[Nfbmo] Fw: new tool for visually impaired

James Moynihan jamesmmoynihan at gmail.com
Tue Aug 2 14:29:38 UTC 2011

Fellow Federationists


Jim Moynihan
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Neuman, Dale A." <NeumanD at umkc.edu>
To: <jamesmmoynihan at gmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2011 7:50 AM
Subject: new tool for visually impaired

College students with very poor vision have had to struggle to see a 
blackboard and take notes—basic tasks that can hold some back. Now a team of 
four students from Arizona State University has designed a system, called 
Note-Taker, that couples a tablet PC and a video camera, and could be a 
major advance over the small eyeglass-mounted telescopes that many students 
have had to rely on. It recently 
won<http://www.imaginecup.com/CompetitionsContent/2011Winners.aspx> second 
place in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup technology competition.

There are roughly 75,000 students at colleges and trade schools who are 
visually impaired. The telescopes allow students with low vision to see the 
blackboard, but they can only focus on one section at a time. Then they have 
to take off the telescope, write notes, and then go back to the board and 
try and catch up with the lecture.

David S. Hayden, who graduated from Arizona State in May, understands these 
challenges—he can only read texts if he gets about two inches away from the 
material. Mr. Hayden, the lead designer of Note-Taker, says he faced a 
“morbid tradeoff” in class. Using the assistive technology that was 
available to him, he could either take notes or listen and absorb the 
information, but never both. After he had to withdraw from three 
senior-level math classes, he says, “I realized the existing technologies 
weren’t going to assist my needs, so I had a project on my hands.”

The result was Note-Taker, which connects a tablet PC (a laptop with a 
screen you can write on) to a high-resolution video camera. Screen commands 
get the camera to pan and zoom. The video footage, along with audio, can be 
played in real time on the tablet and are also saved for later reference. 
Alongside the video is a space for typed or handwritten notes, which 
students can jot down using a stylus. That should be helpful in math and 
science courses, says Mr. Hayden, where students need to copy down graphs, 
charts, and symbols not readily available on a keyboard.

Mr. Hayden built a prototype of the device with the help of John A. Black 
Jr., a researcher specializing in computing and human visual perception at 
the university’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing. The project was 
then awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation and refined with 
the help of Michael Astrauskas, Shashank Srinivas, and Qian Yan, who are 
Arizona State students.

“It’s unlike what I’ve seen,” says Clara Van Gerven, an access-technology 
content specialist with the National Federation of the Blind. The 
handwriting feature seems valuable, and she has not seen it in other 
computer-compatible video-recording systems. Note-Taker, she says, “uses 
existing technology to its advantage and then adds the rewind feature and 
the manual note-taking to that. It seems like it would be a useful tool.”

But no tool can replace institutional support, says Chris S. Danielsen, 
director of public relations for the federation. “The university is always 
going to have to make sure that whatever technology it uses is accessible to 
blind and low-vision students,” he says. (Arizona State U. has gotten in hot 
water in the 
past<http://chronicle.com/article/Blind-Students-Demand-Access/125695/> in 
just this area.)

The team continues to develop the Note-Taker—a fourth-generation model is 
already in the works—and is looking into ways to get it on the market. 
Though the prototype is prohibitively expensive, the designers hope to bring 
the price tag down to $1,000 per camera unit (the tablet PC would be 
purchased separately), so that it will be affordable to more consumers. 
Their second-place finish a few weeks ago in the Imagine Cup’s 
software-design category may also attract some interest.

Mr. Hayden is starting graduate school in the fall at the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology. He’s taking one of the Note-Taker models with him 
to use when classes resume.

Dale A. Neuman
Director, Harry S Truman Center for Governmental Affairs
Special Projects Associate, College of Arts and Sciences
Professor Emeritus of Political Science
816-235-6108 or 816-235-2787
FAX 816-235-5191
Neumand at umkc.edu

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