Archive for November, 2015

Problem Solving

Monday, November 30th, 2015

This semester, I learned how to use a combination of engineering and creativity skills to create a device to assist an individual with low vision. Throughout the past few months, our team has considered several very different approaches in which we could try to solve this problem and have iterated over some very different prototypes.

A couple of things that I’ve learned about problem solving and think are worth sharing:

1. Simple solutions are often very good solutions.

It’s not too uncommon to be more focussed on creating something impressive rather than something that simply gets the job done, especially here at MIT. When brainstorming, it’s good to note down whatever ideas come to mind, but to also stop sometimes and think about what the basis of problem is and how to address them.

2. Don’t get caught on one idea or in one direction; sometimes you need to consider other options.



This happened to me. Soon after being presented with the problem, I immediately thought of a potential solution, and became too attached to it. Only after we tested it and realized it didn’t give the most accurate results did I start considering going in a different direction. I would think that this is a common occurrence as well, people do get attached to their own ideas.

3. Draw inspiration from your surroundings.

This could be from everyday items around you, something you saw online, or from talking to your friends. I personally found that bouncing ideas off people completely uninvolved in the project often produced interesting ideas because these people often did not experience the problem presented in point #2. My main point is, if you constantly have this problem at the back of your head, you can find inspiration in many things.


Importance of collaboration

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Through PPAT I continue to understand the importance of collaboration with clients. Studying OT, we learn about client-centered practice theoretically, but it isn’t completely understood until you experience it empirically. Why should we make decisions jointly with clients, involve clients actively, and be egalitarian? What if I feel I know what is best for them?

I guess it’s all about promoting choice, freedom, and autonomy. As we demonstrate these values, the clients feel empowered, have opinions, and participate actively. We instill confidence in the clients and convey the idea that we view them as competent in their ability to direct and choose their own solution. When my team and I asked my client to freely speak his thoughts, it not only built rapport but also shed light on his talents. We saw how smart and creative he was. Surely, his ideas were very enlightening. As someone with the most knowledge of his own disability, he understood exactly what he needed and exactly what he wanted to have better access to reading his mails. Collaboration allowed him to open up, share his opinions, and suggest his own alternative solutions. Collaboration helped him become excited about meeting with us every week and confident that he also had something to share to the team.

On the flip side, I also see the cautions associated with this collaborative style. Overreliance on this style may not be received well by clients accustomed to, and who prefer to, view service providers as experts. According to Taylor (2008), clients inclined to participate in social or cultural networks with hierarchical role structures may not value collaboration and may be looking for structured instruction, advice, resources, and ongoing direction. Although my client now seems to not be in this population, it is important to know in the future that we should not misunderstand or misperceive less-engaged clients as being passive or even apathetic about finding their own solutions. These clients may be merely behaving within their own sociocultural comfort zones.

In conclusion, ultimately, I learned collaboration comes with understanding our clients’ preferences and allowing as much opportunity for them to shine.

Taylor, R. R. (2008). The intentional relationship: Occupational therapy and use of self. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company.

Disproportional Market

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

It is surprising to me how few of the ideas that are being worked on in PPAT this semester currently exist as products on the market, especially when many of them have the potential to help a broad range of individuals. When looking closer at the variety of assistive technologies that currently exist, I was shocked to find that while over one billion people in the world live with some form of disability, the global market for assistive technologies is reported to be a mere $30 billion in 2015. When considering that assistive technologies are based on giving people the chance at an easier life, and access to them can make an enormous impact on a person’s future, it is horrifying to think of how small this technological market is in today’s economy. To put this in perspective relative to other global markets, the automotive market is estimated to have had an annual revenue of $9 trillion in 2015! That would make the assistive technology market, which could restore fundamental human capabilities to over a billion individuals, a mere 0.3% of the automotive market, while in many countries cars are considered to be a luxury! One possible reason for this is that reports show that the average income of people with disabilities in the US is significantly lower than that of the average US citizen. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people who are over represented in poverty to have their needs ignored. In order to bring the market of assistive technologies to a reasonable level, it is important to fight this sort of prejudice in the work place, and restoring to the disabled community the respect and attention that is deserved. It is only then that there can be created the market necessary to really help people around the world.

Graphs showing the inequality in pay for people with disabilities

Glasses for the Blind

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

I was surprised to find out that 75% of registered blind people have the ability to detect light. This means that technologies can actually allow people who are blind to make use of the small amount of visual information they have. A major example of this is assisted vision glasses. One way these glasses can be used is converting one type of visual information into another, which is quite clever. If someone can distinguish lightness and darkness, as many people with visual impairment can, the glasses can turn that into depth information by making closer objects brighter. This can be achieved by using reflections from infrared laser beams to detect shape and distance and a normal video camera to record the detail of objects.



Another example is giving the user color and light information to allow them to distinguish between moving and still objects. In addition to utilizing the user’s visual abilities, these glasses can also perform useful tasks like giving directions and reading signs, speaking the information into an ear piece. Below are some pictures of different eyewear technologies for people with impaired vision.



Unfortunately, it seems that most of the assistive eyewear currently on the market are much bulkier than regular glasses.  This made me think back to the presentation in class 0n aesthetics, and how important it is for a product to not only function, but also to look good. It’s sad that a device that could be extremely beneficial to someone might not get used simply because it looks strange and stands out. However, I’m sure that with advances in technology, these types of glasses will get less bulky and more fashionable over time. I think it’s a really creative idea to use the abilities someone has and adapt them for a much wider variety of uses.


How do you shower?

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

In class the other day, we were asked to come up with uncomfortable questions that we have always wanted to ask someone with a disability. I can’t remember who said it but, someone was wondering how people with physical disabilities bathe.

I realized that this question had also crossed my mind but when I was much, much younger. I think I was about 11 years old when I got the news that my uncle and his family had gotten into a car accident on their way down to Mexico for my aunt’s wedding. My cousin had a split skull, my aunt had extensive bruising and my uncle was left with a broken leg and a split skull. Thankfully they all recovered but when I went to go visit them, I had so many questions.

I definitely wondered how he showered. I’m sure my aunt had to help him the old fashioned way but upon further research now I found there there are actually some tubs that are designed to make bathing easier.

This new line of tubs was recently revealed November 3rd at the Care & Dementia Show by Gainsborough Specialist Bathing. Aside from the multiple configurations featured above, the tubs include some efficiency measures:

  • “Lower running costs: features such as keyhole design, depth indicators and auto-fill options combine to deliver an extremely economical, energy-efficient bathing solution
  • Improved operational efficiencies: reduced bathing cycle times allow carers to attend to the needs of the residents more efficiently
  • Enhanced levels of care: greatly improved bathing experience for both bather and carer, with cutting-edge ergonomics and technology”

Personally, I think it would be great if the efficiency and water-saving measures could be applied to all tubs but, that’s a separate issue. These tubs seem to be able to accommodate a wide variety of situations and yet still look great. It’s great to know that there are companies dedicated to helping make such an intimate activity an easier experience.

Google Maps For the Visually Disabled

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

When you need go somewhere and don’t know where it is, what do you do? Most people use Google Maps or some other phone application to give them directions, but what do the visually impaired do? Currently, there is no clear answer but the creator of Animotus is out to change this. The Animotus is a haptic directional device. It is a cube split into to halves, a top half and a bottom half. The top half can rotate and extend forward. When the device is given a destination, it rotates to point in the direction of the destination (which can be felt by the raised triangle on top) and extends to show how far the user is from the destination.

The Animotus could make tremendous steps forward for the visually impaired community. Not only because it could itself provide the ability of people with a visual impairment to use Google Maps, but it also provides a groundwork for devices like robotic guide dogs. The Animotus is a huge step up from existing technology, as most existing technology relies on audio queues which are not only distracting to the visually impaired but also take away from the experience of the world around the user.

This device would not only help the visually impaired community, but would also help the adventures. The Animotus would help people that want to take in the environment not be distracted by actually wanting to reach the right destination, and would instead guide them while allowing them to take everything in.

(L)Earning (Dis)Abilities

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Learning Abilities,

Earning Abilities.

What does it mean to “earn” an accommodation in an educational system that champions fairness and rigor? 

Let us, for a second, consider our answers to the following:

  • What does it mean to be abled?
  • What does it mean to be disabled?
  • What does it mean to be differently abled?

Though fairly ambiguous questions, do our responses – and therefore, opinions – to these change significantly given the context? What if you were asked to consider these while standing on a field, or a classroom, or a stage? During trials to become an Army Ranger, or during college entrance exams? Could it be that, at the intersection of “teaching to the curve” and subjective notions of fairness and equality, we may be compromising the potential for humans/students/professionals of different ‘abilities’ – in every sense of the word?

Take, for example, this definition:

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.  It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.

– Learning Disabilities Association of America 

Or, say, after being diagnosed with a disability, a college student gets an accommodation of time and a half in a separate room. Is that fair to the other students in the course? Does this unfairly advantage the student with accommodations, alleviating time and social pressures? These are among the questions students with accommodations grapple with every day. Further, if a student’s request for accommodations is met with questions by a professor about whether or not the student deserves the accommodation, how is the student supposed to feel trusted to complete their work? Beyond focusing on their healing process or compensating for their ‘disadvantage’ in the already immersive, challenging, and frankly, exhausting college experience – they also have to ideologically defend the nature of their accommodations, and transitively, their worth and abilities. How much are we complicating students’ success by making them feel unnecessarily excluded from learning spaces?

Designing technologies to assist students in the classroom is a wonderful thing. But designing inclusive classrooms, and equipping educators with other tools – like accommodations trainings – to promote inclusivity are critical for a strategy that helps students succeed comprehensively, inside and outside of the classroom.



Rapid Prototyping: Personalizing Assistive Technology

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Designing assistive technology has a lot of challenges. The market for assistive technology is relatively small and very diverse. For a given task, there is going to be a wide range of customer needs for a technology that works well for them. Designing a piece of assistive technology that can work for a wide range of individuals is one of the biggest challenges a designer faces. Finding the balance between universality and individual customization is difficult. This class gives us the opportunity to work in an ideal environment: developing one product for a single client and their needs. With our rapid, iterative prototyping, there’s a lot of options for our use.

Loc-line can be used to create a wide variety of interesting objects.

We had a guest lecturer come in and talk to us about her work in rapidly prototyping assistive technology devices for her clients. She talked to us about the many tools she used, from Instamorph, to loc-line and a dozen varieties of tape. She showed us the power of corrugated plastic with tape, by making a customized iPad stand in seconds. (For more examples of rapid prototyping in assistive technology, check out this book linked here.) From her stories, it’s clear that the tools of rapid prototyping can make a big impact on the happiness of assistive technology users.

It’s hard to talk about rapid prototyping without mentioning 3D printing, and for our project, 3D printing is in fact a key component. Our second prototype involves a component printed in ABS. It works well, and we are printing our final version in Kevlar-infused nylon, which will be extremely durable.

The MarkOne printer from MarkForged can create nylon products infused with kevlar, for a lightweight, structural component.

With how easily available tools of rapid prototyping are becoming, finding the balance between universality and individual customization will become much easier to do, with much greater possibilities for customization at the client end.

Virtual reality and assistive technology

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Virtual reality, which used to only exist in science fiction movies, is now a technology that can be found in the entertainment industry, healthcare industry, and even the world of assistive technology.

For example, the use of Google Cardboard, an affordable virtual reality headset, in the assistive technology field is being widely explored. Just recently, it was used to bring a veteran’s day parade experience to veterans who were disabled and therefore unable to be physically present at the parade. Cornell Murphy, a veteran who served in the Korean War, said of the experience “That felt really, really rewarding. It felt like you were really, really there, making you feel like you want to wave back.”  Google Cardboard has also been used to bring the thrill of different activities to those who have disabilities that prevent them from participating. Danny Kurtzmann, a young man who has muscular dystrophy, had previously only surfed by lying down on the board. When he put on the headset and experienced surfing standing up, he was amazed. “It gave me that awesome feeling – that butterfly happiness feeling. It allowed me to experience something I thought I never could experience.”

In addition to allowing those who have disabilities to have new experiences they otherwise couldn’t have, virtual reality devices like the Google Cardboard and the Oculus Rift also allows those without disabilities to experience what a person with a disability might have to go through. Eelke Folmer, a professor at the University of Nevada, developed an app that simulated different visual impairments like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and color blindness.

The potential for virtual reality to be used in assistive technology is extremely exciting, and will hopefully make a significant impact in many people’s lives.

Crossing Communication Barriers

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Becoming able to communicate with someone can reveal so much of what we assume to be true to be wrong and help us understand their experiences. Take for example Carly Fleischmann, an autistic girl assumed to be incapable of understanding words or communicating in English. When she began typing on a laptop one day, everything changed:

Carly has provided her own explanation for behaviors deemed by most to be inexplicable, such as banging her head. Quoting Carly:

I think people get a lot of their information from so-called experts but I think what happens is that experts can’t give an explanation to certain questions. How can you explain something you have not lived or if you don’t know what it’s like to have it? If a horse is sick, you don’t ask a fish what’s wrong with the horse. You go right to the horse’s mouth.

Millions of people with autism and other disabilities use AAC devices to communicate. But millions more are unable to use them. Carly believes most non-communicative people with autism have an inner voice like she does, but haven’t found a way to communicate.

Head-worn BrainGate transmitter

BrainGate detects and interprets basic commands directly from the brain. If these commands can be deciphered, emotions or words may one day be decipherable as well. We may be able to use this technology to enable those who can’t communicate with traditional AAC devices. However, this brings an ethical dilemma: having thoughts directly broadcast from the brain would come at a cost of privacy. Those with no other means of communication would have no means of consenting to this. Gaining the ability to communicate is huge and can improve quality of life significantly, but how should we make sure one’s right to privacy is maintained?