure was out of the question. You could get a Kindle but I would have still been lacking control and I'd always feared it just would not be the same if I could not feel the book and smell the paper. For quite some time now I have really missed being able to read, my body might have not been able but my mind has always been a good place. My imagination could always take be anywhere and with the assistance of a well written and entertaining book there was nowhere I could not go. I felt like I lost a big piece of my life or at least the lot of the entertainment value. I did consider audiobooks but there was never really a feasible solution for me to control them as I could never handle the buttons. So with audiobooks I could not fast forward or rewind or pause. I also considered getting electronic books but I didn't really want to sit there reading a book whilst being sat in front of a computer. The whole idea was to be able to read it outside or on the go. So there I was with the only option being having an assistant read a book to me which did not really have the same effect as reading it yourself. Essentially, my disability had robbed me of something else and something which I really enjoyed. I always enjoyed reading goosebumps and then point horror, I had just started with sci-fi and the humour before I lost the ability. I resided myself to never enjoying literature again. Then one day I discovered a rather temperamental artificial intelligence called Alexa that ran on the Amazon Echo. In case you have been living in a box you would know that the echo is a voice controlled personal assistant not to be different from Siri but this one lives in a hockey puck sized disc and is controlled entirely by your voice. This thing can control your house, allow you to set a schedule, set alarms, listen to music and the radio. More importantly though it connects to the audible audiobook service which for an additional fee allows you to listen to audiobooks through the echo speaker. Because you can use your voice it means that I can select books and have all the necessary commands on the tip of my tongue instead of the tips of my fingers. Don't get me wrong this thing definitely has its flaws but when it can hear them properly and decides to do exactly what I say then it is brilliant. Normally, with other speech recognition say for instance Siri you would usually have to press a button to make it start listening to you unless of course you have it on charge. This is obviously not useful for me. The echo on the other hand has an array of microphones built into it and it can hear you over the top of the radio or audiobook just as long you don't have it set to loud. Personally I use my Alexa to wake me up with an alarm and listen to BBC radio two on the morning, then at night I use it to listen to an audiobook usually till after my carers go away and then I can turn it off after a few chapters and go to sleep. I do feel though that I should maybe point out some of the things that irk me about the system. For one you can only set an alarm to a selection of alarm sounds and you can set it to wake you up with the radio. It also for some reason keeps the defaulting to radio stations from other countries. Apart from that, it mostly works fine. I should also probably point out that I use a ventilator and my voice is not always the clearest but Alexa most of the time manages to make up for that. It is definitely a gadget I would recommend just as long as you can spare a little bit of patience which I often am unable to do. I always find now that with audiobooks there are a two things you need to consider, the first is obviously the book that you want. You definitely need to pick something that you think will entertain you and secondly it is very important to consider the reader. Some people drone on and on and on which has put me off quite a few books. However, after a bit of trial and error I have found three readers which I particularly like and those are Stephen Fry, Will Wheaton and a Guy called R.C. Bray. For me these are the best readers so far and they are integral in getting your mind to absorb the book.  In my opinion it is a very good idea to have a good listen of the sample before you commit to anything.

Bert out.