[Ricky’s] rugged DVD player

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[Ricky] absolutely loves watching DVDs. He is epileptic and is cognitively functioning at a level roughly that of a 6 year old.  His younger brother [Ronnie] noticed that [Ricky’s] DVDs as well as his DVD player never lasted very long due to some rough handling. [Ronnie] stepped up to make [Ricky’s] life just a little bit easier by building this super rugged DVD watching station.

He started by ripping out the front pcb of the DVD player that has all the buttons. [Ricky] can wear through a set of standard buttons in no time, so [Ronnie] extended these to arcade buttons. Then he mounted everything into a custom cabinet that can withstand a considerable amount of abuse.

Now they can load 5 disks in and [Ricky] can watch what he pleases without worry of destroying the player.

[Ronnie] mentioned that he’d like to make a more complex control system using some kind of microcontroller, but frankly I find the simplicity of this to be perfect. Maybe a media pc loaded with movies might be a decent next step. You can see [Ronnie’s] build log here.

If you’ve ever considered making something like this to improve someone’s life, you should check out thecontrollerproject.com where people with special needs can connect with people who can build interfaces.

Building a blink based input device

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Fans of the AMC show Breaking Bad will remember the Original Gangsta [Hector Salamanca]. When first introduced to the story he communicates by ringing a bell. But after being moved to a nursing home he communicates by spelling out messages with the assistance of a nurse who holds up a card with columns and rows of letters. This hack automates that task, trading the human assistant for a blink-based input system.

[Bob Stone] calls the project BlinkTalk. The user wears a Neurosky Mindwave Mobile headset. This measures brainwaves using EEG. He connects the headset to an mBed microcontroller using a BlueSMiRF Bluetooth board. The microcontroller processes the EEG data to establish when the user blinks their eyes.

The LCD screen first scrolls down each row of the displayed letters and numbers. When the appropriate row is highlighted a blink will start scrolling through the columns until a second blink selects the appropriate character. Once the message has been spelled out the “SAY!” menu item causes the Emic2 module to turn the text into speech.

If you think you could build something like this to help the disabled, you should check out thecontrollerproject.com where builders are connected with people in need.

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Sensor sleeve makes tablet use easier and benefitial for disabled children

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Pinch-zoom is a godsend (and shouldn’t be patent-able) and although we mourn the loss of a physical keyboard on a lot of device we use a tablet nearly as often as we do a full computer. But the touch screen interface is not open to everyone. Those who lack full dexterity of their digits will find the interface frustrating at best or completely unusable at worst. A team of researchers from the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium came up with a way to control touch-screen tablets with a sensor array that mounts on your arm.

The project — called Access4Kids — looks not only to make tablet use possible, but to use it as a means of rehabilitation. The iPad seen above is running a custom app designed for use with the sensor sleeve. The interface is explained in the video after the break. Each sensor can serve as an individual button, but the hardware can also process sequential input from all three as a swipe in one direction or the other. If they can get the kids interested in the game it ends up being its own physical therapy coach by encouraging them to practice their upper body motor skills.

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Adding voice labels to real life objects for the visually impaired

[Matt Oppenheim] wrote in to share his work with us. He has been modifying the interfaces of electronics for the visually impaired. It started off with cassette decks. As [Matt] points out, many people who are visually impaired use cassettes for their audio books and newspapers. [Matt] added some touch sensors to the buttons so that he could have something announce what each button was as the user felt them. This allowed them to quickly learn the layout of the device.

After finding that the simple interface on the cassette player was learned very quickly, thereby making his addition no longer needed, he decided to go after something a little more complex. [Matt] set out to modify a digital radio with many more buttons that are less touch friendly. As you can see in the video after the break, he was able to pull this off quite nicely.

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Talking digital calipers make engineering more accessible

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The team over at NerdKits recently put together a device aimed to help make the process of measuring things more accessible to those with disabilities. [Terry Garrett] is a Mechanical Engineering student, and as anyone who is in the field knows, it’s a discipline which requires taking tons of measurements. Since [Terry] cannot see he was often asking classmates to assist in measuring items during labs, but when he got a job at a nearby design studio, he knew he would have to find a way to take those measurements on his own.

Enter NerdKits.

[Humberto] wrote in to share how he and his team built a set of talking digital calipers to assist [Terry] in his daily tasks. They based the design off a previous project they worked on, getting digital readout data from a set of calipers. The DRO information is fed into an ATmega382p, which pieces together pre-recorded sound bites to announce the size of the object being measured.

As you can see in the video below, the system looks to work very well, and [Terry] is quite pleased with his new talking tool. We love seeing these sorts of hacks, because they truly make a difference in people’s lives – excellent job!

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Ignored disabled man builds his own damn elevator

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There’s an old saying that goes something like, “When the going gets tough, the tough builds their own 5-story wheelchair lift.”

Actually we’re pretty sure that’s not even close to how the saying goes, but when his local council turned their backs on [Dmitry Bibikow’s] request for wheelchair access to his apartment, that’s exactly what he did.

[Dmitry], an avid mountaineer, was injured in a climbing accident that left him without the use of his legs. Unfortunately for him, he and his family reside on the 5th floor of an apartment building that was not handicap accessible. Rather than move out, he asked the local council to install an elevator, which they agreed to.

Time passed, and as the project sank deeper and deeper into a mire of bureaucracy, [Dmitry] began to lose hope of ever seeing an elevator installed. After six years of relying on friends to help him get in and out of his apartment, he took matters into his own hands and installed a chair lift just off the side of his balcony.

According to [Dmitry] it works great, and he can get from the front door to his apartment well before his more able neighbors make it up the stairs. So far, the city council has not said anything about the lift, and he hopes it stays that way.

Man spends 30 years helping disabled gamers

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Using our hands to manipulate game controllers is something most of us take for granted. However for quadriplegics, whose arms and legs are completely paralyzed, gaming becomes a nearly impossible task. One man has spent the last 30 years of his life trying to help quadriplegics once again “pick up” the controller and enjoy a few rounds of their favorite video games.

Retired aerospace engineer [Ken Yankelevitz] has been using his skills to create game controllers that can be easily used by disabled gamers, offering them for sale at cost. Starting with Atari joysticks in 1981, he has been perfecting his craft over the years, creating some 800 mouth-operated game controllers. As the systems and their controllers became more complex, so did [Ken’s] designs. His new Xbox and Playstation controllers use all manner of components, including sip-puff tubes and lip-activated buttons in order to allow users to access every single controller function.

Even as he approaches his 70th birthday, he is busy making controllers, though at a slower pace than he has in the past. He has said that he will continue making them for as long as he can, but at some point he will have to close up shop. This has disabled gamers worried that they may no longer have someone to turn to for custom controllers, though we hope someone steps in to fill the gap whenever that day comes.

Be sure to check out his site to take a look at his designs, what he has done for the disabled community is amazing.