Resource: New Tech for 2019: A Wrap-up of the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference – AccessWorld® – February 2019

New Tech for 2019: A Wrap-up of the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference

Author: J.J. Meddaugh

Date Written: Feb 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Date Saved: 2/24/19, 10:59 AM


2019 looks to be a busy year for new products and innovations, as evidenced by the exhibit hall at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) annual conference in Orlando. This year’s event was held January 30 through February 2 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Convention Center and featured an array of devices from transportable video magnifiers to tech toys for kids and seniors. I’ve recapped some of the major highlights below. AFB AccessWorld also sponsored exhibit hall coverage on Blind Bargains, and links are included to audio interviews with text transcripts where appropriate.

The BrailleNote Touch Gets Refreshed

Humanware’s BrailleNote Touch has been a popular option for students and teachers since its release in 2016. But the hybrid touchscreen and braille keyboard device has been stuck on an outdated version of Android due to hardware limitations.

Humanware sought to modernize the notetaker with the announcement of the BrailleNote Touch Plus. It has basically the same shell and shape as its predecessor, but includes a faster processor, a USBC port for charging, and the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system. As Humanware’s Andrew Flatters explains in this Blind Bargains interview, moving to a modern version of Android allows Humanware to take advantage of up-to-date features such as the Chrome Web browser and the Google Assistant for voice commands. The unit also includes 4GB of memory and 64GB of built-in storage as well as support for more modern wireless and Bluetooth protocols.

Orders can be placed now for the BrailleNote Touch Plus in either 18- or 32-cell configurations, at $4,195 and $5,695 respectively. Current BrailleNote Touch users can upgrade to the new model, which will transplant the existing braille cells to a new unit, for $1,295.

A Braille Display of a Different Kind

The cost of a 32- or 18-cell braille display is still prohibitive for many people, so a company called BraiBook is offering an alternative idea with a product of the same name. The mouse-sized device includes a single braille cell and can be loaded with books in several formats. Characters are displayed in contracted or uncontracted braille a cell at a time, and the speed can be controlled using a joystick. A headphone jack allows the user to plug in an external headset or speaker to hear words as they are displayed. The small size and weight of the unit is its major advantage. But reading braille one cell at a time can be either tediously slow or nearly impossible, depending on the speed of the unit, potentially requiring a sharp learning curve. Priced at around $450, it faces an uphill climb against the likes of the Orbit Reader and BrailleMe, two 20-cell units available for about the same price. Hear more with an interview with BraiBook CEO Sébastien Lefebvre.

Magnified Options for People with Low Vision Revealed

There was no shortage of new video magnifying options on display at the conference. This year’s focus was on updates to what are often referred to as transportable video magnifiers, units that generally will sit on a desk but are light enough to be moved around if necessary.

Irie-AT is introducing the ReadEasy Evolve to the United States, a video magnifier that can capture an entire 11-by-17-inch sheet of paper in a single picture, useful for large items such as newspaper pages. Capturing is accomplished by moving the camera between two different mounting points. The lower camera hole is designed to read standard-sized paper, while the elevated slot is for larger documents. It was quick and painless to move the camera between the two slots. As for the actual reading of text, this was accomplished within about 4 seconds, though the company is working to make this even faster. Speech was clear using modern voices from the Vocalizer speech engine, and the optional keypad can be used for finer control. An optional monitor can be attached for users with low vision.

The 4-pound ReadEasy Evolve folds so it can be taken with you, and will run on an optional battery pack. The base unit is available from Irie-AT for about $2,000. You can listen to a demo with Irie-AT CEO Jeff Gardner who also talks about a new affordable braille embosser called the Braille Buddy.

Back over at the Humanware booth, two new and slightly heavier desktop magnifiers were announced, the Reveal 16 and Reveal 16I. Weighing in at a still transportable 13 pounds, Humanware is targeting these two models at two very different markets. The Reveal 16 is designed for seniors and elementary school students who desire a simple unit with basic controls. It features only four buttons: power, autofocus, zoom, and contrast. Images can be magnified from 1X to 45X and displayed in a variety of contrast modes. The camera can either point down at the base of the unit or be pointed outward for distance viewing.

Advanced users may prefer the Reveal 16I, which offers the same features as the basic model but adds a touchscreen, an OCR camera, and a fifth button, used for switching to an Android 7 tablet. Users of the Prodigi interface will be familiar with this mode, which can be used to read books aloud or run Android apps from Google Play.

Both models collapse and can be carried using an optional case. The Reveal 16 retails for $2,995 while the Reveal 16I sells for $3,995. Learn more with Humanware’s Eric Beauchamp who talks everything low-vision in this podcast.

A New Kind of Wearable

There weren’t as many wearables in the hall as in 2018, but Zoomax was showing a new take on the category. The Acesight is a lightweight headset that displays images using augmented reality. Individual screens are centered over each eye and display magnified images of what’s in front of you. This approach allows you to focus on what’s ahead of you while using your peripheral vision to see other items at the same time. Magnification is available in a variety of contrast modes from 1.1X to 15X. The Acesight will be available soon for $4,995. Learn more from Zoomax’s David Bradburn in this podcast.

Teaching Braille and Code to Kids

The American Printing House for the Blind was showing two products designed to teach important concepts to children who are visually impaired. BrailleBuzz is a toy designed for kids ages 2-5 to teach braille letters. The bumblebee-shaped toy includes buttons for each braille letter that announce the letter or its sound when pressed. A 6-cell Perkins-style braille keyboard is positioned below and will speak the braille letter that is typed, or play a sound if something besides a braille letter is entered. The BrailleBuzz is designed in the style of other audio-based children’s toys that teach basic letter and phonics concepts. It’s available now for $99.

Older kids may love Code Jumper, an educational toy collaboration between APH and Microsoft for teaching basic coding concepts. More and more kids are learning how to write code for computers or mobile devices, and many systems have been created to teach early foundations and concepts at a young age. Code Jumper is one of the first of these systems to be fully accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired.

The brains of the device are housed in the Code Jumper Hub, a Bluetooth device that will play back sounds or music based on what it is connected to. You may not be familiar with programming concepts such as loops, constants, or if statements, but the hands-on approach to the connected pods illustrates these and more to the most novice student or teacher. APH also plans on developing lessons for both teachers and students to complement the system. You can sign up for a waiting list to be informed when the product is released, likely later this year.

A New Guide for Seniors

Dolphin has completely rewritten the software it designed to simplify the Internet for seniors. The new GuideConnect allows you to read and write emails, listen to radio stations, read books, and browse the Web using a simplified interface. The Windows 10 software runs on computers, tablets, and can even be displayed on a TV using a customized set-top box and a remote control, similar to a Roku. The product will be available from Irie-AT in the United States starting at around $800, depending on options. You can listen to Gareth Collins talk about the benefits of the new software and other Dolphin developments in this podcast.


The ATIA conference was busier than in past years, and several major products were announced over the four-day event. We will continue to follow many of these products as they are released, and review some of them in future issues of AccessWorld. The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, our next big opportunity to learn about new technology, moves to Anaheim this year and will be March 11-15. If you can’t make it, you can read about it right here.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Very interesting article about google and access technology. 

Very interesting article on an email list I am on. With google behind access tech, who knows what will develop.   I am especially interested in what the Perkins school will develop with their money.’s Giving $20 Million to Engineer a Better World for the Disabled

Damien Maloney for WIRED

Google’s philanthropic arm,, has been making a big global push this year to aid the one billion people around the world living with disabilities. To further that goal, it’s just awarded $20 million to the 30 nonprofitsit believes could benefit most from its tech and data-driven approach to charitable giving. From open source electric wheelchairs to multi-lingual keyboards you can control with eye-tracking technology, the chosen projects focus on solutions for disabled people in five main categories: education, communication, mobility, independence, and employment.

For Dot-org, as Googlers call it, this is a big moment. has revealed some awardees and partial grant amounts for its first-ever Global Impact Challenge in the past few months. But today it’s announced its full lineup, including 17 new nonprofits. Dot-org gave six of the 30 grantees more than $1 million to spend on advancing their causes. And the average grant size promised to these nonprofits, Dot-org says, is $750,000. According to the philanthropic organization, the final roster of grantees reach over 50 countries with their projects.

“We want to use our global voice to try and spread these innovations to more people,” says Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, project lead for Google’s global impact challenge. “We also have scale in mind in funding these projects. We’re really looking for ways that these organizations can put this innovation out into the universe.”

The range of nonprofits reflects the breadth of’s ambitions: One of the grantees is the Center for Discovery, which is developing an open source power add-on that converts any manual wheelchair into a powered one that gives people more automatic steering options and better mobility. Another pick is the Perkins School for the Blind, which is working on tech that goes beyond GPS to give people with visual impairments more visibility into their immediate surroundings-helping them pick out bus stops, for instance, or building entrances. Dot-org also chose Click2Speak, a nonprofit that’s developing an on-screen, multi-lingual keyboard that includes support for input devices such as switches, joysticks, or eye-tracking devices, aimed at users with impaired motor skills.

Of course, Dot-org’s announcement isn’t the first, or even the biggest, pledge in the history of tech philanthropy. (That distinction goes to Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, who pledged 99 percent of their Facebook fortune-$45 billion-to philanthropic causes.) But this year’s Global Impact Challenge portfolio is typical of Google’s unique way of giving. Google is all about approaching poverty and inequality as an engineering problem, and one of its goals is to democratize tech access for those in need in new and innovative ways. Improving life for people with disabilities gives a unique challenge to solve with its tech expertise.

Giving, the Google Way

Tech is no stranger to philanthropy. Generations of tech moguls, from Bill Gatesto Pierre Omidyar to Marc Benioff have given away impressive sums of their own wealth-and in doing so, have invited much scrutiny to the question of how tech can best approach philanthropy., however, claims that it’s different: as an agnostic organization, it says can be more objective than individuals who might be more passion-driven about the issues they pick.

In this case, says it has data-driven reasons for making disabilities its cause. More than a billion people live with a disability worldwide. A person with a disability, regardless of where he or she lives or works, has fewer opportunities than more able-bodied peers. In a place like the US, 50 to 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed; in developing nations, that proportion rises to as high as 80 to 90 percent, according to the United Nations. Access is another concern: Only 5 to 15 percent of people with disabilities in developing countries have access to the assistive devices they need, the World Health Organization determined.

What Dot-org says it can uniquely offer is broadening disabled people’s access to services and technology that will improve their lives, in small and big ways. One obvious way can do this is by lending tech expertise to nonprofits to create efficient, affordable products and services. But also wants to give everyone equal access, helping these nonprofits figure out how to overcome barriers to getting their projects into the hands of people who need them, whether that’s through upending stodgy insurance models, open sourcing project plans, or building in customization so that more individuals can find products designed specifically for their unique conditions. It also can’t hurt that Google is a company with a truly global reach.

Democratizing Access

The Center for Discovery’s indieGo, which Google gave over $1 million, is a model example of a nonprofit that could uniquely benefit from Google’s tech-savviness. The indieGo is a lightweight frame with a motor that converts any wheelchair into a powered one. Its inventors are experimenting with a variety of control mechanisms, from joysticks to touch buttons and industry-standard switches.

“Someone with a spinal cord injury who has use of their hands, though not their legs, could use a joystick with this device,” John Damaio, creator of the indieGo system, says. “But you can take this to another patient who maybe doesn’t have use of their hands, but has use of their head and neck, to drive with their head using the same device.” Because its tech is more sophisticated, a power wheelchair with head and neck controls could cost thousands of dollars more than a joystick-controlled chair, Damaio says. Meanwhile, the indieGo is aiming to go on the market for about $1,000-significantly lower than other power wheelchairs out there.

The nonprofit also plans to cut out middlemen, so that users who need the assistive device can order it directly. Perhaps most significant of all: the indieGo device plan is open source, right in line with Dot-org’s criteria. If all goes well, according to its road map developed in conjunction with, indieGo could be ready for manufacturing within two years.

Yes, the indieGo team has lofty goals. But they think they can get there. “The nice thing is, Dot-org isn’t just giving us money and stepping away,” McNamara says, anticipating that the team will need help soon, especially when it comes to specific technical questions-like how to extend their device’s battery life. “I assume with Google’s driverless car, that they have a whole slew of battery experts,” McNamara says. “We could reach out to them and ask for advice on the batteries that we are going to be using in our own device.”

There’s no way to know now whether all of’s bets will succeed. More likely than not, these nonprofits won’t hit every single one of their targets. But risk is inherent to philanthropy, as Google knows-and that’s to say nothing of the increased public scrutiny on such a high-profile institutional organization. Whether its investments succeed or fail, Dot-org-and its beneficiaries-are revealing a unique way to do tech philanthropy. And it’s one way that may well shape our expectations for how philanthropy is done by other very wealthy and very powerful organizations in the future.