Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘Special’ Technologies Make The World More Accessible To All

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An indigenous iPad application for children with ASD

Last year, SAP Labs India unveiled an iPad application called Bol that helps autistic children to learn and communicate better. This simple, easy-to-use application was developed by the team based on their experiences in working with the Autism Society of India for over a year. The application is highly user-friendly and customisable to suit the needs of autistic children in India.

Jayananda Kotri, product manager, SAP Labs India, says, “Working with ASD-affected children has been a learning experience throughout. We learnt to respect their disabilities and appreciate the special skills they possess. Our first step was to explore the use of technology (primarily tablets like iPad) to assist them in learning through their formative years. We realised that the biggest challenge families of ASD-affected children face is to make them independent from their support so that they can lead a normal life. We realised soon that communication is a primary need and is surprisingly least addressed in the available applications. There are only a handful of apps available, which are also expensive and localised to a Western audience. For example, the available apps had references to Western food items like burgers and kiwi fruit with an American voice-over, which gave an unfamiliar experience to the children. We conceptualised this communication app with a goal to make it available to all, free of cost, language, accent or region.”

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Bol, which can be downloaded for free from, integrates two key elements—auditory (record a voice-over description) and visual (take a picture). This allows autistic children to not just associate objects with sounds but also gain a comprehensive understanding of the materials being taught to them.

Kotri explains that the app uses pictures and voice for effective communication. The interface primarily displays a set of images in the form of a gallery/flash cards for learning or communicating. Pictures can be added into the app from a photo library or by taking a photograph using the built-in camera. Speech capability comes via voices that can be recorded to give the app a more human and personal touch or using the default text-to-speech (TTS) converter. The app stores everything into one file, which can also be exported via iTunes for backup. Future versions will allow sharing as well.

The app includes several small but significant features developed with a close understanding of the needs of ASD-affected children. For example, the app enlarges the image or item touched and also plays the recorded voice to enable them to communicate with others or for reinforced learning. If there are further items under that category, those are then displayed below that. This needs no special training. A child can explore everything on his own. The voice recording capability helps the app to connect to the child in a better manner giving a more personal feeling. The overall user experience is kept very simple and clutter-free to avoid distraction.

When asked about current work on this, Kotri says, “The Android version of the app is under development to address affordability of the devices. An online free resource called DAKSH that caters to the computer skills training and special skills related to ASD has been hosted at This also allows people to collaborate and share content, specific to the field of autism, with each other. We aim to make this the largest free content resource for the field in the coming years. There are a few other initiatives that are at a very early stage focusing on other special needs.”

Automated prescription reader for visually-challenged patients
En-Vision’s ScripTalk Station is an automated prescription reader for visually-impaired, dyslexic and illiterate users, who find it difficult to read the label information on prescription medication. It uses radio frequency identification (RFID), TTS technologies and Analog Devices’ Blackfin processor to transform drug-label printing into audible, spoken words.

Bol categories
Bol categories

When a sight-impaired patient places a prescription bottle on the ScripTalk unit, a digitally-generated voice reads out the prescription label loud, clearly communicating both the drug name and the recommended dosage. As a result, people can manage their medical needs in a safe and private manner using a technology that is easy and affordable.

ScripTalk is a light-weight, portable, battery-powered device. Pharmacists connect the base station to a computer via a USB or serial port and upload prescription data from standard pharmacy-management software to the En-Vision device. With the press of a button, a special RFID-tagged label is encoded with all warnings, side effects and the patient’s personal information. At home, the sight-impaired patient uses a similar device to hear the label information.

En-Vision partnered with Mistral Solutions, a concept-to-deployment design engineering firm based in India, to develop ScripTalk. They chose the Blackfin processor as it met all their needs in terms of price, power consumption, processing performance, peripheral interfacing and technology-ecosystem. Mistral was able to leverage its rich experience with Blackfin processors to enhance the ScripTalk Station’s marketability by integrating multi-lingual TTS using Nuance RealSpeak for high-quality speech processing.


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