Four Tools To Design Smart Cities For Persons With Disabilities

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The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information Communication Technologies (G3ict), together with World Enabled, have launched the “Smart Cities For All” Toolkit in efforts to define the state of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) accessibility in smart cities around the world. G3ict is a UN advocacy initiative that aims to facilitate and support the implementation of the dispositions of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the accessibility of ICTs and assistive technologies. World Enabled is an educational non-profit organization that, according to its website: “promotes the rights and dignities of persons with disabilities.”

The study that preceded the toolkit emphasized the importance of including empowering different communities with equal opportunities and responsibilities in smart cities. The importance of the Smart Cities For All Toolkit comes down to the long struggle of persons with disabilities and older persons to live and work as efficiently as others do in their cities. Over the past year, World Enabled and G3ict surveyed 400 leaders from the public and private sectors, advocacy organizations, civil society and academia all over the world, only to find that 18% could think of a city using accessibility standards around technology.

The challenge they found is that in many countries there is a strong focus on disability rights and accessible technologies, and a strong focus on creating new smart cities, however, these efforts are rarely coordinated or integrated together – although both are mutually inclusive. The same is true of technology companies as well. Although every large technology company has a business unit focused on smart cities, and many have strong teams focused on accessibility and usability, yet each function seems to work in a silo, rarely coordinating with the others.

Using the results of the study, the groups compiled a toolkit composed of four steps, with the first going towards implementing priority ICT accessibility. Since accessible ICT standards are key to designing a more inclusive approach to smart cities, the team argues that cities should begin by understanding and adopting appropriate ICT accessibility standards to ensure that smart cities programs and digital services are inclusive of people with disabilities and elders.

The second step is communicating the case for a stronger commitment to digital inclusion in cities; or in other words spreading awareness of disability and ICT accessibility. First, communication goals and objectives should be set, then key messages should be developed and priority communication channels should be identified. After that is done, a communication strategy should be created ahead of mobilizing allies and resources, and in the end, outcomes should be measured and evaluated.

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Cracking the code: Working together to engage and empower female technologists at Bloomberg

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diverse women working on laptop

To create products that serve increasingly diverse customers and solve a wider range of social problems, technology companies need women engineers. However, only 25 percent of math and computer science jobs in the United States are filled by women, and one-third of women in the U.S. and China quit these jobs mid-career due to factors like social isolation, a lack of access to creative technical roles and difficulty advancing to leadership positions.

At Bloomberg, we’ve established a company culture that supports gender equality in a multitude of ways – from company-wide Diversity & Inclusion business plans to a newly expanded family leave policy. But we know that’s not enough. In recent years, we’ve adopted a system-wide approach to increasing the number of women in technical roles, taking steps to remove barriers to advancement both inside our organization and beyond Bloomberg, supporting female talent from middle school through mid-career.

While the number of women in technical jobs at Bloomberg is growing, we’re committed to making progress faster and completing all the steps needed to solve the equation. Here are some of the ways we’re tackling this important deficit – and making quantifiable change.

Early engagement

Bloomberg supports organizations that help increase women’s participation in STEM and financial technology, exposing students to various career options through Bloomberg Startup and encouraging our female engineers to engage with the next generation of talent.

Collaboration, creativity, and a love of problem-solving drew Chelsea Ohh to the field of engineering. Now she works at Bloomberg as a software engineer team lead, helping to provide critical information to financial decision makers across the globe.

Recruitment

We target our entry-level engineering recruiting efforts at colleges that have achieved or are focused on gender parity in their STEM classes. And because not all the best talent come from the same schools or have the same experiences, Bloomberg actively seeks women engineers with non-traditional backgrounds or career paths.

Talent development

Women engineers can sharpen their technical skills through open courses, on-site training sessions, and business hackathons held throughout the year. Bloomberg is committed to inspiring our female employees, eliminating barriers like impostor syndrome, and encouraging them to pursue opportunities in engineering.

Community & allies

To strengthen its network of female engineers, global BWIT (Bloomberg Women in Technology) chapters organize more than 150 events, mentoring sessions, and meet-ups a year. The community also engages male allies and advocates, sharing strategies to help them support their female colleagues.

Click here to read the full article on Bloomberg.

The Latinx Community’s Growing Influence

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Latina reading magazine

The United States is currently experiencing a massive demographic shift, led in large part by the nation’s Latinx population. This group is growing rapidly, quickly becoming the most culturally and economically influential community in the country.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the country’s Hispanic or Latinx population grew from 50.5 million in 2010 (16.3% of the U.S. population)  to 62.1 million in 2020 (18.7%). That’s an increase of 23 percent. In fact, slightly more than half (51.1%) of the total U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020 came from growth in the country’s Latinx population.

It is no surprise then, that Latinx people have a massive effect on the U.S. economy. Their buying power is expected to reach $1.9 trillion by 2023, according to a report from Nielsen. This is up from $213 billion in 1990, marking an over 200% growth rate, more than double the growth in buying power of non-Latinx consumers.

This community’s economic influence reaches all industries, and it is critical that businesses gain a deeper understanding of Latinx culture. Doing so will allow business leadership to both better support employees and more effectively appeal to customers.

Understanding the Hypercultural Latinx individual

Among young Latinx people, there has been a rise in what is known as the “Hypercultural Latinx.”

Hypercultural Latinx people are often first-generation Americans who straddle both U.S. culture and their parents’ native Hispanic cultures. This group feels deeply connected to both aspects of their identities and has, in a sense, created their own blended, hybrid culture. As Ilse Calderon, an investor at OVO Fund, wrote on TechCrunch, a Hypercultural Latinx person is “100% Hispanic and 100% American.”

So, what do they want to buy? While Latinx people are clearly not a monolith, there are a few key trends across the community. According to research in the PwC Consumer

Intelligence Series, the Latinx population is especially enticed by new tech products. They are active on TikTok and exceedingly more likely to use WhatsApp and other social media platforms than other groups.

Nielsen also found that 45% of Latinx consumers buy from brands whose social values and causes align with theirs. This is 17% higher than the general population. Latinx people also share strong family values, as well as pride in their distinct cultural heritages. That is why organizations must engage the Latinx community and invite Latinx people to share their experiences.

It is pivotal that business leaders understand that “Latinx” is not a single streamlined culture. Rather, it is a diverse mix of traditions, nationalities, and values.

Embracing these cultural nuances is a key to understanding Latinx audiences. Organizations must consider methods to appeal to distinct Latinx groups, rather than marketing to the group as a whole.

Cultivating and advancing Latinx talent in the workplace

It isn’t only consumers that businesses should be thinking about. Latinx talent has also accounted for a massive 75% of U.S. labor force growth over the past six years, according to Nielsen. Nevertheless, only 3.8% of executive positions are held by Latinx men, and only 1.5% of are held by Latinx women.

Clearly, companies have a lot of work to do to attract and cultivate Latinx talent—and it all starts with recruitment. To ensure a diverse work force, companies must utilize culturally competent recruitment strategies that not only make new positions appealing to a variety of job seekers, but also give every applicant a fair chance.

According to an article in Hispanic Executive, understanding cultural differences can help recruiters create job descriptions that more effectively appeal to different communities. For example, the Latinx community feels a more communal sense of identity, compared to the more individualistic sense of identity in European-American culture. Recruiters should keep this in mind when thinking about what necessary skills they are highlighting for available roles.

Click here to read the complete article on Bloomberg.

The disabled influencers making their mark on social media

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model with spinal muscular atrophy poses in her electric wheel chair for clothing line called Misguided

By Johny Cassidy, BBC News

“You have to work hard on being your true self, and believe in the brands you promote.”

Words of advice from 32-year-old disabled influencer Tess Daly from Sheffield, who uses her 200,000-plus followers on Instagram to promote her beauty tutorials and advertise beauty brands.

Electric wheelchair-user Tess, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), has worked on social marketing campaigns for the likes of Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, as well as various make-up brands.

She still cringes at the term “social influencer”, but says that she wishes there were more people like her when she was growing up.

“So many people with disabilities have told me that I’ve given them the confidence, not only to embrace their disability, but to also pursue their own love of make-up,” she says.

Tess is one of a growing number of disabled influencers who work with Martyn Sibley and his digital marketing agency Purple Goat, which he launched at the beginning of lockdown last year.

Martyn, who was also born with SMA, started the agency as part of his mission for a fully inclusive world.

“I believe by helping big businesses make more profit through including disabled consumers via disabled influencers, we’ll get true inclusion quicker,” he says. “With this model it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Purple Goat has worked with more than 75 influencers so far, but Martyn is keen to point out that they’re not a talent agency with people on their books.

“We work for the client and find the right influencer for each campaign,” he explains.

 

Taking the plunge

Around 14.1 million people in the UK have some sort of disability, and with those sorts of numbers comes serious spending power. According to disability charity Scope, the so-called “purple pound” is worth approximately £273bn every year.

But while disabled people make up around 22% of the UK population, this is not reflected when it comes to advertising. Up-to-date figures are hard to come by, but research from Lloyds Banking Group in 2016 showed that disabled people featured in just 0.06% of advertising.

This was the main driver behind Martyn launching Purple Goat. He thinks the world of marketing and advertising is now becoming a lot more socially aware, and is ready for disruption.

“I believe it’s partly the way public opinion has improved around diversity and inclusion,” he says. “Brands have been fearful of getting disability wrong, but they’re now fearful of being called out for doing nothing.”

Tess has certainly seen a pick-up in social media work. Up until last year, it was something she did as a sideline, but towards the end of 2020 she took the plunge to become a full-time influencer, and now works with an agent to manage her workload.

It wasn’t as easy as people may think, she says. “You can’t just wake up one day and decide you want to become a social influencer.”

Young woman with a prosthetic leg poses for a clothing line during a photoshoot

 

‘Demanding to be seen’

Last year London-based luxury shoe brand Kurt Geiger started working with Northern Irish amputee model and influencer Bernadette Hagans.

The company’s chief executive, Neil Clifford, thinks that the rise in disabled influencers is down to the public’s change of mood.

“The boom in social media has given a voice to those who have previously been under-represented in the public eye and they are, quite rightly, demanding to be seen and heard,” he says. “People expect businesses to utilize their influence to counter inequality and many brands are reacting to this need.”

Twenty-six-year-old Pippa Stacey from York works in the charity sector, and blogs about living with chronic illness. Pippa, who lives with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, has also worked with Purple Goat doing social media campaigns for brands such as Tesco.

 

 

“Influencer marketing is about so much more than just the hard sell. It’s about supporting a positive image of the brand and their values, of which inclusivity should be central in this day and age,” she says.

Inclusivity on the part of big brands shouldn’t just be a tick box exercise, something they feel compelled to do to avoid criticism, she says.

“Having an ongoing relationship with disabled influencers, and taking the time to understand their platform. and their audience can help brands construct the most effective campaigns in a socially conscious way.”

Click here to read the full article on BBC.

Disability In Hollywood: The Road Traveled And The Road Ahead

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Hollywood Actor RJ Mitte April 2021 Issue

By Josh Wilson, Forbes

Hollywood plays a massive part in shaping our understanding of different groups and helps us gain insight into worlds and cultures we may never have been able to on our own. The movies and TV series that flood our screens are more than just entertainment; they’re education. But with great power and influence comes great responsibility as there’s always the danger of misrepresentation.

Over the years, Hollywood has faced backlash from several communities and social movements about the issue of misrepresentation and underrepresentation. Groups identifying with Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, the MeToo Movement, and protests like the OscarsSoWhite campaign come to mind.

People with disabilities, moreover racialized groups with disabilities, should also be at the forefront of this conversation, but they aren’t. This is a huge problem, especially considering that about a billion people live with some form of disability. In the U.S., one in five people have a disability, and for adults specifically, the disability count is about 26 percent, according to the CDC—roughly one in four adults.

“It’s almost impossible not to find people living with disabilities in any of these communities that feel let down by the entertainment industry’s depiction of their reality,” he said. “The discussion about proper inclusion and authentic depictions of a disabled person’s circumstances can only bode well for these groups and the entire industry as a whole.”

Disability isn’t new to the entertainment industry
Hollywood and the wider entertainment industry have many popular figures who are on the disability spectrum. Michael J. Fox has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Jim Carrey has talked about having ADHD, and Billie Eilish was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as a child, to mention a few.

Many of Hollywood’s big names have also brought awareness to various disabilities by talking about their condition, advocating for better understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities, or donating to their cause. The industry has also taken steps to shine a light on disabilities by making movies and TV productions focused on varying disabilities, or casting lead characters as people with disabilities.

The problem here is that the bigger picture still tells a story of underrepresentation and a lack of inclusion with only 3.5 percent of series regular characters being disabled in 2020, according to GLAAD. Another study found that this number was reasonably higher in 2018—12 per cent higher in fact—but that the majority of these characters were portrayed negatively.

There have been reports over the years of actors, writers, and other workers in entertainment losing their jobs or not being considered for a position due to disability-related issues. So while some of the silver screen’s most loved names play the roles of disabled characters and win awards and recognitions, the disabled community isn’t seeing any reasonable increase in inclusion and accessibility in the industry. In fact, about 95 per cent of characters with disabilities in Hollywood’s top shows are played by able-bodied actors, and during the 2019 Oscars, only two out of the 61 nominees and 27 winners that played disabled characters were actually disabled.

This gives credence to the concern of inauthentic portrayals of any given disability or disabled person. “It has never made sense to me that disabled characters in our shows and movies are played by people who have no disability.” Musab opines, “You can’t give what you don’t have, not optimally anyway. The way I see it, it’s like getting Cameron Diaz to play Harriet Tubman. No matter how pure her intentions and commitment to deliver on the role, she simply won’t be able to do it justice. It is an indictment of the abilities of disabled artists.”

The real focus is not only on the disability of the Hollywood spectrum but on the lack of inclusivity for racialized groups within the disabled community. The stories of their lives may have been voiced on several platforms but never from the eyes of the Hollywood industry. This is an important recognition for racialized groups within the disabled community, to not only be recognized but seen through a macro spectrum of representations.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

New ‘smart’ apartments give people with disabilities ability to live independently

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typical Lakewood apartment

By Homa Bash, News 5 Cleveland

On the outside, it looks like your typical Lakewood apartment.

Fourteen units close to shopping and restaurants, right in the heart of the city.

But on the inside, four apartments have been in the works for nearly two years.

They’re called TryTech – short for “try technology.”

A partnership between the nonprofit North Coast Community Homes and the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Kelly Petty is the CEO at CCBDD.

“We might see people with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, a whole variety of disabilities that qualify for our services,” she explained.

And TryTech is the first of its kind in the country.

Smart apartments tricked out with the latest in technology to make independent living for those with developmental disabilities attainable.

Voice activated tech, smart fridges and doorbells, an iPad with access to a virtual support person at the touch of a button, just to name a few things.

Being in an integrated building sets it apart even more.

“People who come to live in the TryTech apartments will be living in the same building as people without disabilities and that is unique and very exciting,” Petty said.

Chris West is the CEO of North Coast Community Homes, which has helped build and design hundreds of homes for those with disabilities in Northeast Ohio. Their partnership with CCBDD stretches nearly four decades.

“This really allows them to be in a community that’s inclusive,” West said.

The apartments will be available to four individuals at a time, on a trial basis —they can test it out for a weekend or even up to a few weeks.

From there, they can decide which parts of the technology are most helpful, so that can be integrated in a more permanent home for them.

Grace Gorton was one of the first to test it out.

“It feels very empowering as a deaf person and deaf single woman,” Gorton said, adding that she’s proud of herself for getting out of her comfort zone. “I want to work on my self confidence and my ability to live on my own.”

“It really allow them to show everybody they can live on their own. We know that they can,” West said.

And this project lets them prove it — to themselves, to their families, and to their support systems.

Click here to read the full article on News 5 Cleveland.

Bullied boy with dwarfism scores role in new ‘Mad Max’ movie

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Quaden Bayles is set to appear in

By Toyin Owoseje, CNN

Quaden Bayles, an indigenous Australian boy who won the support of celebrities and well-wishers around the globe after being bullied because of his disability, has landed a role in the new “Mad Max” movie.Oscar-winning director George Miller has cast the now 11-year-old in a small role in the movie “Furiosa,” a prequel to his 2015 post-apocalyptic blockbuster “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Miller revealed in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine, published Saturday, that he was moved to put Bayles on the big screen after watching the distressing video his mother shared of him in February 2020.

The Queensland boy, born with a type of dwarfism known as achondroplasia, is already scheduled to appear alongside Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton in Miller’s next film, “Three Thousand Years of Longing.” “It was good for us and it was good for him,” Miller told the Sydney Morning Herald. “And he did such a good job that he’s got a small role in Furiosa.”

In the 2020 viral video clip, Bayles is shown crying uncontrollably in the back of his mother’s car as he asks for a knife to kill himself.”This is what bullying does,” his mother, Yarraka Bayles, said in the video, livestreamed on Facebook to raise awareness of the impact of bullying. “Can you please educate your children, your families, your friends?”

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive clothing line offers more choices for people with MS and other disabilities

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Tommy Hilfiger's adaptive clothing line started with clothes for children. Based on their popularity the brand expanded the line for adults a year later.Tommy Hilfiger

By 

For people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other disabilities, getting dressed can be challenging. Navigating buttons or zippers can feel difficult or even some fabrics feel uncomfortable. A lot of adaptive clothing — garments designed to be functional for people with disabilities — focuses heavily on the function. Tommy Hilfiger hoped to change that by offering a line that’s functional but looks as fashionable as his other clothing lines.

“Nobody was doing it and when the idea came to me, I thought it was a natural for us because we are a very inclusive brand and we’re really proud to be leading the way now for adaptive fashion globally,” Tommy Hilfiger told TODAY. “A lot of this has to do with my personal experience as a result of having children on the autistic spectrum and I have firsthand experiencing as far as knowing what their needs are … and understanding the fact that they too would like to be like their peers.”In 2016, Tommy Hilfiger released its line of adaptive clothing for children and in the next year adult clothing was available “as a result of the great response.”

“They need it to function. But they also want to look good and for us it took a bit of studying and due diligence to try to figure out specifically what they would need in terms of function,” he explained. “We were able to use the same design as our mainstream collection but add innovative modifications and make dress easier.”

The brand uses a variety of closures, such as Velcro, magnets and hoop and loop closures, that can be easier to manage. While Hilfiger has personal experience with family members who have disabilities, including his sister who had MS, the company worked with people with disabilities to understand what works best for them.

“We asked a lot of people with disabilities what their preferences would be and we took it very seriously,” he said. “I wanted it to really come out of the gates as being a great collection and it took us quite a while to develop that.”

After people wear the clothes, they might share their thoughts and Hilfiger said that helps them continue to improve upon the design.

“The feedback really helps us to drive the business and the changes,” he said.

In the past, Hilfiger has supported Race to Erase MS, co-founded by Nancy Davis. Her organization has raised money to help drug development for MS. When she was diagnosed 30 years ago, she and others had few options for treatment.

“I had been recently told that I would never walk again and I would never have much freedom in my life and I had a really impossible disease that (doctors) would never find any treatment or cures for, but I decided I wanted to start my own foundation,” she told TODAY. “There’s now 22 drugs on the market that have FDA approval, which is nothing short of a miracle, and it was because of so many people like Tommy Hilfiger and all the different supporters.”

When Davis was diagnosed, she had three young children felt determined to have a different future. She said most people are diagnosed between 20 and 40 when they hit “that stride in their life.”

“I so badly wanted to live my life and had so many dreams and aspirations and they told me the most that I could do in my life is operate the remote control to my TV set,” she said. “It’s scary. It’s the unknown. Today there’s so much hope.”

Even with new medications, though, dressing can still be a challenge for people with MS. Davis recently met with Selma Blair, whom Race to Erase MS honored in the past, and the actress admitted that it took her about 40 minutes to get dressed.

“When you look at how hard it is to get up in the morning and put on clothes it’s really amazing that Tommy was so forward thinking in that he came up with this line that looks beautiful,” she said. “But it makes it very easy for that person who can’t get dressed.”

Click here to read the full article on TODAY.

Pottery Barn debuts 150 pieces of furniture for people with disabilities

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man in wheelchair reaching for a book in his home office surrounded by Pottery Barn furniture

By Elizabeth Segran, Fast Company

If you’re living with a disability, small design choices can make a big difference to your quality of life. High bathroom consoles make it hard to wash your hands from a wheelchair; low sofas are hard to get out of when you have a knee condition.

Today, Pottery Barn is launching a furniture collection designed to be accessible to the elderly, the injured, and those living with disabilities, making it one of the first large home brands to do so. In consultation with experts, the company’s designers adapted 150 best-selling styles—from dining tables to office desks—to accommodate a range of disabilities.

Pottery Barn’s Accessible Home line gives consumers more options for furniture that is both functional and stylish. And as a major retailer—whose parent company, Williams-Sonoma, generated $8.2 billion in 2021—this initiative may signal to the rest of the industry that it makes good business sense to design more inclusively.

Marta Benson, Pottery Barn’s president, felt strongly that the brand should launch an accessible home collection after she visited one of its stores, only to find that the bathroom didn’t contain Pottery Barn furniture. When she asked a store designer why, he pointed out that none of Pottery Barn’s bathroom consoles complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires public bathrooms to have wheelchair-accessible sinks. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” she recalls. “From that moment, I just started tuning into what it means to be inclusive and accessible to all abilities.”
Benson tasked Pottery Barn’s designers with creating modified versions of some of the brand’s most popular products to make them safer and easier for people with disabilities to use. To guide them, she brought in experts from the Disability Education and Advocacy Network, which is led by people with disabilities, as well as designers who specialize in designing for disability.

One of those experts is Lisa Cini, founder and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio, and a leading designer in the field of long-term care and Alzheimer’s. She’s known for a project called the Werner House, a 10,000-square-foot mansion she purchased in 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Her goal was to explore what it takes to create an inclusive, multigenerational house, and she invited designers and manufacturers to help renovate it. It’s equipped with technology like height-adjustable sinks and toilets, and transitions in flooring to make it easier for people to age in place. Cini herself lives in the house with her elderly parents and makes adjustments based on the family’s everyday experiences.
Cini and the Pottery Barn team used the Werner House to help create the Accessible Home line. “We looked at all the current Pottery Barn products and determined what was most appropriate for the Werner House, but we also identified gaps in the market,” Cini said via email.

In some cases, the designers made small tweaks to existing products. For instance, they redesigned mirrors so they can tilt, making it easier for those in wheelchairs to easily see themselves. They also created modified versions of popular office desks, like the Pacific, Dillon, and Malcolm, with dimensions that accommodate wheelchairs. These desks also feature open storage and shelving, to eliminate the need to grip and pull drawers.

Some products required more elaborate changes. The brand has taken its most popular armchairs—Wells, Irving, Tyler, and Ayden—and adapted them to include power lift, which makes it easier to get in and out of the chair. The chairs are also able to move in every direction, which relieves pressure and stress on the body. The 150 products will be available online and in select stores, and they’ll be the same price point as the original versions.

Click here to read the full article on Fast Company.

The latest video game controller isn’t plastic. It’s your face.

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Dunn playing “Minecraft” using voice commands on the Enabled Play controller, face expression controls via a phone and virtual buttons on Xbox's adaptive controller. (Courtesy of Enabled Play Game Controller)

By Amanda Florian, The Washington Post

Over decades, input devices in the video game industry have evolved from simple joysticks to sophisticated controllers that emit haptic feedback. But with Enabled Play, a new piece of assistive tech created by self-taught developer Alex Dunn, users are embracing a different kind of input: facial expressions.

While companies like Microsoft have sought to expand accessibility through adaptive controllers and accessories, Dunn’s new device takes those efforts even further, translating users’ head movements, facial expressions, real-time speech and other nontraditional input methods into mouse clicks, key strokes and thumbstick movements. The device has users raising eyebrows — quite literally.

“Enabled Play is a device that learns to work with you — not a device you have to learn to work with,” Dunn, who lives in Boston, said via Zoom.

Dunn, 26, created Enabled Play so that everyone — including his younger brother with a disability — can interface with technology in a natural and intuitive way. At the beginning of the pandemic, the only thing he and his New Hampshire-based brother could do together, while approximately 70 miles apart, was game.

“And that’s when I started to see firsthand some of the challenges that he had and the limitations that games had for people with really any type of disability,” he added.

At 17, Dunn dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to become a full-time software engineer. He began researching and developing Enabled Play two and a half years ago, which initially proved challenging, as most speech-recognition programs lagged in response time.

“I built some prototypes with voice commands, and then I started talking to people who were deaf and had a range of disabilities, and I found that voice commands didn’t cut it,” Dunn said.

That’s when he started thinking outside the box.

Having already built Suave Keys, a voice-powered program for gamers with disabilities, Dunn created Snap Keys — an extension that turns a user’s Snapchat lens into a controller when playing games like Call of Duty, “Fall Guys,” and “Dark Souls.” In 2020, he won two awards for his work at Snap Inc.’s Snap Kit Developer Challenge, a competition among third-party app creators to innovate Snapchat’s developer tool kit.

With Enabled Play, Dunn takes accessibility to the next level. With a wider variety of inputs, users can connect the assistive device — equipped with a robust CPU and 8 GB of RAM — to a computer, game console or other device to play games in whatever way works best for them.

Dunn also spent time making sure Enabled Play was accessible to people who are deaf, as well as people who want to use nonverbal audio input, like “ooh” or “aah,” to perform an action. Enabled Play’s vowel sound detection model is based on “The Vocal Joystick,” which engineers and linguistics experts at the University of Washington developed in 2006.

“Essentially, it looks to predict the word you are going to say based on what is in the profile, rather than trying to assume it could be any word in the dictionary,” Dunn said. “This helps cut through machine learning bias by learning more about how the individual speaks and applies it to their desired commands.”

Dunn’s AI-enabled controller takes into account a person’s natural tendencies. If a gamer wants to set up a jump command every time they open their mouth, Enabled Play would identify that person’s individual resting mouth position and set that as the baseline.

In January, Enabled Play officially launched in six countries — its user base extending from the U.S. to the U.K., Ghana and Austria. For Dunn, one of his primary goals was to fill a gap in accessibility and pricing compared to other assistive gaming devices.

“There are things like the Xbox Adaptive Controller. There are things like the HORI Flex [for Nintendo Switch]. There are things like Tobii, which does eye-tracking and stuff like that. But it still seemed like it wasn’t enough,” he said.

Compared to some devices that are only compatible with one gaming system or computer at a time, Dunn’s AI-enabled controller — priced at $249.99 — supports a combination of inputs and outputs. Speech therapists say that compared to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which are medically essential for some with disabilities, Dunn’s device offers simplicity.

“This is just the start,” said Julia Franklin, a speech language pathologist at Community School of Davidson in Davidson, N.C. Franklin introduced students to Enabled Play this summer and feels it’s a better alternative to other AAC devices on the market that are often “expensive, bulky and limited” in usability. Many sophisticated AAC systems can range from $6,000 to $11,500 for high-tech devices, with low-end eye-trackers running in the thousands. A person may also download AAC apps on their mobile devices, which range from $49.99 to $299.99 for the app alone.

“For many people who have physical and cognitive differences, they often exhaust themselves to learn a complex AAC system that has limits,” she said. “The Enabled Play device allows individuals to leverage their strengths and movements that are already present.”

Internet users have applauded Dunn for his work, noting that asking for accessibility should not equate to asking for an “easy mode” — a misconception often cited by critics of making games more accessible.

“This is how you make gaming accessible,” one Reddit user wrote about Enabled Play. “Not by dumbing it down, but by creating mechanical solutions that allow users to have the same experience and accomplish the same feats as [people without disabilities].” Another user who said they regularly worked with young patients with cerebral palsy speculated that Enabled Play “would quite literally change their lives.”

Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.

Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders Through AI Facial Expression Evaluation

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Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

By , Unite

Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

The new approach can not only distinguish between unaffected and affected subjects, but can also correctly distinguish depression from schizophrenia, as well as the degree to which the patient is currently affected by the disease.

The researchers have provided a composite image that represents the control group for their tests (on the left in the image below) and the patients who are suffering from mental disorders (right). The identities of multiple people are blended in the representations, and neither image depicts a particular individual:

Individuals with affective disorders tend to have raised eyebrows, leaden gazes, swollen faces and hang-dog mouth expressions. To protect patient privacy, these composite images are the only ones made available in support of the new work.

Until now, facial affect recognition has been primarily used as a potential tool for basic diagnosis. The new approach, instead, offers a possible method to evaluate patient progress throughout treatment, or else (potentially, though the paper does not suggest it) in their own domestic environment for outpatient monitoring.

The paper states*:

‘Going beyond machine diagnosis of depression in affective computing, which has been developed in previous studies, we show that the measurable affective state estimated by means of computer vision contains far more information than the pure categorical classification.’

The researchers have dubbed this technique Opto Electronic Encephalography (OEG), a completely passive method of inferring mental state by facial image analysis instead of topical sensors or ray-based medical imaging technologies.

The authors conclude that OEG could potentially be not just a mere secondary aide to diagnosis and treatment, but, in the long term, a potential replacement for certain evaluative parts of the treatment pipeline, and one that could cut down on the time necessary for patient monitoring and initial diagnosis. They note:

‘Overall, the results predicted by the machine show better correlations compared to the pure clinical observer rating based questionnaires and are also objective. The relatively short measurement period of a few minutes for the computer vision approaches is also noteworthy, whereas hours are sometimes required for the clinical interviews.’

However, the authors are keen to emphasize that patient care in this field is a multi-modal pursuit, with many other indicators of patient state to be considered than just their facial expressions, and that it is too early to consider that such a system could entirely substitute traditional approaches to mental disorders. Nonetheless, they consider OEG a promising adjunct technology, particularly as a method to grade the effects of pharmaceutical treatment in a patient’s prescribed regime.

The paper is titled The Face of Affective Disorders, and comes from eight researchers across a broad range of institutions from the private and public medical research sector.

Data

(The new paper deals mostly with the various theories and methods that are currently popular in patient diagnosis of mental disorders, with less attention than is usual to the actual technologies and processes used in the tests and various experiments)

Data-gathering took place at University Hospital at Aachen, with 100 gender-balanced patients and a control group of 50 non-affected people. The patients included 35 sufferers from schizophrenia and 65 people suffering from depression.

For the patient portion of the test group, initial measurements were taken at the time of first hospitalization, and the second prior to their discharge from hospital, spanning an average interval of 12 weeks. The control group participants were recruited arbitrarily from the local population, with their own induction and ‘discharge’ mirroring that of the actual patients.

In effect, the most important ‘ground truth’ for such an experiment must be diagnoses obtained by approved and standard methods, and this was the case for the OEG trials.

However, the data-gathering stage obtained additional data more suited for machine interpretation: interviews averaging 90 minutes were captured over three phases with a Logitech c270 consumer webcam running at 25fps.

The first session comprised of a standard Hamilton interview (based on research originated around 1960), such as would normally be given on admission. In the second phase, unusually, the patients (and their counterparts in the control group) were shown videos of a series of facial expressions, and asked to mimic each of these, while stating their own estimation of their mental condition at that time, including emotional state and intensity. This phase lasted around ten minutes.

In the third and final phase, the participants were shown 96 videos of actors, lasting just over ten seconds each, apparently recounting intense emotional experiences. The participants were then asked to evaluate the emotion and intensity represented in the videos, as well as their own corresponding feelings. This phase lasted around 15 minutes.

Click here to read the full article on Unite.

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