Microsoft Wants You (To Help With Assistive Tech)

In college I had an exceptional piano teacher that was entirely blind. One day he noticed I had brought in my new-ish laptop, and his unexpected request — “can I look at your laptop?” — temporarily flabbergasted me. Naturally there wasn’t much he could do with it, so he gave it a once over with his fingers to understand the keyboard layout, and that was that. I still think about this experience from time to time, and the most obvious lesson is that my paradigm for using a computer didn’t map well to his abilities and disability.

The folks at Microsoft are thinking about this problem, too, and they’re doing a lot of work to make technology work for more users, like the excellent Xbox Adaptive Controller pictured above. Now, if you have some experience helping folks overcome the challenges of disability, or have a killer idea for an assistive technology solution, Microsoft is looking for projects to fund. Did you rig up a Raspberry Pi and webcam to automatically read text aloud? Maybe you pulled that old Kinect out, and are working on sign-language reader using 3D data points.

Make a pitch of your project or solid idea by the November 4th deadline, and just maybe you can get some help to make it a reality. Just make sure you come back and tell us about it! After all, some of the coolest hacks we’ve ever covered have been adaptive tech projects.

Thanks to [MauroPichiliani] for sending in this tip.

12 thoughts on “Microsoft Wants You (To Help With Assistive Tech)

  1. Quite a few years ago, I did a quick-and-easy project for a friend of a friend, who, after an accident, had very little control over his fingers, but reasonable control over his arms and wrists. He loved gaming before the accident, so he was using one of those Adaptive Controllers, with large arcade buttons and a large joystick to play first-person shooter games. Since he couldn’t move this fingers, he was basically using two stumps.

    The main problem was that he would use one hand for the joystick for aiming and the other to press buttons, but he could only press one at a time, so he couldn’t use a sniper rifle with a scope, since you have to hold down the button to aim through the scope.

    One Arduino clone with a few small signal relays later, he had sticky keys, so a short press would hold the zoom button input of the Adaptive Controller.

    Maybe they have build in a software setting to do this nowadays?

    1. I am actively unimpressed by the XAC ecosystem being SO overpriced for what it is – a breakout box of connections to a standard Xbox controller’s logic board. Adaptive tech needs to be affordable – what I remember of XAC peripherals pricing are Not That.

  2. A blind person can now do a great deal more than just run their fingers over a laptop. With the help of readily available screen reader software, a high school classmate of mine was able to earn his MBA despite being completely blind, and that was some years ago.

    1. JAWS has been around for a long time, blind people have been using Windows for decades now.

      JAWS is most certainly NOT “readily available” it is very very expensive and most blind people have really severe budget constraints. Financial aid for blind people often will not cover the large expense of a JAWS installation.
      Also the blind person needs considerable help to set things up, JAWS is not a simple installation. JAWS is also very buggy and very temperamental, the blind person needs continuous tech support from a sighted person if they plan to use it for their job.

      Been there done that.

    1. My thought as well.
      The pessimistic side of me says they are not doing this for altruistic reasons, but instead to legally take other’s ideas and exploit those needing the assistance tech, or agencies that are working with those in need.

      1. exactly steal others ideas to help the needy, patent them and then screw those who actually need help to the wall laughing all the way to the bank. Sorry but unless they specify in their docs that it will be 110% open source iron clad somehow (which they will never do) i do not trust them asking for any help like this.

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