Archive for the ‘Access Technology’ Category

Reid My Mind Radio – Full Access to Movies & Television…

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

The Actiview  logo appears on screen in a small theater
An episode packed with goodness. First, Alex Koren one of two founders of Actiview, the new startup changing not only the way we consume audio description but the way we think of video accessibility. This episode also includes:
– A slight rant on access to Audio Description in general
– A special sneak peak into a new project I’m excited to work on with one of Hip Hop’s pioneers, Doctor Dre; an original Def Jam artist, Yo MTV Raps and Hot 97 Morning Show host & DJ
– Inspiration struck – thanks to Brooklyn’s own Notorious BIG… and if you don’t know, now you know…!

Now go ahead and hit Play and don’t forget to subscribe!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Wasup everyone!
We’re talking audio description this week.
In some sense it’s about the future of description.

In the present as you’ll hear more in the Gatewave piece, getting the audio description device in a theater can be a hit or miss.

Today, a new start up changing the paradigm as it relates to how people ith vision loss and others gain access to video content.

So let’s get it!

[20th Century Fox Theme]
[RMMRadio Theme Music ]

[Audio from John Wyck Chapter 2]

TR:
You’re listening to audio description from the movie John Wyck Chapter 2. Audio Description, well, that’s the additional narration making video accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

This extra information describes scenes not containing dialog or other nonverbal information that is relevant to the story.

Alex koren, a 23 year old entrepreneur originally from the New York/New Jersey area is one of two founders of Actiview. They’re a new startup company. Their product, an iPhone app, is putting more control and accessibility in the hands of the consumer.

AK:
I received a grant in two thousand and fourteen called the Theil Fellowship. It’s awarded to twenty young entrepreneurs every year to drop out of college
and pursue entrepreneurial endeavors of their choice. I moved up to San Francisco and kind of had two years to just think about ideas work on different things. Entering into the
last half year of my fellowship I felt compelled to really build something that mattered to people. Build something I probably be connected to and I had this idea for Actiview. How can I make movie theaters more accessible. Make home television more accessible.

There’s two Founders and really three partners on this project as a whole. Myself my co-founder Braun Shedd who’s actually nineteen years old. I worked with him previously on a project or two and I said I’ve got this idea come live with me let’s work on this let’s hack on this and see what we can make out of it.

And the third guy Paul Cichockihe he was at Pixar for about seventeen years. He was the post-production supervisor and he really headed up there initiative to make their audio description as high quality as possible. He was working on captions, audio description
every accessible service under the domain of a lot of things that he did. And he left Pixar and came to join us full time in September of last year.

TR:
While none of the three partners have a direct relationship with vision loss; Alex did spend some considerable time with people who are deaf.

AK:
I really enjoy and find it rewarding to work and be in a field that really helps people with blindness low vision people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

TR:
Actiview an iOS only application right now is bringing a full service accessibility solution to the smart phone.

It offers audio description, closed captions, American Sign Language, sub-titles and language translations.

Alex points out some of the ways earlier apps which tried to bring audio description direct to the consumer. differ from Actiview’s approach.

AK:
all of these had great intentions and were really viable pieces of technology except for a few things.

One we wanted to be access ability first. It was all
about making sure that we provide the best possible experience for the accessible users first. And then expand it out to the general population. And the second one is we recognize that every movie had to be accessible. It couldn’t just be a select few. And so the first piece of technology that we ended up developing was a piece of hardware
that movie theaters could install that made every movie accessible via Wi-Fi. All of the technology that we’d seen had made you download stuff in the
cloud and they had a limited selection of movies. We were trying to work in the realm of making every movie accessible. In developing this technology we spent the
better part of I think over a year reverse engineering a lot of broadcasts systems and projection booths which is really really tough work. We sat in a lot of dark rooms between a lot of you know loud and hot equipment with our computers out trying to figure this out. After we built kind of our first prototypes and demos we sort of realize that theaters unfortunately just aren’t that excited about buying more equipment to make stuff accessible. Which is a really really unfortunate truth. So we sort of started to take a different approach to all this. We said how can we still make every movie accessible
without selling something directly to the theater for them to install and work on. The first thing we did was we moved a mobile app that you could download
the content from the cloud synchronize it with the movie and basically use it anywhere without any hardware. We piloted with cars three in June of this year and everyone could download the audio description track go to see Cars 3 in the movie theater and play the track back. We had some great response. A lot of moms
and dads talking about how their blind or low vision child finally got to go to the movies. It was really really moving for us and exciting for us.

That also works in the home. And so we’re working on also adding content from providers like Netflix and Amazon Video as well as DVDs that you already have, I Tunes video all the services. The download and sync idea the download and sync solution works for you kind of anywhere. So we don’t see where this is only the theatrical only the releases where you go with the family once a year. it’s also I have a spouse who’s not blind or not Deaf who wants to watch Netflix with me and I can personally turn on the audio description in my ear and we can both watch together on the same couch. Because right now you
know Netflix and Amazon have great audio description offerings but you turn on audio description on everyone’s listening when it’s on the captions everyone’s watching them. And to have a kind of personalized experience we imagine a world where the Spanish speaking mom, the blind husband and the Deaf child are all sitting in one room watching together and that’s I think a really really special experience.

And now going forward what we’re doing is we’re taking the software that we still love that was sitting in that box that you can install in the projection booth and we’re actually trying to sell it to the projector manufacturers. so they can take the software install it directly in a projector so instead of us selling new technology to theaters it’s just a software update to projectors. And that’s really the new paradigm
of what we’re trying to solve and do here at Actiview. It’s make every projector capable of making movies accessible.
We’re just getting it from its almost last destination to its destination and that’s really just from the projection booth to your ears.

TR:
The less steps in this last phase of delivery, the better. Both people and technology introduce possible failure points.

Take for instance the current process of listening to audio description in movie theaters today.

[Audio: Movie theater atmosphere]

When purchasing your tickets, a movie goer must first request the device from the box office.

In my experience, there’s often a confusion here.
After requesting the device for the visually impaired I am asked;
[Theater Box Office Attendant]
” do you mean the closed caption?”
[Pause
TR:
“No!”

[Theater Box Office Attendant]
“Do you mean the device that makes it louder?”

[Pause]

TR:
“No!”

If you make it past this first round with the a device in your hands…
When the movie finally begins after about a half hour of previews you didn’t ask to see, you find out the device wasn’t properly configured. Meaning the movie begins and there’s no description streaming from the device through your headphones.

This requires quickly returning to the theater employee or manager to have the device fixed.

Hopefully, this is resolved the first time, but I’ve been to theaters where we had to repeat this process.

Actiview would eliminate these extra steps in the accessibility delivery process.

The Actiview team seems to understand an important fact of accessibility; one size does not fit all.
AK:
People need different levels of access and our app it’s built to be really modular in the way that you can just press buttons to use multiple ones at the same time. You can’t use all of them at the same time because there’s limitations on what the phone can do, but certainly the ones that are applicable you know you know that someone using audio description for instance would never need the sign language track so we don’t allow that combination. But certainly the ones
for low hearing and low vision or low hearing and Deaf. We do allow you to combine those and use them simultaneously.

TR:
All of these accessibility solutions in one app;
should be a reminder to advocates about the power of coalition.

To download the app visit the Apple App store.

AK:
If you download the app, you go through a quick tutorial about how to use the app and just as an head’s up you will need headphones that are wired to your phone
in order to try to go through the tutorial. It’s a requirement we have for security purposes. And once you do that there’s an option to subscribe to push notifications. And if you hit ok on the push notifications you will then be on our list to hear about when new movies get released. And so we’ll be giving constant updates with new movies new content.

[TR in conversation with AK:]

You already said you’re probably working 12, 12 plus hours a day. What help are you guys looking for from the community at this point?

That’s a great question. I think that the first clearly easiest thing is downloads are king. For every download we get we’re tracking the usage of the app and we can go over to Hollywood and say hey guys look how many people want this thing. You know for every person who watch Cars 3 it was one more point in our court. Look how well this once people are really excited about this let’s keep doing it let’s keep this going.
Download some content. Go and see a movie. We hope to have a few more on there in the coming weeks to few months that you can go and see and they might be more applicable to you if you’re not a Cars fan. And that’s the easiest way to get involved.

Second of all we’re are hiring we’re looking for more engineering talent. I
think that We want to hire both low vision blind deaf and hard of hearing people to come work at Actiview. We really want to dedicate ourselves to fully being an accessible company. We’re looking for people to come join us if you’ve got the chops we will absolutely have a look and
take a listen and see if there’s a space to have you on board.

Just being an advocate – telling friends family because downloads are really important, but also coming back to us and saying hey I have an idea or hey this isn’t really working for me I need it this way because at the end of the day Actiview is only as good as the services that it provides to its customers. And if we’re not doing something to the best of our ability and you’re not enjoying the content you’re doing then we’re not doing our job. We think we’re doing a pretty good job in surveying and asking people what they want making sure we’re building their needs but there’s certainly work to be done and we hope that people give us the kind of feedback so we can build the best possible product.

TR:
To get in touch with the Actiview team whether to learn more about the app, give feedback including suggestions or for possible employment;
Contact by:
email: team@actiview.co
Twitter @TeamActiview)
website actiview.co

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio,
[Audio from interview: Which is a really really unfortunate truth.]

Audio for independent living!

[Audio: film Slate announcer says ” Take 1″]

Whenever I talk about audio description in the back of my mind I hear the haters.

Those who say this topic isn’t important. It’s just entertainment.

Once again, the haters are wrong, they suck!

Audio description makes information in the video format accessible.

This includes educational videos in the school and workplace.

Think of young children and adults alike who develop friendships and working relationships as a result of talking about their favorite program or movie.

At the core of entertainment is humanity and a message. Why should anyone be denied access to that information.

That descriptive information extends beyond video whether movies or television.

I can’t tell you how annoying it is to see a message in my social media feed, pick anyone! and the text refers to a image file… but there’s no way of getting that information without seeing the picture.
At least that was before the ability to add a description to the image.

Truth is the image description could be included with the post especially with FB. However, Twitter enabled the ability to add way more than 140 characters to describe the image.

Museums, galleries and other places could make their content accessible using headsets and location technology readily available today.

And I know the first thing said when the subject comes up…
Do blind people go to museums or are they on social media.

Not only are we out here, we make media.

We have families who we like to accompany to different experiences and we want to engage independently without their assistance in order for us all to share in an experience.

We might want to just alone.

That question yawl, is bullshit. Don’t accept it… in fact here you go…

simply remind people that they probably benefited from closed caption when at a sports bar.

re-directed themselves toward a ramp as opposed to lifting the functional leg up to step on to the sidewalk.

Man, don’t get me started yawl!

Just the other day I saw a tweet from someone who wished they could watch television while training for a marathon. They just find it gets boring.
I had to holla and let them know audio described movies/television are a real option.
It’s a non visual means of consuming media, that’s it.
The more that use the better for us all.
Try it on a road trip. Truck drivers could really get into it.
Bike riders and other athletes. Those doing work where it allows for active listening but not focusing on a screen.

We still have a long way until accessibility is just a normal part of how we do business.

Lots of room for expansion and growth.
Documentaries!
Many do not include description making them difficult to follow.

Audio description can impact a person’s adjustment to vision loss.

For so many people, the movies are that way to get out and lose themselves for 2 hours.

Earlier this year, I interviewed what I have come to realize is a true movie connoisseur.
In fact, he’s been in some movies himself.
Doctor Dre from Yo MTV Raps and New York’s Hot 97 Morning Show fame…
If you haven’t listened to that episode I truly suggest you do.

In fact, I’ll drop a little teaser of a project he and I are working on together that brings a different perspective and voice to the podcast game.

Here’s a taste of one around Dre’s experience with description.

This project is going to include conversations, interviews and more on lots of different topics and let me tell you right now, they can go anywhere. Dre has a gift for that and the funny thing is they tie into all sorts of subjects some very relevant today and some you may not be used to me talking about.

I hope you will join us when it’s ready but for now, I’ll probably slip some previews into the podcast feed so make sure you are subscribed so you don’t miss out.

If you’re not sure how to subscribe…

your friendly super hero has you covered.

If you have an iPhone

## 10 Subscribe Commandments
Step 1
Take out your phone, do it real fast
open the app, it’s called Podcast

In the bottom right corner, you can find the search tab
i’ll wait to you find it, Got it, Fab!

Now just type this in right on that search line
R E I D M Y, Mind

Tap on that search button, and away you go
there it is.., Reid My Mind Radio

All the episodes , appear on your screen
over 65 to date, Nahmean

a Reid My Mind button on the bottom, not sure which side
Hit it, next page, choose subscribe

Now your official, I’ll call you sis or bro
Or a non gender listener, of RMMRadio

Now , one more thing, I’d love for you to do,
give me a rating and if you could, , write me a review!

They say ratings help listeners find the podcast
It doesn’t take long, it’s pretty quick and fast

One last thing, You don’t need tech to do
Refer the show to a friend or two.

TR:
[Talking over music]
I would really like to get this information and overall message out to those who can really use it.
To me that’s everyone so we have a long way to go!

Shout out to the person who gave me a review, I appreciate you.

While you’re on the review page, hit that related tab and check out what other podcasts those who subscribe are listening to… we’re in some good company including Blind Abilities and Oprah and This American Life.

Hey Oprah, holla!

Peace.

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Microsoft Seeing AI – Real & Funky

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

!T.Reid wearing a hat with a "T" while the Seeing AI logo is imposed on his shades!
Okay, I don’t usually do reviews, but why not go for it! All I can tell you is I did it my way; that’s all I can do!
It took a toll on me… entering my dreams…
I’m going to go out on a limb and say I have the first podcast to include an Audio Described dream! So let’s get it… hit play and don’t forget to subscribe and tell a friend to do the same.

Resources:

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Wasup good people!
Today I am bringing you a first of sorts, a review of an app…

I was asked to do a piece on Microsoft’s new app called Seeing AI.for Gatewave Radio.

The interesting thing about producing a tech related review for Gatewave is that the Gatewave audience most likely doesn’t use smart phones and maybe even the internet. However, they should have a chance to learn about how this technology is impacting the lives of people with vision loss. Chances are they won’t learn about these things through any mainstream media so… I took a shot… And if there’s anything I am trying to get across with the stories and people I profile
it’s we’re all better off when we take a shot and not just accept the status quo

[Audio from Star Trek’s Next Generation… Captain La Forge fire’s at a chasing craft. Ends with crew mate exclaiming… Got em!]
[Audio: Reid My Mind Radio theme Music]

[Audio: Geordi La Forge from Star Trek talk to crew from enemy craft…]
TR:
Geordi La Forge from Star Trek’s Next Generation , played by LeVar Burton, was blind. However, through the use of a visor he was able to see far more than the average person.

While this made for a great story line, it also permanently sealed LeVar Burton and his Star Trek character as the default reference for any new technology that proposes to give “sight” to the blind.

[Audio: from intro above ending with Geordi saying…
“If you succeed, countless lives will be affected”
TR:
What exactly though, is sight?

We know that light is passed through the eye and that information is sent to the brain where it is interpreted and
quickly established to represent shapes, colors, objects and people.

A working set of eyes, optic nerves and brain are a formidable technological team.
They get the job done with maximum efficiency

Today, , with computer processing power growing exponentially and devices getting smaller the idea that devices like smart phones could serve as an alternative input for eyes is less science fiction and well, easier to see.

There are several applications available that bring useful functionality to the smart phone ;
* OCR or optical character recognition which allows a person to take a picture of text and have it read back using text to speech
* Product scanning – makes use of the camera and bar codes which are read and the information is spoken aloud again, using text to speech
* Adding artificial intelligence to the mix we’re seeing facial and object recognition being introduced.

Microsoft has recently jumped into the seeing business, with their new iOS app called Seeing AI… as in Artificial Intelligence!
There’s no magic or anything artificial about these results, they’re real!

In this application, the functionality like reading a document or recognizing a products bar code are split into channels. The inclusion of multiple channels in one application is already a plus for the user. Eliminating the need to open multiple apps.

Let’s start with reading documents.

For those who may have once had access to that super-fast computer interface called eyes , you’re probably familiar with the frustration of the lost ability to quickly scan a document with a glance and make a quick decision.

Maybe;
* You’re looking for a specific envelope or folder.
* you want to quickly grab that canned good or seasoning from the cabinet.

With other reading applications you have to go through the process of taking a picture and hoping you’re on the print side of the envelope or can. After you line it up and take the picture you find out the lighting wasn’t right so you have to do it again.

Using Microsoft’s Seeing AI you simply point the phones camera in the direction of the text

[Audio App in process]

Once it sees text, it starts reading it back! The quick information can be just enough for you to determine what you’re looking for. In fact, during the production of this review, I had a real life use case for the app.

My wife reminded me that I was contacted for Jury duty and I needed to follow up as indicated in the letter. The letter stated I would need to visit a specific website to complete the process. I forgot to put the letter in a separate area in order to scan it later and read the rest of the details. So rather than asking someone to help me find the letter, I grabbed the pile of mail from the table and took out my iPhone.

I passed some of my other blindness apps and launched Microsoft Seeing AI. I simply pointed the camera at each individual piece of paper until finding the specific sheet I was seeking. The process was a breeze. In fact, it was easier than asking someone to help me find the form. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s glancing!

Now that I found the right letter, I could easily get additional information from the sheet by scanning the entire document. I don’t need to open a separate app, I can simply switch to a different channel, by performing the flick up gesture.

Similar to a sighted person navigating the iPhone’s touch screen interface , anyone can non visually accomplish the same tasks using a set of different gestures designed to work with Voice Over, the built in screen reader that reads aloud information presented on the screen.

Using the document channel I can now take a picture of the letter and have it read back.

One of the best ways to do this is to place the camera directly on the sheet in the middle and slowly pull up as the edges come into view. I like to pull my elbows toward the left and right edges to orient myself to the page. Forming a triangle with my phone at the top center. The app informs you if the edges are in view or not.
Once it likes the positioning of the camera and the document is in view, it lets you know it’s processing.

[Audio: Melodic sound of Seeing AI’s processing jingle]

You don’t even have to hit the take picture button. However, if you are struggling to get the full document into view ,
you could take the picture and let it process. It may be good enough for giving you the information you’re seeking.

If you have multiple sheets to read, simply repeat.

Another cool feature here is the ability to share the scanned text with other applications. That jury duty letter, I saved it to a new file on my Drop Box enabling me to access it again from anywhere without having to scan the original letter

Let’s try using the app to identify some random items from my own pantry.

To do this, I switch the channel to products.

[Audio: Seeing App processing an item from my pantry…]

What you hear, is the actual time it took to “see” the product. All I’m doing is moving the item in order to locate the bar code.
As the beeps get faster I know I am getting closer. When the full bar code is in range, the app automatically takes the picture and begins processing.

[Audio: Seeing AI announces the result of the bar code scan… “Goya Salad Olives”

It’s pretty clear to see how this would be used at home, in the work environment and more.

Now let’s check out the A I or artificial intelligence in this application.

By artificial intelligence, the machine is going to use its ability to compute and validate certain factors in order to provide the user with information.

First, I’ll skip to the channel labeled Scene Beta…
Beta is another term for almost ready for prime time. So, if it doesn’t work, hey,, it’s beta!

Take a picture of a scene and the built in artificial intelligence will do its best to provide you with the information enabling you to understand something about that scene.

[Seeing AI reports a living room with a fireplace.]

This could be helpful in cases like
If a child or someone is asleep on the couch.

[Audio: Action Movie sound design]

I can even picture a movie starring me of course, where I play a radio producer who is being sought by the mob. The final scene I use my handy app to see the hitman approaching me. I do a round house kick…
ok, sorry I get a little carried away at the possibilities.

While no technology can replace good mobility travel skills I can imagine a day where the scene identification function will provide additional information about one’s surroundings.
Making it another mobility tool for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Now for my final act… oh wait it’s not magic remember!

Microsoft Seeing AI Offers facial recognition.
That’s right, point your camera at someone and it should tell you who that person is… Well, of course you have to first train the app.

To do this we have to first go into the menu and choose facial recognition.
To add a new person we choose the Add button.
In order to train Seeing AI you have to take three pictures of the person.
We elected to do different facial expressions like a smile, sad and no expression.
Microsoft recommends you let sighted family and friends take their own picture to get a good quality pic.

The setup requirement, while understandable at this point sort of reduces that sci fi feel.

After Seeing AI is trained, once you are in the people channel
when pointing your camera in the direction of the persons face, it can recognize and tell you the person is in the room.

[Audio: Seeing AI announces Raven about 5 feet in front.]

Seeing AI does a better job recognizing my daughter Raven when she smiles. That too me is not artificial intelligence because we all love her smile!

The application isn’t perfect. it struggled a bit with creased labels, making it difficult to read the bar code.

Not all bar codes are in the database. It would be great if users could submit new products for future use.

As a first version launch with the quick processing, Seeing AI really gives me something to keep an eye on. Or maybe I should say AI on!

Peering into the future I can see;

* Faster processing power that makes recognition super quick,
* Interfacing with social media profiles to automatically recognize faces and access information from people in your network
* lenses that can go into any set of glasses sending the information directly to the application not requiring the user to point their phone
at an item or person and privately receiving the information via wireless headset.
That could greatly open up the use cases.

In fact, interfacing with glasses is apparently already in development and
the team includes a lead programmer who is blind.

Microsoft says a Currency identification channel is coming in the future;
making Seeing AI a go to app for almost anything we need to see!

The Microsoft Seeing AI app is available from the Apple App store for Free 99. Yes, it’s free!

I’m Thomas Reid
[Audio: As in artificial intelligence!]
For Gatewave Radio, audio for independent living!

[Audio: Voice of Siri in Voice Over mode announcing “More”]

I don’t know if that’s considered a review in the traditional sense, but honestly I am not trying to be traditional.

The thing is, thinking about the application started to extend past the time when I was working on the piece…

That little jingle sound the app makes when it’s processing… it started to seep into my dreams…
[Audio: Dream Harp]

[Audio: “Funky Microsoft Seeing AI” An original T.Reid Production]

The song is based around the processing tone used in the app with the below lyrics.

(Audio description included in parens)

(Scene opens with Thomas asleep in bed with a dream cloud above his head)

The processing sound becomes a sound with Claps…

(We see a darkened stage)

(As the chorus is about to begin spotlight shines on Thomas & the band)

Chorus:
Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

(Thomas rips off his shirt!)

Verse:
Download the app on my iPhone

{Background sings… “Download it, Download it!}

Checking out things all around my home

(Thomas dances on stage)

Point the camera from the front
Huh!
Point the camera from the back!

I’m like;
what’s that , what’s this
Jump back give my phone a kiss!
Hey! (James Brown style yell!)

(Thomas spins and drops into a split)

Chorus:
Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

(Back in the bed we see Thomas with a fading dream cloud above his head)

Ends with the app’s processing sound.

TR:
Wow, definitely time to move on to the next episode…

With that said, make sure you Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Tell a friend to do the same – I have some interesting things coming up I think you’re going to like.
And something you may have not expected!

[Audio: RMMRadio Outro]
TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My MindRadio – Fears of a Blind Nomad

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Jim Paradiso at the Inca Ruins
When I heard about Jim Paradiso, I had to find out more. He’s a Blind Nomad… I had to hear his story. Turns out it’s so much more than that… he’s forcing you to challenge what you think is possible. That is, if you believe!

Take a listen and let me know; do you believe?

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s good fine people.

I have a lot to say about this episode so I’m just going to get right into it.

Well of course after the intro…

The best way to kick this one off…
[Audio: Been Around the World, Notorious BIG]
[Audio: RMMRadio Theme]

JP:
By the way what I’m about to tell you is true and I don’t give a damn if you believe it or not!

TR:
Any story that begins like that, well, you know it has to be good. whether it’s true or not, that’s for you to decide.

That voice you just heard is Jim Paradiso.
you can call Jim, a nomad!

A modern day nomad refers to people; often those with an online virtual business, where one’s income isn’t tied to a brick and mortar location.
Earning 60K for example and living outside of the US on various continents can really stretch that dollar.

That’s not exactly Jim’s situation. He’s been living a version of this lifestyle for over a year now and is currently in Loja, Ecuador.

According to Jim;

JP:
The adventure is the journey

TR:
With that said, let’s begin with the journey that lead Jim to Loha Ecuador.

JP:

I was talking to a friend, he was moving to Vilcabamba and I’d never heard of Vilcabamba and I said it sounds like a good name so I left to go to Vilcabamba. Which is a fifteen hour ride on a bus from. Manta to Vilcabamba. So it took me four weeks to get there.

I get into Cuenca and of course with me now I’m traveling alone for the first time. And I’m up in this Hostel, I said well OK, so I posted on FB { I’m in Cuenca, what’s there to do for a blind man traveling on his own?

TR:
Ok, , the fact that Jim is blind for most people probably makes the idea of him living a life as a nomad and traveling in unknown places, is maybe;
Very frightening?
Unbelievable?

Well, then let’s pause on the journey through Ecuador for a moment and hear what some may think is an unbelievable adventure of Jim’s vision loss
and the series of preceding events .

JP:
I had an aneurism Thirteen years ago on my left eye. And they tried to fix it and they screwed up the eye entirely. Then three years ago I woke up one morning and I had an aneurism in the other I. And I went through ocular injections and everything else that went with it and I had a bad reaction to the ocular injections which caused me to have a stroke.

so I was living with a girlfriend who decided she didn’t want to be with a blind man.

I ended up homeless. I was a month from being blind enough to qualify for Social Security. I was unemployed and Basically I was living on the couch of a motor home
that belong to a friend of mine who was in a retirement community.

So I get a phone call from my brother who was living in Ecuador and he said Well Linda is looking for a manager for a B&B would you like the job? I said, well what’s the pay. Room and board and fifty dollars a week.

Ok, I could be homeless in a motorhome in Florida or I could be homeless on a beach in Ecuador?
kind of a no brainer to me.

TR in conversation with JP:
and I’m sure fifty dollars is different in Ecuador than in Florida.

JP:
It doesn’t make any difference as long as you got food and shelter who cares about the rest of it. I live very inexpensively because that money doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.

I went for a pedicure because I couldn’t see my toe nails and I was catching them on my socks and when she cut the calluses off the bottom my feet so when I went for a walk on the beach I ended up getting third degree burns on the bottom of my feet.

I picked up a flesh eating bacteria and I had to be medivac the act from Ecuador to the United States after two operations down here and five days in the hospital.
The flesh eating bacteria that I picked up is usually fatal within seventy two hours and the only cure for it is amputation; actually they call it debridement which really is amputation. They have to remove all of the bacterial growth because it doubles in size every nine minutes.
Once I got back into the United States they put me in the teaching hospital in Shands of which this was the second case they had in fifty years of this particular virus. They amputated two toes and debride most of my foot and then they had to regrow it in an oxygen rich environment.

This took ten weeks and then they put me in a nursing home for a month. Rehab they call it but it actually was a nursing home.

While I was there I had an abscess on the back of my head so I went to the doctors when I had my foot looked at and they slants the abscess and said this isn’t right so they sent me to a Dermatologist.
Well when they slants it they gave me MRSA – which is another flesh eating bacteria. While I was at the doctor’s they said oh I don’t like these moles on your back let me have them biopsied. Well as it turned out I had skin cancer. They had to operate on my back and removed the skin cancer. Which I thought we were just going to remove a mole but they ended up doing 19 stitches on each side and trenched both sides of my back. Then they had to put me on different antibiotics in order to kill the MRSA they gave me and then when they removed that they discovered it was a tumor. Then they had to remove that. And that was in six months.

At that point I was afraid of dying.

When I finally got settled with Social Security Disability, I Flew back to Ecuador.

TR in conversation with JP:
Why?

JP:
Because my kids wanted to put me in a retirement villa.

TR in conversation with JP:
How many kids do you have?

JP:

Again that’s an odd story…

I have four kids but they’re not mine.
TR in conversation with JP:
Oh Ok!

JP:
My ex-wife’s two kids from her previous marriage.
And I have her ex-husband’s two kids from his previous marriage.

TR in conversation with JP:
OK that’s a new situation!

You have her ex-husband’s kids? (laughing!)

JP:
They all consider me dad and I was always there for them.

By the way, have you ever heard a story this ridiculous?

TR in conversation with JP:
so many people stories that I have heard of do have like one thing on top of the other you know but this flesh eating viruses and tumors, yeah… you’re winning!
– laughs!

TR:
Now, returning to Ecuador Jim met up with a friend.

JP:
He didn’t have any money and I said OK I need someone to travel with because blind people can’t travel alone!

Well I spent three weeks in the Andes and then two weeks in the Galapagos. Then we came back and we went up to Colombia – we spent three months in Colombia. Then we took a cruise and went from Cartagena through Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. And then circled around back and then went hiking in the mountains and Colombia

TR:
That friend Jim was traveling with was 42 and at the time Jim was 60.
Plus he was still recovering from flesh eating diseases,
multiple cancer surgeries and newly adjusting to blindness.

He learned a valuable lesson.

JP:

There are some things that are worse than traveling alone and that’s traveling with somebody else!

So at Christmas I flew back to Manta.
TR in conversation with JP:
So Jim can I ask you… you just
shared all of that … I mean you talked about a cruise and
flying to the Galapagos and stuff so you’re financing that on the Social Security?

JP:
Yeah!

TR in conversation with JP:
OK! And at this point you’re not paying rent or anything like that just traveling so you’re a Nomad.

JP:
Right, I’m a Nomad, I’m homeless.
I’m doing this on $1,127 a month.

So anyways when I got back to Manta I had infected my foot again and I had to stay off it for six weeks which drove me nuts.

So I was talking to a friend he was moving to Vilcabamba and I’d never heard of….

TR:
That brings us back to Jim’s journey.

When we left off, he was on his way to Vilcabamba
and stopped in a Hostel in Cuenca
where he posted the question

JP:
In Cuenca, what’s there to do for a blind man traveling on his own?

One guy suggested why don’t you head up to Ingaperka which is a Aztec ruin in the Andes which would be Eastern Ecuador.

TR:
So off he went to Ingaperka to find the ancient Inca Ruins.

Now if you’re thinking Jim is probably fluent in Spanish
or of course everyone speaks English,
well you’re wrong.
In fact, most people in the town of Ingaperka speak a dialect of the Incas.

JP:
The bus let me off in the middle of this town. I have no clue where I am I finally find somebody that speaks about four words of English.
And she asked me what I was doing and I say I was looking for the ruins. And she says ruins Cinco. I said Cinco kilometers. She says no Cinco minutos. I said where and she say aqui and pointed me to a road and so I walk up the road. I walk into this beautiful state park.

TR:
After receiving a tour of the ruins
well, it’s time for Jim to begin making his way to Vilcabamba.
He catches one bus to Cuenca and another to Loja.
Which is where he of course posts to Facebook:

JP:
What’s there to do for a blind man travelling alone through Loja?

Well this woman posts back well I have these two. English students who
are blind and would like to meet you. They’re sisters. So I meet them for coffee they come in on the arm of somebody crab walking because they don’t travel alone they’re in their thirty’s and they’ve been blind all their life.

They sit down and we’re talking and one of them looks at me and says who are you traveling with? I said nobody.

She Says Do you speak Spanish? I said no she said you can’t do that! I said yeah, I can!

TR:
By now you probably get the impression that the response, yes I can,
that’s something Jim is quite used to saying!

JP:
I’m here!
She takes me over to the elementary school which I’ll tell you is like a prison. Two meter high concrete walls surrounding it with broken bottles over the top of it and they’re all concrete bunkers and it’s just… it’s got mold it’s just… it’s a horrible place.

TR in conversation with JP:
Is that specifically just for blind children or is that…

JP:
Yes, it’s specifically for blind children. And there are residents there and there are day people that come from the city and this is the only blind school for elementary school children in the area. And she tells me that they don’t teach mobility there because they had to cut they cut their budget and the person they cut from the budget was the mobility trainer.

Now my experience with mobility training is I am blind
and I am mobile. There are my qualifications for the position… so now I’m the mobility trainer.

TR:
See what I mean by saying yes…
Jim not only said yes to teaching others who are blind to use the
white cane and more, but he has a pretty packed schedule.

JP:
I’m working four days a week from eleven to one at the elementary school. I work five days a week teaching conversational English at a college and I work two nights a week teaching mobility and technology at the high school.
I’m starting a nonprofit… We’ve got a doctor. Who is volunteering his time services to do prosthetic eyes on the kids that have missing eyes plus I have the Go Fund Me going…other than that I’m not really that busy!

TR:
That Go Fund me is a campaign to raise money to purchase white canes,
iPhones or iPads to provide children with GPS capabilities
in order to improve their mobility.

You can find more at:
http://GoFundMe.com/3noxfco

If you’re wondering what are the living conditions for a blind nomad
in Ecuador
Jim says his apartment in Ecuador
would probably rent for several thousand in New York City.

JP:
It’s the studio penthouse with a balcony view of the mountains. Glass all the way around its fully furnished. It has a hot tub, a walk in shower. The bathroom is ten by twenty and I pay $350 a month for it including utilities.

TR:
Jim’s a volunteer! He’s not paid for any of his work.
Well not in the traditional sense!

JP:
What I get from a kid who comes up and hugged me. You know – I’ve got children that actually… they don’t speak the language that I speak and they cannot express themselves on how much they really appreciate me.

I get people hugging me all the time. That’s what I get paid in!

While I still have work to do here I’m not leaving. It’s just different it’s a different lifestyle I found a place where they need me so I’m staying. When they don’t need me any more I’ll go somewhere else.
TR in conversation with JP:
How do you feel today about everything that happened? That whole crazy story you told me.

JP:
I will tell you something that you will very seldom hear from a blind person.

Going blind was the greatest opportunity of my life! Without that none of this would have happened. And that’s how I look at it.

TR:
And isn’t that what it boils down too!
How we choose to look at it!

Jim is actually looking for an assistant volunteer
to join him in Ecuador.
He needs help with some of those things he’s doing like
teaching mobility and technology.

He can provide room and board, but
the candidate needs to pay for their own travel.
Oh, yes, and the candidate must be blind.

Jim can be contacted directly through his Facebook page titled:
Blind Jim Can’t do That!
(Yeh, I can!)

I’m Thomas Reid
for Gatewave Radio,
[JP: I don’t give a damn if you Believe it or not ]
Audio for Independent Living.

TR:
I have never described myself as a journalist.
In fact, I make sure to say, I’m not.
I am a self-described Advocate who uses audio to make a point.
I don’t hide my opinion,
I choose the stories I want to tell and have a real solid perspective.
The idea of a journalist is that they supposedly don’t have that bias.
I don’t believe that at all!
However, A journalist would have done some real fact checking of Jim’s story.

They would have contacted various sources to try and confirm
his account of the events.

I am a New Yorker,
I instinctively don’t believe you!
It’s something I am really trying to rid myself of but it’s so ingrained in my being it’s really hard to separate.

I know there are some who will listen to this and not believe him.

Some will assume he has some residual vision – and say
that’s the reason he can do it.

Jim does have a bit of light perception which allows him
to see shadows out of a part of one eye.

Some will think it’s his nature.
Well, it’s probably fair to say Jim is something of an adventurer.
Before losing his sight he was a professional scuba diver diving throughout
the US and Caribbean.

That included salvage work for insurance companies, body recovery,
owning his own diving school and treasure diving in the Caribbean.

So here’s the thing…

I do believe Jim.

Jim is 100 percent telling the truth about the fears of a blind traveler.

Those fears are not just contained within the person who is blind.

You know that because as you were listening you felt uncomfortable.

You know you did.

I don’t care if you are sighted or
any degree of blind, you felt it!

I felt it! And feeling that way upset me.

I travel alone to different states but I had a fully planned itinerary.

Jim’s story made me challenge how I look at the world
and what I really believe is possible.

During our conversation a woman interrupted Jim and I asked him to explain what happened.

JP:
some woman just walked up to me and said You’re an inspiration to the people down here. I overheard your conversation.

I have people walking up to me on the street constantly doing that.

TR in conversation with JP:
How does that feel?

JP:
I don’t think I’m anything special.

I think everybody has it within themselves just that I choose to do that my question to people is Why don’t you choose to do it.

There are so many people out there that don’t want to leave their house and it bothers me.

TR in conversation with JP:
Why?

JP:
I’ve met so many blind people in my. Limited time being blind. And most of them tell me that they have limitations on everything they do.

You know they tell me it’s OK that you can do this but I can’t and then they give me a list of reasons why they can’t.

TR in conversation with JP:
What are some of those reasons?

JP:
Oh I could get hurt I could fall down. I could get lost.

So what’s the big deal you don’t think I get lost you don’t think I fall down you don’t think I get hurt?

TR:
I think it’s fair to acknowledge that the emotions behind these thoughts are real. But Fear you may have heard
is an acronym for False evidence appearing real.

You know what else is real!

Our perspective!
And we can actually control that!

JP:
I survived cancer. I’m blind. I survived the flesh eating bacteria What are you going to do to me that God hasn’t done already? It’s true! What fear do I have now. They told me I was going to die on three different occasions.

TR in conversation with JP:
you know you’re going to go at some point.

JP:
Right, we’re all gonna go some time!
I’d rather go out swinging then go out crying.

There is nothing holding you back but yourself.
I was at a Blind I Can meeting I can do is what they call it…

And they were talking about having an outing and they were talking about going out to lunch.

I mean, what is going to lunch proof for a blind person. Everybody eats!

They asked me what my idea of a good outing was…

There’s a place in Florida in Orlando called Machine Gun America. It’s automatic weapons… what the hell could possibly go wrong!

TR in conversation with JP:
Laughing!… I love it!

JP:

Make yourself feel alive.

You’re dead, nobody’s told you!

TR:
Jim, like many who lose their vision later in life, especially over the age of 55, never even had real mobility training.

JP:
My mobility training consisted of twenty minutes.

I learned everything on the internet and by myself reading books so when
they finally picked up my paperwork they put me through … they put me in front of a mobility trainer who told me that in familiar surroundings I was Ok, but I needed work in unfamiliar surroundings.

So I was hiking staying at an Echo lodge called Ukuku in Columbia it’s outside of Ibagué.

It’s a two kilometer hike up a mountain across three rivers. To get to this and the last river you crossed There’s a log and you got to balance on a log to cross the river.

Now do you know the proper caning technique for crossing a log bridge?

TR in conversation with JP:
Laughing… No I do not!

I think mine would be to straddle the log and then slowly go across. That would be my technique.
But that’s just me!

JP:

So I had to call back to the person who was in charge of the mobility training and I said, hey Tom what’s the proper caning techniques for crossing a log bridge?

TR in conversation with JP: To the avenue.
Oh my gosh! Did they have any advice for you?

JP:
Oh hell no.

TR:
But don’t get it twisted,
Jim isn’t some sort of blind Evel Knievel.
(If you’re younger than 40 Google him!

Jim is practical about his travel.

JP:
I have a theory. It’s really simple when I get to a town if I check into a Hostel I get the business card of the Hostel, put it in my wallet.

If I get really lost I take the business card and I give it to a cab driver and I ask the cab driver donde esta aqui… where is this? And he takes me there.

TR:
That practical advice goes beyond travel…

JP:
I’m trying to convince people that just because you have a problem doesn’t mean you can’t get your ass out and do something.

I listen to people tell me they can’t get a job. Well, go volunteer and get some experience!

TR:
I’m hoping to speak with Jim again.

And who knows maybe that will be in person, in Ecuador.

There are links on Reid My Mind.com to both the Go Fund Me and his Facebook page if you want to communicate directly with Jim.

I usually close with my reminder for you to subscribe to the podcast…

well today, I’m closing out with part of a favorite quote taken from Jim’s Facebook page.

Maybe someone will find it helpful… I think Jim may have.

Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Holy Braille!

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

The Holy Braille! A mock up of a full tablet sized  Braille Display.

If we take a look at the evolution  of the printed word over the years, it’s clear that technology has made real advancements possible. From desktop publishing to the promise of a paperless society. The advancements in Braille haven’t been as exciting. It’s still not an affordable option for many. And mobile options provide reduced output.

Picture of an 80 cell Electronic Braille Display

In this latest production for Gatewave Radio, learn all about The Holy Braille Project from the University of Michigan’s Haptix Lab. They’re working on an affordable full page Braille display with the potential   of being a  fully functioning tablet with its own  tactile graphic user interface.

Note:
In this episode, I make reference  to the importance of Braille for those who are Deaf-Blind; an often forgotten  segment of the population. Well, the only method for accessing digital information is via electronically Braille displays. A few weeks ago I began thinking of changing my workflow in order to create written transcripts in order to make my content fully accessible. See, by creating a podcast we exclude the entire Deaf community. As someone who believes in access for all, it’s time to step up my own game. So going forward I am going to try my hardest to  make transcripts available. I’ll keep it in the post but have it after the resource notes.

Subscribe to RMM Radio
– Or hit the Play button below!

Resources:
* Haptix Labs
* Statistical Snapshot from the American Foundation for the Blind
*             American Printing House for the Blind 2015 Annual Report

 

Transcription

TR:
In the 1800’s Louis Braille who was blinded as a child, modified the Night writing system developed in Napoleon’s Army.
This tactile  system enabled soldiers to safely communicate with one another under the cover of the night’s sky.

Ever since, the system of multiple cells, each consisting of some combination of 6 raised dots translating into alphabet, numbers, contractions and punctuations, enable literacy for those who are blind.

The challenge of Braille has been, bringing it into the 21st century.
There are digital Braille displays . They’re also bulky and expensive. We’re talking about over 2 thousand dollars. At most 80 braille cells can be displayed at once on a device. And these are the most expensive and bulkiest.

Devices today demand a more compact form factor allowing for greater mobility.

The Holy Braille project developed out of the University of Michigan is creating a more affordable and light weight product that will display a full page of Braille cells.

AR:
My name is Alex Rossomanno. I’m the PhD student working under
Brent Gillespie  and Sile O’Modhrain. I’ve been  on this project for 4 years now. My role is on the kind of technology development and research side.
A tablet like the one we’re trying to build just doesn’t exist right now. there really is a pretty big need for it. It’s almost prohibitively expensive to access any kind of electronic content via Braille. Essentially Blind people are more or less stuck either having to read in hard copy or having to access things via text to speech which as you probably know you know text to speech is great for some things  but…

TR:
…but it doesn’t allow for passively learning the spelling of a word. And certain types of information can be more difficult to understand  and process audibly.

AR:
We’re looking to create a device that is both able to create multiple lines of Braille on a page but then also to be able to render content that would take up more than a single line of Braille so that would include graphs, spreadsheets, maps some kind of tactile images that you can feel.

TR:
As text is visually displayed on a monitor or screen; small pins configured into cells matching the Braille cell are lowered and raised rendering the translated Braille cell.
As the user moves  through the text on the screen, the corresponding text is rendered on the braille display.

AR:
Traditionally, in order to control these bubbles  on a surface you need an electronic control valve or a separate one for each bump you want to control. So if you have a thousand  bubbles on a surface you need a thousand  external control valves. What happens it gets  very bulky if you go about it that way and it gets difficult to manufacture.

TR:
Several components will impact the final price of the product.
The cost of materials are one.
Labor is another and the ease at which a product can be manufactured can greatly reduce the retail price tag.

AR:
The way we’re going about it is actually integrating all that valving and circuitry that’s used to control those bubbles into the same sub straight as the bubbles themselves . And so what you get is a highly manufacturable device that is made similar to how a computer chip is made. I like to draw the comparison that we have computer chips that are essentially made in a chemical process that are kind of built up like 3D printed almost so that when it comes out it’s already fully integrated and you have all the different parts of the computer chip already connected together.  No one’s sitting there piecing it together themselves.

TR:
If you’re not familiar with this concept of 3D printing…
Just imagine a machine that takes all the ingredients; processes them together to automatically build the final product.
For example, you could have machine that has all of the ingredients
to make a cake.
Eggs, water, Flour, sugar and more sugar!
The machine is programmed to use the exact amount of ingredients to create a batter and heat at the exact temperature for just the right amount of time. No longer does someone have to manually crack the eggs, measure the flour and so on.
Yummy!

AR:
It’s the same manufacturing process to create an array of dots that’s maybe a hundred dots than it is to create one that’s a thousand dots. So you have a little bit of a scalability there where it may be more expensive to create just a single device out of this technology but you get these economies of scale when you    create  a very large device. It’s not like the price is scaling linearly or the cost of making the device is scaling linearly.

TR:
The possibilities, are more than a new and more affordable Braille Display.

AR:
Ideally we would have first and foremost something  that’s low cost and that  could render a full page. Upfront that’s our goal.

TR:
And then, there’s the holy Braille!

AR:
Much like sighted people have
a typical Windows or Mac interface; there’s icons you click on. Essentially you’re navigating through this digital information in a pretty seamless  way. That doesn’t necessarily exist right now for Blind people and having a table that’s able to have  a very large array that can change digitally, so can update at a very fast speed, you can imagine some kind of user interface that a blind person could potentially be clicking on icons and feel those icons and be able to navigate around digital content in a similar way that sighted people do using the typical interfaces that we interact with day to day. A portable device you could carry around with you.

TR:
Alex and the rest of the team are hopeful that once this technology is proven and ready for prime time other developers will begin to create on top of their technology.
Similar to other inventions that sparked new development like the development of the iPhone  gave birth to the creation of millions of apps doing everything from playing silly games to potentially detecting cancer.

While it’s too early to determine when such a device will be available on the market
a prototype is not that far away.

The project is currently in the proof of concept phase.
Meaning the first goal is to prove the capabilities of the underlying technology that drives the product.
In July, Alex and the team will be displaying this technology at  the Euro Haptics Conference in London.

According to a 2014 report published by the American Printing House for the Blind;
less than 10 percent of children with vision loss  read Braille. This is on par with adult counterparts.

Research has shown a direct relationship between  Braille and employment. Among those who are blind and employed, over 80 percent are Braille readers.

Now, with almost 35 percent of these school aged children being labeled as nonreaders and
less than 10 percent reading braille, there’s a strong need for increased access and affordability.

And then, an often forgotten segment within the blind community are those who are both deaf and blind. Braille is their access to the digital information.

Improved digital access makes sense.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Holy Braille project or those involved
AR:
Our lab is called the Haptix Lab (H  A P T I X) and if you just Google search “Haptix Lab” we’re the first thing that comes up!
TR:
This is Thomas Reid, for Gatewave Radio.

AR:
“There really is a pretty big need for it… it’s almost prohibitively expensive”

TR:

Audio, for Independent Living!

Reid My Mind Radio: In the Lab with Chris Maury

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Chris Maury

Chris Maury Founder, Conversant Labs

Chris Maury is a founder of Conversant Labs, a technology company in Pittsburgh creating and promoting the Conversational User interface (CUI). We talk about Say Shopping an iOS app, and how this app and method for interacting with technology can aid those with vision loss – from low vision to totally blind.

 

Hear how Conversant Labs is much more than an entrepreneurial endeavor for Chris.

 

Resources:

Conversant Labs

Say Shopping

Chris Maury on Twitter