First deaf ‘Bachelor’ contestant, Abigail Heringer, celebrates her disability with photo of cochlear implant

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Abigail Heringer with her back facing the camera as she lifts her hair to show her new cochlear implant

By Kerry Justich, Yahoo! Life

Abigail Heringer made history with her appearance on Season 25 of The Bachelor as the franchise’s first deaf contestant. Now, the 26-year-old is reflecting on her experience and sharing gratitude for how Bachelor Nation welcomed her.

“As 2021 starts to wrap up, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for this past year. The amount of support and love I’ve experienced through DM’s, comments and more continues to blow me away,” Heringer wrote alongside a slideshow of photos of her wearing her cochlear implant — a small electronic device that helps to provide her with a sense of sound, although she was born completely deaf.

“When I first got the call saying that they wanted to cast me for The Bachelor, I called my mom in a panic,” she wrote. “I was excited but also so scared and unsure if I wanted to talk about my hearing loss on tv, especially on a show that hasn’t had much disability representation.”

While Heringer was ultimately celebrated for being on the show and bravely sharing her story during her first meeting with bachelor Matt James, she explained that she had reservations about being so open about her disability on television.

“After countless awkward interactions growing up, I had become so used to trying to ‘act normal’ which meant to me, undermining my hearing loss. Acting like I had nothing different about me,” Heringer shared. “I wouldn’t tell new friends, first dates, teachers and I felt guilty about it. I had something beautifully different about me and so when my mom said ‘if sharing your story can help just one person, one family, you should do it’, that’s all it took for me to say yes.”

Heringer went on to explain how going on the show changed her life “overnight.” More importantly, however, it was just the beginning of a longer journey to finding confidence to fully embrace her cochlear implant, which has long made her feel different.

“It took me 26 years,” she said of showing off her device. “But I got here and I’m not ready to stop sharing. I’d like to think a lot of you are here because either you have a similar situation, know someone that is deaf or hard of hearing, or simply just curious and want to learn more. And I’m happy you’re here.”

Heringer received an outpour of love and support in the comment section from fellow Bachelor contestants turned friends.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Life.

Amazon, Starbucks and Google among best places to work for professionals with disabilities

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Google announced the launch of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program for neurodiversity..and is one of the best places for professionals with disabilities

By Ashton Jackson, CNBC

In 2021, 77% of workers with disabilities said their employer has done a better job supporting them since the pandemic started. Now, companies are building on that support, with significant increases in leadership and boardroom diversity, according to the 2022 Disability Equality Index report from Disability:IN, a global organization advocating for disability inclusion in the workplace.

“People now understand that disability inclusion is not some kind of ADA compliance issue, but it’s actually a business imperative,” says Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chair of the Disability Equality Index.

“People today want to go to work for companies that they think are doing the right thing, that share their values, and share their vision of the world, [including] making sure that people with disabilities have an equal shot at going to work at that company every single day.”

The Disability Equality Index is a benchmarking assessment, where leaders submit their companies to be scored in areas like technology accessibility, employment practices and culture. This year, the report covered 415 companies, including 69 from the Fortune 100, who were then ranked to identify the best places to work for disability inclusion.

With scores of 100, these companies, along with several others, led the pack:

Amazon
Bank of America
Capital One
Deloitte
Goldman Sachs
Google
Starbucks

Increased disability inclusion in leadership is one of the most prominent trends in the report, with 126 companies having a senior executive who is internally known as a person with a disability. In 2021, only 99 companies had this kind of representation at the executive level.

The report also found that 6% of companies now have someone who openly identifies as disabled on their corporate board, and 74% of companies have investments with disability-owned businesses, showing not only an internal change, but an effort to diversify outside relationships as well.

According to Jill Houghton, the president and CEO of Disability:IN, the call for disability inclusion at work, coupled with the “global talent shortage” has made it vital for companies “to rethink how they hire, develop and cultivate talent.”

Ninety-six percent of companies in the report offer flexible work options, making completing certain tasks more accessible and accommodating. Fifty percent are also investing in new technology to help advance digital accessibility.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

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.

Meet Jonny Huntington – the man set to be the first to solo the South Pole with a significant disability

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Jonny Huntington Headshot

By Oli Ballard, Business Leader

In November 2023 Jonny will embark on a journey to the South Pole from the continental shelf of Antartica, a distance of over 900km. He is doing this alone and will become the first ever disabled person to solo the South Pole.

As part of the expedition, Jonny has put together a training timeline that starts in July 2022 across the South West Cost Path. The total distance of the coastal path is 630 miles and in total he will burn 5524 calories.

In 2014, Jonny had a brain bleed that left him paralysed from the neck down on his left side. Following extensive rehabilitation and discharge from the Army, he returned to the world of elite sport as a disabled athlete, competing for Great Britain in cross country skiing.

Jonny comments: “I’m ready to go and take on this challenge. First and foremost, I’m an athlete. My injury hasn’t changed this. It may cause me to rethink my approach, but intrinsically the challenge is the same- with the right attitude and hard work, anything is achievable.

“I’m delighted to be working together with Business Leader to have their media support.”

Business Leader is covering Jonny’s expedition and will be hosting a speaking event with him in the coming months.

Click here to read the full article on Business Leader.

How ‘ghosting’ is linked to mental health

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A woman using her iphone

By Royette T. Dubar, The Washington Post

Check your phone. Are there any unanswered texts, snaps or direct messages that you’re ignoring? Should you reply? Or should you “ghost” the person who sent them?

Ghosting happens when someone cuts off all online communication with someone else without an explanation. Instead, like a ghost, they just vanish. The phenomenon is common on social media and dating sites, but with the isolation brought on by the pandemic — forcing more people together online — it happens now more than ever.

I am a professor of psychology who studies the role of technology use in interpersonal relationships and well-being. Given the negative psychological consequences of thwarted relationships — especially in the emerging adulthood years, ages 18 to 29 — I wanted to understand what leads college students to ghost others, and if ghosting had any perceived effects on one’s mental health.

To address these questions, my research team recruited 76 college students through social media and on-campus fliers, 70 percent of them female. Study participants signed up for one of 20 focus groups, ranging in size from two to five students. Group sessions lasted an average of 48 minutes each. Participants provided responses to questions asking them to reflect on their ghosting experiences. Here’s what we found.

The results
Some students admitted they ghosted because they lacked the necessary communication skills to have an open and honest conversation — whether that conversation happened face-to-face or via text or email.

From a 19-year-old woman: “I’m not good at communicating with people in person, so I definitely cannot do it through typing or anything like that.”

From a 22-year old: “I do not have the confidence to tell them that. Or I guess it could be because of social anxiety.”

In some instances, participants opted to ghost if they thought meeting with the person would stir up emotional or sexual feelings they were not ready to pursue: “People are afraid of something becoming too much … the fact that the relationship is somehow getting to the next level.”

Some ghosted because of safety concerns. Forty-five percent ghosted to remove themselves from a “toxic,” “unpleasant” or “unhealthy” situation. A 19-year-old woman put it this way: “It’s very easy to just chat with total strangers so [ghosting is] like a form of protection when a creepy guy is asking you to send nudes and stuff like that.”

One of the least-reported yet perhaps most interesting reasons for ghosting someone: protecting that person’s feelings. Better to ghost, the thinking goes, than cause the hurt feelings that come with overt rejection. An 18-year-old woman said ghosting was “a little bit politer way to reject someone than to directly say, ‘I do not want to chat with you.’ ”

That said, recent data suggests that U.S. adults generally perceive breaking up through email, text or social media as unacceptable, and prefer an in-person break-up conversation.

And then there’s ghosting after sex.

In the context of hookup culture, there’s an understanding that if the ghoster got what they were looking for — often, that’s sex — then that’s it, they no longer need to talk to that person. After all, more talk could be interpreted as wanting something more emotionally intimate.

According to one 19-year-old woman: “I think it’s rare for there to be open conversation about how you’re truly feeling [about] what you want out of a situation. … I think hookup culture is really toxic in fostering honest communication.”

But the most prevalent reason to ghost: a lack of interest in pursuing a relationship with that person. Remember the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You”? As one participant said: “Sometimes the conversation just gets boring.”

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

Meet the startup that gives wheelchairs aftermarket superpowers

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Female legs on an electrick wheelchair

By , Digital Trends

As a technology that’s been around for decades, powered wheelchairs aren’t exactly a hotbed of innovation. Aside from some basic improvements in power and battery life, they’ve largely remained the same for the past few years.

But that’s not to say nobody’s pushing the envelope in this space. A couple years ago at at CES, Digital Trends got an early look at LUCI, an innovative startup that’s aiming to give all the world’s wheelchairs a technological upgrade, retrofitting them with aftermarket abilities like obstacle avoidance, drop-off detection, 360-degree sensor vision, and smart assistant integrations. In 2021, the company had just barely launched and was still getting off the ground, but here in 2022, it’s really starting to make waves — so we caught up with founders Barry and Jered Dean to hear about the company’s journey so far — and also what’s coming next.

Digital Trends: What inspired you to rethink the way wheelchairs work?

Barry: It comes from my daughter, Katherine, our family, and our lived experience, frankly. I’m not in a chair, nor is Jered, but my daughter, Katherine, is, and we had a friend of the family who was injured in a wheelchair accident. We wanted to find the technologies and protection to help her have more independence. And as she got older (she’s 21 now), we found it didn’t exist. We’ve found that frustrating, and so we began working to try to solve that problem.

A lot of people don’t realize that these power wheelchairs cost about as much as a car, and the only safety feature on them is a seat belt. The disability community has been left behind by technology, and it’s sort of this forgotten world. At LUCI, we’ve been working really hard to bring technology to this world, to these users, to our family.

What surprised you the most when researching wheelchair owner data?

Barry: The things that probably surprise people the most are the cost of the wheelchair and the weight, which we knew from our lived experience. Also, finding out that twice as many people are getting hurt and going to the ER in wheelchair accidents as they are in motorcycle accidents. There are a lot of wheelchair accidents out there, but everyone sort of assumes it’s just them or they may even think, “it’s my fault.” We had those same thoughts until we started understanding that it wasn’t just a family problem, but rather an industry problem — a safety issue for anyone who’s using a motorized mobile device.

We wanted to demonstrate safety issues in a scientific way. We worked with a crash test facility that does automotive and aerospace. After the first test ran, the facility engineers started realizing the problem and they called an expert, who said the forces we’re seeing when a person runs into a wall (at full speed on a chair) exceed what’s allowed in cars by the federal government. The person is the bumper in a wheelchair if you think about it.

Let’s talk features. What makes LUCI different from other mobility devices?

Jered: So basically, a user can add LUCI to an existing power wheelchair, and it turns a dumb wheelchair into a smart wheelchair.

We do collision avoidance and drop-off protection, and connectivity to the outside world. Collision avoidance and drop-off protection really are enhanced mobility. They help people navigate safely, and more independently. LUCI allows users to connect to health trackers, Alexa, Google Assistant, and allows them to communicate and share information with their teams. It comes with a mobile application, which can let users take advantage of features and upgrades like LUCI View, which is something that we just launched in April. It allows users to see a 360-degree view of what LUCI sees around the chair.

Our users are of all abilities. Some can move freely with traditional joysticks, some use alternative drive controls, some even drive with their eyes, so LUCI View can be critically helpful, letting users see what’s behind them and all the way around them, just like on any modern car.

Barry: In the smart tech world, we’re used to over-the-air updates and a platform approach to technology, adding features that we don’t necessarily have to pay for a new device to get. That’s not something that’s come to this industry in this way. When you think about it, a power wheelchair is probably one of the largest expenditures someone is spending on, yet it’s not connected to the things we want it connected to? We wanted to change that.

We’re also introducing new technology for seating that is game-changing. As an example, some people use air cushions — 25% or 30% use an air cushion to help mitigate pressure injury. But if that air cushion is not inflated properly, it works against you. So, we have a monitor called LUCI Air that helps keep track of this. It sends alerts or texts if it detects a problem and tracks the data over time.

There’s also a new technology that we’re working on — just now in beta, so it’s not out yet. It helps people using ramp vans (which are the narrowest ramps) using tagging and robotics technology.

We’re constantly looking for the pain points, and we listen to our customers and ask ourselves “what are the things that people are asking for, and how do we get those to them as soon as possible?” We initiated the platform, and now we’re able to start addressing those directly.

Click here to read the full article on Digital Trends.

Six Flags Is Making Its Parks More Accessible for Visitors with Special Needs

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Six Flags

By Antonia DeBianchi, People

Six Flags has announced its expanding accessibility for park-goers with special needs.

On Thursday, the theme park company shared some new initiatives that are intended to make the amusement parks more inclusive. One of the new safety programs includes a special “restraint harness” for all Six Flags thrill rides for guests with some physical disabilities, per a release.

Six Flags, which has over 20 theme parks around the U.S., Canada and Mexico, notes that 98% of rides have an “individually designed harness.” The new innovation has multiple sizes to accommodate park-goers with “physical disabilities such as a missing limb or appendages starting at 54″ tall.”

“Six Flags is proud to be the industry leader on these innovative programs that allows our guests to enjoy the more thrilling rides that our parks have to offer,” Selim Bassoul, Six Flags President and CEO, said in a statement.

Along with the new harness, the amusement park company announced that all properties are now accredited as Certified Autism Centers in partnership with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Park leadership will be trained in helping provide various support elements for guests with autism.

Included in this initiative are special guides to help visitors plan the day, highlighting sensory impacts of each attraction and ride.

Six Flags joins other major theme parks that are already Certified Autism Centers, including SeaWorld Orlando, Sesame Place San Diego and Legoland Florida Resort.

“This offering, coupled with the IBCCES certification at our parks, shows our unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our company is truly dedicated to this initiative and making sure that encompasses our guests with abilities and disabilities,” Bassoul added.

Some more features that the parks will offer as Certified Autism Centers are “low sensory areas” to allow visitors who have sensory sensitivities to take a break in a calm environment. Trained team members will also be on hand to assist park-goers, according to the release.

Click here to read the full article on People.

Gamifying Fear: Vr Exposure Therapy Shown To Be Effective At Treating Severe Phobias

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Girl using virtual reality goggles watching spider. Photo: Donald Iain Smith/Gett Images

By Cassidy Ward, SyFy

In the 2007 horror film House of Fears (now streaming on Peacock!), a group of teenagers enters the titular haunted house the night before it is set to open. Once inside, they encounter a grisly set of horrors leaving some of them dead and others terrified. For many, haunted houses are a fun way to intentionally trigger a fear response. For others, fear is something they live with on a daily basis and it’s anything but fun.

Roughly 8% of adults report a severe fear of flying; between 3 and 15% endure a fear of spiders; and between 3 and 6% have a fear of heights. Taken together, along with folks who have a fear of needles, dogs, or any number of other life-altering phobias, there’s a good chance you know someone who is living with a fear serious enough to impact their lives. You might even have such a phobia yourself.

There are, thankfully, a number of treatments a person can undergo in order to cope with a debilitating phobia. However, those treatments often require traveling someplace else and having access to medical care, something which isn’t always available or possible. With that in mind, scientists from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago have investigated the use of virtual reality to remotely treat severe phobias with digital exposure therapy. Their findings were published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Prior studies into the efficacy of virtual reality for the treatment of phobias were reliant on high-end VR rigs which can be expensive and difficult to acquire for the average patient. They also focused on specific phobias. The team at the University of Otago wanted something that could reach a higher number of patients, both in terms of content and access to equipment.

They used oVRcome, a widely available smartphone app anyone can download from their phone’s app store. The app has virtual reality content related to a number of common phobias in addition to the five listed above. Moreover, because it runs on your smartphone, it can be experienced using any number of affordable VR headsets which your phone slides into.

Participants enter in their phobias and their severity on a scale and are presented with a series of virtual experiences designed to gently and progressively expose the user to their fear. The study involved 129 people between the ages of 18 and 64, all of which reported all five of the target phobias. They used oVRcome over the course of six weeks with weekly emailed questionnaires measuring their progress. Participants also had access to a clinical psychologist in the event that they experienced any adverse effects from the study.

Participants were given a baseline score measuring the severity of their phobia and were measured again at a follow up 12 weeks after the start of the program. At baseline, participants averaged a score of 28 out of 40, indicating moderate to severe symptoms. By the end of the trial, the average score was down to 7, indicating minimal symptoms. Some participants even indicated they had overcome their phobia to the extent that they felt comfortable booking a flight, scheduling a medical procedure involving needles, or capturing and releasing a spider from their home, something they weren’t comfortable doing at the start.

Part of what makes the software so effective is the diversity of programming available and the ability for an individual to tailor their experiences based on their own unique experience. Additionally, exposure therapy is coupled with additional virtual modules including relaxation, mindfulness, cognitive techniques, and psychoeducation.

Click here to read the full article on SyFy.

Meet the Google Dealmaker Advocating for Disabled Workers

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Meet the Google Dealmaker Advocating for Disabled Workers

By , Times Grid

Rising up within the south German metropolis of Tuttlingen, Patrick Schilling could not use his native library.

Born with shortened legs and arms, Schilling’s incapacity left him reliant on an electrical wheelchair from an early age.

However the nearest library to Schilling’s household residence was solely accessible through stairs, which means he had to make use of the web to search out studying materials.

Talking to Insider from his residence in Zurich, the place he has labored as a strategic dealmaker at Google’s cloud computing division – though he just lately made a sideways transfer into product improvement – Schilling mentioned this expertise was emblematic of the distinctive dynamics that drove his early ardour for know-how and innovation.

“There’s two angles to it. The primary is that if you happen to use an electrical wheelchair, the primary time it breaks down, you develop an intrinsic motivation to make it possible for know-how that is being constructed for hundreds of thousands of individuals really works,” he mentioned.

“Then again, I take pleasure in the advantages of technological developments fairly early on. My native library was solely accessible through stairs. When the web got here alongside, I may immediately learn virtually something I needed to within the digital realm.”

In line with the World Well being Group, near a billion individuals worldwide are in want of assistive gadgets to go about their day, however solely a fraction of them have entry to such know-how.

Rising up in a working-class household with little “mental publicity to this space,” Schilling mentioned he may have a tough time navigating an unkind world.

“I acquired confronted with the nice, the unhealthy, and the ugly of rising up with a bodily incapacity fairly early on,” he mentioned. “I used to be born to 2 great mother and father, who weren’t ready for this to occur in any respect. However ever since day one, they took this method the place they mentioned: ‘You may both make your life depend, or do not.’

“I attempt to make each day depend.”

Schilling says residing with incapacity has taught him invaluable life expertise.
4 years into his profession at Google, Schilling attributes a lot of his success to an inner “narrative shift” he began engaged on in his teenage years.

In his late adolescence, Schilling discovered himself “in a not-so-great spot.” “I used to be like, ‘Why is it me? Why do I’ve to stay by this?’”

However disposing of a broken-down wheelchair prompted a rethink. “This chair had let me down a few occasions. It had prevented me from taking the bus, or leaping in a cab and assembly a good friend for dinner,” he mentioned.

“However the whole lot I might performed over time – from residing and learning overseas to only sustaining nice friendships – was solely doable due to it. That shifted my considering away from a story centered on the negatives.”

Schilling’s realization – {that a} lifelong dependency on a wheelchair had helped him construct a powerful roster of life expertise – helped him meet his potential.

“In the event you’re in a wheelchair and also you wanna take a practice, that is an entire challenge in itself. Is the practice accessible? Is the station accessible? That is challenge administration,” he mentioned. “If you are going to should ask individuals on the road for assist, you are going to want communication expertise.

“These are strengths, they usually’re strengths that each corporations, and society at massive, can profit from.”

Schillings is looking forward to the subsequent technology of disabled staff.
Whereas Schilling’s expertise at Google has been overwhelmingly optimistic, he’s removed from complacent concerning the continued want for activism within the office, admitting “hardly per week goes by” with out him being invited to talk on one panel or one other, or meet one other younger particular person going through comparable challenges.

Primarily based on common conferences with the “seven or eight” mentees he meets with recurrently, Schilling feels the way forward for office incapacity advocacy is in good arms.

“I am 27 now, proper? I used to be the primary particular person ever with a incapacity to attend my highschool. However the of us which can be 10 years youthful than I’m and, nicely, they aren’t taking it.”

He recounts the story of 1 younger particular person he is aware of. This particular person was interviewing for a job, and felt the recruiter wasn’t comfy with the very fact he did not have arms.

Click here to read the full article on Times Grid.

Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?

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Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

“Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

“It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

“A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

“The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

“There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Join us in D. C. for Tapia 2022!
    September 6, 2022 - September 10, 2022
  4. The 2022 Global ERG Summit
    September 19, 2022 - September 23, 2022
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    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022