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Pedesting Accessibility Wayfinding App Expands Downtown Calgary Coverage

The Pedesting mobile app guides those with accessibility needs through a building, mapping out washrooms, ramps, rooms, entrances and exits. Author of the article:Hiren Mansukhani
Published Nov 02, 2023

Imagine entering one of Downtown Calgary’s skyscrapers for a job interview. You speak to a receptionist who quickly runs through directions to your destination. As you walk, mulling over what you’re about to say in the interview, you miss one of the directions and wander into another building through the Plus 15 network.

You’re lost. But you don’t see anyone either. Or maybe you do, but you’re too polite to bother them with nervous questions.

Now, imagine you’re in a wheelchair, and you have to pee. Ordinary washrooms are too cramped to safely transfer onto the toilet seat while their countertops block you from washing your hands. What you’re looking for is a “handicapped” toilet. But you wonder if the building even has one.

Nabeel Ramji and I are exploring the Life Plaza building in downtown Calgary. He’s wearing a collared, light blue sweater with streaks of white under a light jacket. I follow him as he manoeuvres his wheelchair with a joystick. He is greeted by streams of people heading to work or for a snack.

While interacting, Ramji wears a perpetual smile, widening his eyes, as if he’s pleasantly surprised to see each one of them.

We’re on the second floor, trying to find Scotiabank. Although it’s the same building as where he works, we’re following directions handed by an indoor navigation app called Pedesting. We slide right from the Noodle and Grill House, take an elevator one floor down, turn behind and walk a little further. “Voila,” he says with a drawl.

So far the app, which launched in September, has mapped out six buildings, with Life Plaza, Telus Convention Centre, the Central Library and Bow Valley College visible to users soon. “Our main priority is office spaces and post-secondary institutions,” said Ramji, CEO of Pedesting. He said he plans to add more buildings and, eventually, information about sidewalk closures due to construction and snow.

Accessibility app represents ‘dream’ fulfilled

Ramji has a rare form of cerebral palsy that has left him unable to walk and talk fluently and has severely limited the strength of his upper body.

His limitations, however, haven’t kept him from realizing his aspirations. Ramji, who graduated from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business with an undergraduate degree in finance, has worked for Strategic Group managing its portfolios in real estate, travelled to 15 countries and was named top 40 under 40 by Avenue Calgary in 2019.

His latest project, also his “dream,” addresses the same challenges that stand in the way of meeting his daily chores and the life he has created. Pedesting guides users through a building, mapping out washrooms for people with disabilities, ramps for those in wheelchairs, rooms in each space, every exit and entrance and how accessible they are.

“People with disabilities, including myself, feel very anxious when we’re going out – so simple things such as pick-up and drop-off areas can be a problem,” he said. “Some people I know travel all the way to a place and go back when they find out there isn’t something as simple as a ramp.

“This app will give people a certain level of confidence who need to go ahead of time, like a senior citizen or someone like me.”

Ramji was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1985. He was adopted by a couple from Tanzania who moved to Canada the same year. They were unaware of his medical condition until his father, Zul, found his fist wouldn’t open. Zul, now a retired family physician, showed him to a specialist who diagnosed Ramji’s cerebral palsy.

Zul contacted the adoption agency to inquire about Ramji’s biological family’s medical history. The agency didn’t provide him with the information but offered to take Ramji back. The couple refused. “It’s not something that I got from Safeway that I can return. He is a human being and we decided he gets the best care,” Zul said.

For the first seven years, Ramji couldn’t speak a single word. He would use a communication board with several pictures – including food, washroom and water – to convey his needs. Yet, Ramji’s parents sent him to study at a public school. “I wanted him to be integrated,” Zul said.

Zul saw Ramji understood what was being told to him – whether it was jokes or bedtime stories. “It looks like the guy’s smart,” Zul said, describing his thoughts then. “We realized the guy has potential except that he cannot speak.”

Challenges remain after game-changing, risky surgery

At age 7, Ramji underwent an invasive surgical procedure called rhizotomy where certain nerve fibres in the body are killed to remove the sensation of pain in different areas. The relatively new surgery, deemed highly risky, was a game-changer, Zul said. “He was able to speak!”

But the challenges hardly ended. The infrastructure of the schools Ramji attended didn’t accommodate his needs. So, Zul and Ramji’s late mother Muna took the matter into their own hands. The family discovered that a few of Ramji’s classes at Nickle elementary school would be held on the second floor, but the school didn’t have an elevator. The principal suggested Zul to send him to a special needs school, but Zul refused to give in.

He instead persuaded the principal to build a stair-lift chair for Ramji. “I wanted my son to be there, and I asked him why he should be denied because of this facility,” he said. “I told them let’s change it.” In addition to the stair-lift chair, the school installed a new washroom for students like Ramji, paved its outdoor park for them to play with their mates and renovated a few doors with glass, allowing people to see those on the other side before barging in.

Meanwhile, Ramji’s family supplied him with all kinds of technology needed to advance his education, including expensive laptops, braces to stand, and motorized wheelchairs. “The only way my son could do anything in life was through education,” he said. “And the only thing that could help him with that was technology.”

It was this tenacity that Ramji brought to university. “I was taught early on that to live a dignified life I’ve to outwork everybody else,” he said.

However, the challenges around accessibility became starker as he moved away from the comfort of secondary education. For instance, Ramji had to walk 25 minutes from the building where his classes were held to access a washroom that met his needs. In addition, he always needed a person by his side to open doors for him. “There was no independence,” he said.

After graduation, as he began assessing real estate properties for Strategic Group, he found hardly any were accessible for people with disabilities. Their shower spaces had steps that made it harder for those like Ramji to enter the area. Their kitchen counters were either too high or lacked enough space underneath for their wheelchairs to glide in.

He learned that one in five Canadians has a disability. Yet, when he attended conferences, he could hardly spot any of them. “Where are these people?” he thought.

‘You guys design buildings that don’t work for me’

In 2016, Ramji met Erin Shilliday, an architect who worked for Riddell Kurczaba at a lunch with city officials and a few urban planners. At one point, Shilliday recalls Ramji turning to him and asking, “So you’re an architect. You guys design buildings that don’t work for me. Why do you keep doing that?”

Shilliday was taken aback. “Wow, that’s a very tough question,” he replied.

He admitted that the main concern for them is meeting building codes that do not consider the needs of those with disabilities. And thus began an enduring friendship.

Shilliday began hanging out with Ramji once a week to understand his needs and challenges. And there were many. But yet he seemed happier than most people Shilliday knew. “He was pleasant-always eager to be involved,” Shilliday said. “Nabeel has this personality that is bigger than life.”

Over time, they started meeting other experts to understand the reason behind Calgary’s infrastructure.

Up to the 1940s, Calgary was a regional centre, with Winnipeg serving as the major metropolis of the Prairies. The discovery of oil in Leduc in 1947 shifted economic activity to Calgary, whose population grew to more than 100,000 a year later, turning it into a city from a town. The growth of the car industry, coupled with the post-war boom in the 1960s and ’70s, allowed the city to swell, making it more vehicle-oriented by the decade. As people began buying homes in the suburbs, cars were increasingly seen as a symbol of freedom.

Accessibility depends on a person’s abilities or a lack of them. But the first step towards that path is boosting walkability, said Sasha Tsenkova, planning professor at the U of C. It doesn’t specifically mean increasing the width of sidewalks but making it easier for a pedestrian to get around without a car.

However, rapid growth left the city unable to pay close attention to the needs of pedestrians living on the fringes. “It was a lot easier to just roll out a carpet of single-family homes that are very similar in terms of design,” Tsenkova said. Such choices ultimately neglected the needs of those with disabilities, who are less likely to own a car.

Over the decades, the conversation shifted towards walkability with the creation of the accessibility advisory committee by the City of Calgary in 1994. A growing support for densification around the 2000s, Tsenkova said, advanced the movement. However, despite several efforts by the city, including the introduction of new design standards and discussing motions that increase densification, substantial change has yet to be seen.

“Issues are acknowledged, measures are adopted and included in the city’s long-term strategic plans, but then there is implementation, and the gap is huge.”

As Ramji and Shilliday learned about the context of Calgary’s infrastructure, they understood it would be impractical for them to focus on making the world more accessible. “That’s a lot of time and money and aggravation to make the building work for you,” Shilliday recalls telling Ramji. Instead, they thought of using technology to help pedestrians with or without disabilities to navigate their surroundings.

Seeds sown for creation of Pedesting app

During an event in 2019, Ramji was introduced to Mohamed Elhabiby, co-founder of Micro Engineering Tech. As Ramji shared his dream to make the city more accessible, Elhabiby suggested creating an app. “You need an app with indoor navigation capabilities to help you with that,” he recalls telling Ramji. “This is how it started.”

Soon, Ramji and Shilliday founded Pedesting and partnered with Elhabiby’s firm to build its technology. The app uses Google Maps for navigation outdoors. When users move indoors, however, the app uses a sensor called the inertial navigation system that tells people about their location in a building and gives them directions to their destination, a function made possible by receiving the floor plans of several buildings.

A similar app called Access Now exists in Toronto, but most of its information is crowdsourced, Ramji said. Experts agree that Pedesting is one of its kind in Canada.

Toward the end of our tour, Ramji turned back and tried his best to utter the words he wanted to say.
“This app will be for anybody who’s looking to navigate any place at any given time.”

hmansukhani@postmedia.com

Original at https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/pedesting-accessibility-app-adds-downtown-calgary-buildings

Student-Developed Smart Glove Boosts Braille Accessibility and Literacy

By Isabela Wilson

Two Cornell students have created BrailleWear, a smart glove that aims to improve accessibility and increase braille literacy rates among the visually impaired.

BrailleWear was co-founded by information science student Kushagra Jain ’23 and Nolan School of Hotel Administration student Lyon Li ’23 in 2022. The duo founded BrailleWear under their company ORama AI to develop and manufacture a smart glove that would enable the visually impaired to read braille while also learning how to understand braille code in the process.

The Technology

The smart glove is worn on the user’s right hand. A camera is located between its thumb and index finger, tracking the movement of the index finger as it traces the braille. Computer vision technology is then used to translate and read aloud the braille that was just traced.

“If you traced the word cat, the glove would read out ‘C-A-T cat’,” Jain said. “It’s almost like Google translate which would point at another language’s text and read out the translation it’s the same for braille. [The user] uses the glove to feel the braille dots and can correlate the pattern with its audio translation.”

The smart glove’s pattern detection uses a pre-existing algorithm called YOLO, which stands for “You Only Look Once.” YOLO has the capability to detect large braille blocks and locate their proximity to the user’s finger. The duo also developed their own convolutional neural network architecture, an artificial intelligence technology that is useful for finding patterns in images to recognize objects, which is key in identifying individual braille characters.

Finally, an optimized language model leverages context to fix rare detection inaccuracies. The working model yielded 90 percent accuracy under select conditions.

Braille is a universal character set, meaning that the BrailleWear smart glove can be used in many languages.

“The only [step] that changes is the language model, which can be switched out for any language you’re reading in,” Jain said.

The project was largely influenced by Jain’s experiences while volunteering at an institution for the visually impaired in Bengaluru, India, where he developed a close bond with many of the students. As he continued volunteering, Jain said he was surprised to learn that braille was inaccessible to many of his mentees.

“A large number of them did not know braille,” Jain said. “When I spoke to other teachers, they told me about how important it was to know braille they compared [knowing braille] to being literate for non-visually impaired people.”

Inspired, Jain conducted his own personal research and found alarmingly low braille literacy rates in India, as expenses prevented families from being able to afford braille lessons. He also discovered that 90 percent of the visually impaired in the United States are unable to read braille, due in part to a federal law that recommended people with disabilities be taught in public schools, eliminating many schooling facilities specifically for visually impaired students.

Entrepreneurial Duo

Jain and Li developed their partnership while studying abroad together at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. There, they developed a method for technologically identifying braille patterns without coming into physical contact with them and subsequently became the first undergraduates to win the 2022 Parmee Prize at Pembroke College Cambridge, a prestigious annual entrepreneurship competition.

Jain and Li continued developing BrailleWear upon their return to Cornell. In the fall semester, they were one of 28 teams chosen for the University’s eLab, a student start-up accelerator that prepares projects for launching and pitching to potential investors. Jain, a student in the College of Arts and Science’s Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity, also developed his ideas with assistance from the program.

The smart glove’s first working model was developed in November 2022. Since then, Jain and Li have been working to spread awareness about the product in visually impaired communities and related institutions.

“Almost every blind person that we’ve spoken to has expressed that learning braille has been tough and that they would be very interested in using this technology,” Li said. “However, most requests for the glove [have been made] through institutions which will then further distribute the product to the individuals themselves.”

The start-up has garnered national and international recognition. The duo showcased BrailleWear at the 2023 Consumer Technology Association’s Consumer Electronic Show, one of the largest consumer tech shows in the world, where they were named Innovation Award Honorees for Accessibility. They were also recently awarded the Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research Grant, a National Science Foundation program that funds research and development.

BrailleWear has also attracted the attention of investors. Roger W. Ferguson Jr., former Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve and current board member at Google, became aware of the start-up during its presentation at Cambridge’s Parmee Prize, where he was a visiting professor.

“I found the technology very interesting [with its] ability to bring the artificial intelligence, camera and glove together,” Ferguson said in an interview with The Sun. “There was also a great social purpose, which I found very compelling.”

Ferguson has assisted Jain and Li by offering networking opportunities through Google’s accessibility department and his monetary support.

“I’ve gotten a great deal [out of my involvement] in terms of getting to know [Jain and Li] and learning the challenges that young entrepreneurs face while trying to maneuver from a great idea to a product,” Ferguson said.

Jain and Li have ambitious plans for BrailleWear’s future. They are open to offers from prospective investors and wish to establish connections with more institutions for the visually impaired.

“Our short-term goal is to make a good, functional product that blind people will enjoy using and will help them overcome that barrier,” Li said. “Our long-term company mission is to teach one million [visually impaired] individuals braille. We’re hoping that 90 percent of blind individuals do know braille in 10 to 20 years from now due to our technology.”

Correction, April 27, 7:23 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a federal law mandated students with disabilities be taught in public schools. The article has been corrected to accurately reflect that the law recommended students with disabilities be taught in public schools.

ABOUT ISABELA WILSON

Isabela Wilson is a member of the Class of 2026 in the College of Engineering. She is a staff writer for the news department and can be reached at iwilson@cornellsun.com.

Original at https://cornellsun.com/2023/04/26/student-developed-smart-glove-boosts-braille-accessibility-and-literacy/

TransLink Testing App-Based Accessibility Tool for Individuals with Sight Loss

Kenneth Chan
Jan 9 2023

Metro Vancouver’s public transit authority is looking to further improve the accessibility and usability of the network for people with sight loss.

TransLink is set to test the new use of NaviLens, a smartphone app-based tool, for providing passengers with navigational audio and sensory cues to identify their bus stop and the exact point of pick-up. As well, the app provides real-time bus arrival times and service alerts and identifies relevant facilities at a location, such as elevators.

NaviLens is a proven accessibility tool used on other public transit systems in various capacities, such as in New York City, Liverpool, and Madrid.

Under TransLink’s pilot project, passengers can download the free app, available on both iOS and Android, and scan specialized coded decals on signs attached to the bus stop poles at three transit services.

The decals are similar to QR codes, but they use a different type of matrix for the ease of use for individuals with sight loss. Passengers can scan the colourful codes with their smartphone cameras from a distance of up to 14 metres away, in all lighting conditions, and without the need to focus on the decal. The app can also be used while the individual is moving.

The audio cues provided by the app are available in 34 languages.

The pilot project has installed a total of 16 NaviLens codes at three locations, including 10 bus bays at SkyTrain New Westminster Station, four bus stops near the Canadian National Institute For The Blind office (intersection of 6th Street and 6th Avenue) in New Westminster, and two bus stops near the Vancouver Community College campus on East Broadway (intersection of East Broadway and Glen Drive) in Vancouver.

According to TransLink, this is the first time the NaviLens wayfinding technology is being used in Canada.

“We’re aiming to create a more inclusive experience and empower our riders to navigate the transit system with ease and safety,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn in a statement. “These types of innovative projects demonstrate our commitment to improving accessibility for all customers throughout the region.”

The NaviLens pilot project will run over six months between February and August 2023. If deemed successful, it could be implemented and expanded onto the system on a permanent basis.

In 2022, TransLink also began the process of installing braille signage on all 8,400 bus stops across Metro Vancouver and tactile walking surface indicators on the sidewalks of every bus stop on TransLink-owned and leased property. Both the braille signage and walking surface indicators will cost about $7 million to install.

Original at https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/translink-navilens-app-accessibility-navigation

The Latest Android Update Is Bad News for Accessibility Users

Change prompts a ‘devastated’ columnist to search the internet for workarounds by Brianna Albers | December 19, 2022

I could tell it was going to be a bad day.

I woke up to an overdraft notice from my bank, which is never a good sign. Then I realized something was wrong with my phone. I’d updated it the day before, but hadn’t used it since then, so the changes took me by surprise.

Years ago, when I first switched from Apple to Android, my reasoning was simple: Android offered accessibility features that Apple did not. For almost a decade, I’d made do with the “assistive touch” feature available on the iPhone, but as my SMA progressed, I found myself needing things that Apple didn’t offer.

You can understand my delight upon discovering the “assistant menu” feature that came with most Androids. To put it simply, it allowed me to use my phone as I might a computer, complete with a touch-screen mouse pad and cursor. It worked like a dream, ensuring that I was able to use my phone for years to come, in spite of disease progression.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple.

According to Spotify Wrapped, I’m Allergic to Silence
The assistant was exactly what I needed, but it didn’t address all of my problems. For one thing, I couldn’t type very well. My phone screen was so large that I couldn’t reach the opposite side of the keyboard. As a writer, this was a dealbreaker. I needed to be able to jot down ideas no matter where I was or what I was doing. Not to mention all the texting!

Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a solution. Phone screens were getting bigger by the day. I learned to make do with what I had. Then I discovered “one-handed mode.”

For those who don’t have an Android, one-handed mode allows you to reduce the size of your phone screen so you can reach everything with one hand. With the press of a button, my phone keyboard shrank to half its original size. It was magical. I could type with ease for the first time in years!

To put it in perspective, probably a quarter of this year’s columns were written on my phone, usually in the car or a waiting room. Talk about productivity!

I wasn’t expecting the latest software update to alter the accessibility settings, but it did. I could no longer use the assistant menu in conjunction with one-handed mode. In fact, as far as I could tell, none of the accessibility features could be used with one-handed mode, which seemed to me like a grievous oversight. The whole point of accessibility is to mix and match features to meet your needs. What does it say to your disabled customers if you deny them the flexibility needed to make your products work for them?

I wasn’t just frustrated; I was devastated. Realistically, I would still be able to use my phone for basic functions such as communication and social media. But I would no longer be able to type for extended periods of time. It was a significant blow to my sense of freedom.

I spent the next hour looking for a workaround. I downloaded app after app, hoping I could recreate my precious one-handed mode. I even searched for alternative keyboards. But nothing allowed me to type as I had before the update.

Desperate, I Googled “how to shrink the size of your Android screen.” I didn’t expect to find anything, so I was surprised to discover that reducing the overall size of my phone text actually seemed to make a difference. It wasn’t perfect, but it made typing just a little bit easier.

I’m not saying the software developers didn’t have a reason for updating the accessibility features. I’m sure they did! But it’s disheartening to see a technology company that prides itself on its flexibility alienate a significant portion of their user base through something as simple as an update.

Just because I found a workaround doesn’t mean everyone will.

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter, subscribe to my newsletter, or support me on Substack.

Original at https://smanewstoday.com/columns/latest-android-update-is-bad-news-accessibility-users/

Local Diabetic With Vision Loss Pushing for Legislated Accessibility on All Medical Equipment

Author of the article:Dave Battagello
Publishing date:Nov 22, 2022

Slowly making progress on getting changes secured with manufacturers on insulin pumps to accommodate those with vision loss, a local man is among those now focused on seeing new federal legislation put in place so all medical equipment must pass accessibility tests.

Ryan Hooey, 36, of Tecumseh has been dealing with diabetes since childhood and lost his eyesight almost overnight because of the disease roughly 10 years ago due to diabetic retinopathy.

Canada has one of the highest rates of retinopathy – 25.1 per cent of people living with diabetes – which is the leading cause of sight loss in working-age adults. An estimated 750,000 Canadians live with the condition.

Hooey, as with many diabetics, relies on insulin pumps for his diabetes treatment. But with his vision loss is unable to see the screen. There are not sufficient warning beeps, voice activation or other accessibility features that allow him to safely use the pumps on his own.

“You can’t even tell how much battery life is in my pump,” he said. “I have to put a can of insulin into the pump every three days and I can’t tell how much is left. Sighted folks can just look at the screen and say ‘oh, it’s 50 per cent full.'”

The insulin ratio on the pump also needs to be frequently adjusted based on the amount of carbohydrates he eats, but with Hooey unable to see the screen he can’t utilize that feature on his own “without many extra steps involved.”

Employed as a program leader with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Hooey a couple years ago began playing a key role in lobbying manufacturers of insulin pumps to make accessibility changes.

Progress has since been made through several meetings with production companies, while other organizations have joined the effort such as Diabetes Canada and National Federation of the Blind across the border in the U.S., he said.

But Hooey has learned many of the desired accessibility changes can’t be made without Health Canada creating a design blueprint for the insulin pumps.

“So, we have had to start working with the government,” Hooey said.

The first step is to get a petition with 500 signatures – an effort he launched at the start of this month – so legislation can next be created and introduced by an MP in the House of Commons. The goal is to have all medical equipment, not just insulin pumps, be required to meet accessibility standards, he said.

“We are starting with insulin pumps, but there are so many other things (medical equipment) accessibility-wise where changes are needed for the disabled community,” Hooey said. “You have a large group of people affected by this.”

Local MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L – Windsor-Tecumseh) is supportive and has already met with Hooey.

“I hosted Ryan in Ottawa and got a chance to hear his story,” he said. “It really took me aback in terms of listening to the effort required to use insulin pumps by Canadians who have vision loss. You often have to get family or friends to be able to enter the data or see what it says.

“What ought to be a minute interaction with the pump, you have to coordinate with others. For those without family or friends to help, there is a risk of pushing a wrong button or entering information that can lead to bad consequences.”

Kusmierczyk afterwards did communicate with the federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos to share Hooey’s story and another fellow Liberal MP who is chairperson of the all-party government caucus team in the midst of developing a national framework for diabetes in Canada within the next couple years.

Beyond that, the local MP says he will work towards ensuring all medical equipment does not pose accessibility issues.

Original at https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/local-diabetic-pushing-for-legislated-accessibility-on-all-medical-equipment

Program Aims to Make Treatment More Accessible for Diabetes Patients

By: Keely McCormick
Posted Nov 23, 2022

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A Clearwater man with diabetes is spreading the word about a program that is making life easier for him: an at-home patient monitoring system powered by CopilotIQ.

David Coarsen has been living with diabetes for two years. He said the shift to virtual care saves him time and effort.

“It was just more convenient having things coming to me all the time rather than me going out somewhere to see a doctor,” Coarsen said.

CopilotIQ ships all the tools needed to test blood sugar levels to the patient’s doorstep. They then use a cellular-powered device that sends the patient’s readings back to the medical team.

Dr. Litchfield is the co-founder of the program. He said his main goal was to remove barriers and make care more accessible for all patients, an issue that became more prevalent during the pandemic.

“What I saw was older Americans were not getting the care that they deserved, and honestly, it was really frustrating,” said Dr. Litchfield said.

The program treats patients from the comfort of their homes by utilizing virtual appointments with the medical team. Each patient has a device that monitors their readings and numbers.

“Once I take my finger prick and blood work, it picks it up and sends it right to their headquarters,” Coarsen said.

The medical team monitors the patient daily and works directly with the individual’s insurance provider.

You can read more about CopilotIQ via the link below.

Original at https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-pinellas/program-aims-to-make-treatment-more-accessible-for-diabetes-patients

This Blind Man has Been Fighting for Years to Get ‘Talking Prescriptions’ at His Local Pharmacy

After hearing from Go Public, Rexall says it will provide audio drug labels on ‘case by case basis’ Carolyn Dunn, CBC News
Posted: Oct 31, 2022

Dean Steacy has been fighting for five years to get his local Rexall drugstore to adopt “talking prescription label” technology.

The Gatineau, Que., man has been blind for 17 years, takes insulin and up to 10 pills daily for diabetes and related conditions.

He sometimes has to rely on others to help him manage his medications. The lack of independence “kind of takes away part of your dignity,” he told Go Public.

And, because he can’t see his prescriptions, he’s always at risk of taking too much, too little, or even the wrong medications. An insulin mistake, Steacy says, can have grave consequences.

“If I take too much of that, or not enough of it, I can go into diabetic shock or hypoglycemia.”

He says it’s also a struggle to make sure he gets and can reorder the right medication.

That’s where ScripTalk comes in; a technology that uses a radio frequency chip attached to the bottom of a prescription bottle. It has the same information as a prescription label, including dosage, instructions, warnings and the number of refills, which can be read aloud by a reader or smartphone.

It has been available in Canada since 2010.

Steacy has been lobbying Rexall to adopt the technology since 2017.

Though he was repeatedly assured the chain was considering his request, Rexall didn’t make any progress for five years. By June, Rexall had informed ScripTalk it would not be adopting its technology after all, which Steacy heard about through his involvement in an advocacy group for people with sight loss.

After Go Public got involved, Rexall changed its position, saying in a statement its handling of Steacy’s request “fell short” of its standards and vowing to renew its efforts.

“We are currently working with Mr. Steacy to implement a solution. Rexall is reviewing the use of this technology on a case by case basis,” the company said.

Separately, in late August, the chain promised Steacy that his local Rexall – on Laurier Avenue West in Ottawa – would be accommodating his request for ScripTalk.

Twelve weeks later, he is still waiting. Rexall did not respond to further questions from Go Public about the delay.

Disability rights expert and lawyer David Lepofsky is frustrated by the situation.

“I am appalled, but not surprised that it takes the media to focus the spotlight before somebody decides that this practice needs to be fixed.”

Steacy’s fight has been waged elsewhere in Canada.

In 2014, the B.C. advocacy group Access for Sight Impaired Consumers (ASIC) filed a human rights complaint against Shoppers Drug Mart and Walmart.

The group accused the pharmacy chains of dispensing prescription medication in a non-accessible format, because they were using printed labels only.

Rob Sleath, the group’s chair, is a kidney transplant recipient and blind. The issue was personal for him; he was taking more than a dozen medications and was struggling to keep them all straight.

He headed ASIC’s complaint, which settled in 2016 with a compromise.

A new technology is making medication safer for patients who have trouble reading the small print on their prescription labels, but not all pharmacies are offering it to customers who say they want it and need it.

Shoppers Drug Mart agreed to offer talking prescriptions via a “central fill” system which means, instead of the medications being prepared on demand at the local pharmacy, they are filled off site with the talking prescription technology. That can take up to two business days. Then they can be picked up or delivered.

Because of that delay, Sleath considers the settlement only a “partial victory” – and still discriminatory.

“If you have some sort of an infection or you’re in pain and you need the prescription right away, it’s not really inclusive. It’s not equitable,” he said.

Following ASIC’s complaint, Walmart also made ScripTalk available on a “central fill” basis in its B.C. pharmacies.

It’s not clear how much it costs to implement ScripTalk technology. The company says that’s proprietary information and won’t reveal what pharmacies pay.

But Lepofsky says there’s no excuse for major chains not to offer talking prescriptions – on demand, at the counter, in every pharmacy location.

He paints a picture with the situation reversed: “If the pharmacist handed you a bottle with a label in braille, you’d say, ‘I can’t read this. How many pills do I take? What can I mix it with?'”

In Lepofsky’s opinion, not providing timely and accessible labels is a “glaring violation of human rights codes” across Canada.

As the battle for wider accessibility continues, the 1.5 million Canadians – who, according to the CNIB, experience sight loss – now face a patchwork of pharmacies offering different access to talking prescriptions.

To search by postal code for pharmacies that offer ScripTalk visit https://www.envisionamerica.com/participating-pharmacies (opens in new window/tab).

Steacy, meanwhile, is clear in his conviction that talking prescriptions should be available for those who need them, whenever and wherever they need them.

“To me, it’s a right of access. It’s a right to have independence. It’s a right to have security that everybody else gets. Why should I be left out?”

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories, shed light on wrongdoing and hold the powers that be accountable.

If you have a story in the public interest, or if you’re an insider with information, contact GoPublic@cbc.ca with your name, contact information and a brief summary. All emails are confidential until you decide to Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

Read more stories by Go Public at the link below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Dunn is a longtime national reporter for CBC News. Her Canadian postings and assignments have taken her from St. John’s to Calgary. She has reported extensively abroad including East, West and North Africa and has done several tours in Afghanistan. Have a story tip? Email carolyn.dunn@cbc.ca.

With files from Jenn Blair

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/audio-drug-prescription-labels-1.6629460

Technology Can’t Solve the Problems Ableism Creates

by Cricket Xiao Jiu Bidleman
Braille Monitor March 2022

“Did you read that story in the Stanford Report about the affordable “smart cane” that uses robotics? Wasn’t it cool?”

Whenever articles about disability technology come out, I’m asked for my thoughts and feelings on the innovation at hand. People expect me, a blind person, to share their excitement. Most find my frustration and lack of enthusiasm perplexing. They don’t understand that, in the midst of the excitement that comes with applying technology to the disability community, the true harm, ableism, is often overlooked.

This “smart cane” is a good example of technology ignoring ableism. The developers intend to help the blind community. However, this product is not necessary for blind people to live and work successfully. In fact, this product can in some ways be harmful. Canes tell blind people what obstacles are in our walking paths, what terrains we’re walking on, etc. They are used daily. The heavier weight of the “smart cane” puts undue stress on users’ wrists and arms. Canes like mine weigh significantly less than a single pound, whereas, according to the article, this “smart cane” weighs a whopping three pounds. Repetitive stress injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome often result from muscle fatigue and repetitive motion. Using a cane that heavy every day could be catastrophic for anyone.

This article emphasizes the affordability of the “smart cane.” It says that similar products cost $6,000, and this one costs only $400. Perhaps they don’t realize that blind people can get canes free here through the National Federation of the Blind and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adultsit doesn’t get much more affordable than that. Almost ten million Americans received Social Security disability benefits in 2019; that’s the only income that a lot of us get. Many disabled Americans live at home or with caretakers, or they work for subminimum wages or in sheltered workshops. They don’t have $400 to spare. I don’t find $400 easy to part with, either. I would rather save that to help with post-graduation moving expenses, donate it to a philanthropic organization, or save it for my hypothetical children’s college education.

People get caught up in the “smart” aspect of technology like the “smart cane.” My cane isn’t smart, but I don’t need it to be. The article and accompanying video talk about a wheel that pulls the user around obstacles, and while I certainly don’t like running into things, it’s nice to know that those things are there. I don’t want to be skating along sidewalks without knowing where those tables outside Old Union are, for example. Maybe I’m trying to meet a friend or using a traffic light as a landmark. The wheel on the tip of this cane might interfere with the textural elements of the terrain. People often ask me whether the sound of my cane’s metal tip dragging on the ground is grating to my ears, and while I do find it mildly annoying, there’s more to it than that. It’s nice knowing whether I’m walking on tile or bricks or carpet, etc. Other blind people agree. Awareness is good; people shouldn’t take that away from us.

Even Stanford’s videos about the “smart cane” display the ableism and inaccessibility that pervade our society. The videos are not audio-described, so while the developers believe that they are engaging diversity and increasing accessibility, they are not doing so properly. It is extremely hypocritical to brag about accessibility efforts for blind people in videos that don’t contain audio description.

Moreover, the “smart cane” assumes misguided notions of quality of life. The developers cite improvements in walking speed for both sighted and blind users while using this cane, associating faster walking speed with quality of life. The video claims, “This [greater walking speed] can provide a significant improvement in terms of their quality of life, due to improvement in mobility.”

This kind of assumption is deeply troubling because it’s a person or a group of people projecting their image of “quality of life” onto the disabled. It’s incredibly offensive, and falling into this pattern can be dangerous.

This “smart cane” is perhaps less lethal than other examples of the same behavior. For example, even as recently as this year, people with disabilities have been denied life-saving healthcare when doctors projected their bigoted opinions about “quality of life” onto disabled patients. Both are examples of ableism. No one should assume that others have a lesser “quality of life” just because they live differently. The developers of the “smart cane” are likely trying to be helpful, but there are better ways to do that using products that already exist.

Ableism and inaccessibility have always been huge societal issues. Developers think that they can solve those issues by creating something new or that they can get around future issues by doing something innovative. Technology isn’t always the solution, though. Here are some better ones.

In terms of “quality of life,” the disabled do not have equal access to aspects of society due to inaccessibility, and that’s much more damaging than inability to walk quickly or the existence of disabilities. Despite the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), some buildings don’t have wheelchair-accessible rooms or entrances or correct Braille signage, even here at Stanford.

This inaccessibility extends to the internet: there is no legislation specifically mandating web accessibility, only a collection of unenforced guidelines. Making websites accessible could vastly improve “quality of life” for the disabled; we should concentrate less on innovating and more on establishing effective legislation and enforcing it.

Then, the bigger problem: ableism. It exists in every aspect of society, though others choose not to recognize it. Able-bodied people physically manipulate the disabled without asking us for consent. People drag the disabled across streets or grab us to show us how to find thingsthe examples are endless. The disabled are sometimes forced to work in sheltered workshops, where far too many do so for subminimum wages. Workplaces that do pay above minimum wages still sometimes pay the disabled even less than our non-disabled counterparts. Assistive technology isn’t affordable, and developers concentrate on high-tech solutions rather than making what already exists more affordable. There’s a high rate of sexual assault toward the disabled because we’re viewed as inferior, and we’re not taught what consent is. A lot of public transportation in America is not accessible, and ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber are still refusing passengers with disabilities.

These are just some of the endless examples of problems that urgently need solving. Let’s get off those high horses of high tech, and instead let us spend our energy on fixing these issues.

Original at https://nfb.org//images/nfb/publications/bm/bm22/bm2203/bm220305.htm

Glove Translates Sign Language in Real-time

July 6 2020

BIOENGINEERS have built a glove able to translate sign language to speech in real-time.

The cutting-edge glove features thin, stretchable sensors running to the fingertips. These sensors can detect motions and finger placement through electrically conducting yarns. Those sensors are then connected to a tiny circuit board ” approximately the size of a coin worn on users’ wrists.

When people move their hands and fingers to form ‘words’, the glove translates the individual letters, numbers, words and phrases into audible language.

Extra sensors can be added to the face, between the eyebrows and on the sides of the mouth, to capture facial expressions. The actual translation takes place through a smartphone app. This uses a custom machine-learning algorithm to convert gestures into the letters, numbers and words.

The system reportedly recognises 660 signs, includes each letter of the alphabet and the numbers from zero to nine. The glove gadget can translate at a speed of one word per second. And the technology is thought to have a recognition rate of up to 98.63 percent. A commercial version of this technology would require more vocabulary and a faster translation time.

The University of California (UCLA) has filed a patent on the glove.

Jun Chen, the principal investigator on the glove, said: “Our hope is that this opens up an easy way for people who use sign language to communicate directly with non-signers without needing someone else to translate for them.”

“In addition, we hope it can help more people learn sign language themselves.”

The benefits of the glove are its portability and weight. Previous wearable devices offered similar capabilities, but that technology was heavy and impractical to wear. This new design is far lighter, and the polymers are inexpensive ” as are the electronic components.

However, some deaf researchers have criticised the development.

Gabrielle Hodge, a deaf researcher from the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre at University College London, told CNN: “There is nothing wrong with these forms of communication.”

“The tech is redundant because deaf signers already make extensive use of text-to-speech or text translation software on their phones, or simply write with pen and paper, or even gesture clearly.

“It would be so much easier if tech focused on user-driven and user-centred design in the first instance, rather than dreaming up ‘solutions’ they think will fix all the problems in the world.”

Original at https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/glove-translates-sign-language-to-speech

Innovative Masks to Help Persons with Visual Impairment

Middle East, News
April 24 2020

ISRAEL: For the hearing impaired, this is no easy task, as it adds an extra layer of difficulty to their ability to communicate, often times with various service providers such as doctors and nurses. As face masks have become an inseparable part of the lives of millions of Israelis there are those who may have more trouble with the new law requiring to wear them.

“Masks of this type improve the accessibility and communication of handicapped people who use lip reading, as well as people with an intellectual disability,” said Yuval Wagner, CEO of the “Access Israel.”

A solution to the problem was made by the Israeli “Keter” (Crown) company, which specializes in manufacturing clear protective screens in accordance with the needs of medical teams. During these times they have additionally developed new clear screened face masks, allowing for the ability to lip read.

A video made by the company shows Michal Gorlic (30) a graphic designer from Haifa who was born deaf. In the video she says that, “the masks most people use are an obstacle of accessibility to [her]”.

According to Keter CEOs, Udi Sagi and Yiftach Sachar, “this project is a part of Keter”s ability to create new technologies quickly, with the goal of providing optimal and accessible protection which can be used multiple times, to as a wide a population as possible.”

Original at http://globalaccessibilitynews.com/2020/04/24/innovative-masks-to-help-persons-with-visual-impairment/