Friday, May 22, 2015

Ferrotouch: An innovation in technology for the blind

Before electrical engineer Katie Cagen worked at Microsoft, she was a finalist in the national Collegiate Inventors Competition.  Her invention, which she termed "Ferrotouch," uses electromagnets and ferrofluid to create bumps on an elastic-covered surface—bumps which can be formed into the shape of braille letters.

The idea is to create a more versatile (and hopefully less expensive) version of a "refreshable braille" machine.  Refreshable braille machines are devices that interface with computers, providing a braille version of text for users who cannot see the computer's display.  Traditionally, such machines work by using movable pins that pop up to form the standard patterns used in the braille alphabet.

A traditional refreshable braille machine
A traditional refreshable braille machine.  Photo courtesy Ixitixel on Wikimedia Commons.

With Cagen's Ferrotouch, however, the bumps are formed by magnets placed under a layer of magnetic ferrofluid.  The magnets then interact with the fluid, "pushing" it up in places and forming bumps that can be manipulated in various ways.  Because of the mutability of the fluid, Ferrotouch has the capability of displaying far more than braille; charts, diagrams, pictures, and countless other visuals could be represented in a tactile way as well. 

Cagen, a Harvard alumna who graduated in 2014, came up with the concept for Ferrotouch when she was visiting colleges.  Her host during an overnight stay at Harvard was Sally Kiebdaj, a blind student who later became her close friend.  During their time studying together, Cagen noted how much Kiebdaj used technology for school work, but also how she could not access certain materials such as visual data or PDFs.  Cagen's original intent was to make content such as this accessible, though she would also like to make her device capable of acting as a braille reader as well.

The invention is still in relatively early stages, and one possible problem to be solved is that the dots may not be defined enough for effective braille.  Cagen hopes to receive enough funding to pursue this issue, noting that while her original goal was to provide a way to display visual information that could not be transmitted through braille, having braille capabilities would certainly be a bonus for the device.

Whatever the outcome, Cagen hopes to show Harvard's students and faculty that assistive technology is a good field in which to work.  Even though funding is scarce due to technology companies that see only a small market, there are still valuable opportunities to enhance technological experiences for the blind and other people with differing abilities.

You can learn more about Katie Cagen and Ferrotouch here and here, or visit her Youtube channel to see more Ferrotouch testing videos.

We'd also like to ask our readers: do you or someone you know have experience with assistive technology?  What has your experience been like?  Whether negative or positive, tell us about it in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, May 11, 2015

New software program being developed to make the web more accessible

Australia-based father and engineer Kenneth Springer has been developing Hueyify, a piece of software to help make the internet a more accessible place for people with disabilities, for the past several years.  Springer, his daughter Elleleen, and his son Huey all have Craniometaphyseal Dysplasia, a disease that causes wide-ranging side effects and that led to Huey becoming blind in one eye and legally blind in the other.  When Huey started using the internet, he found it difficult to navigate all of the densely packed, compressed information that the World Wide Web presents.  After his father searched unsuccessfully for tools to help him, the two came up with the idea for Hueyify.

Hueyify is designed to allow custom reorganization of a web page, enabling users to change layout, colors, and styles in order to suit their individual needs.  Hueyify can also be used to annotate specific parts of a website's content, or to delete parts that are irrelevant or distracting.  Designed to work with internet browsers that a user already has installed on their computer, the program highlights customizability for those who have different abilities than the sighted people for whom most websites are designed.

Many sighted people, Springer notes, learn to scan web pages and quickly identify which information is useful and which is not.  For people with impaired vision and those who have autism, however, it's not always as easy to skim through and classify all those details.  With the internet becoming a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives, Springer couldn't shake the idea of making it more accessible to people like his son.  And so the project was born, with the goal of improving the lives of anyone who finds it challenging to navigate the internet.

Hueyify is not yet available to the public, but Springer is working to make it so.  And when the project does become available, their website states that they wish it to be free of charge for anyone who is blind, legally blind, or has autism.

You can read more about Hueyify on their website at, or in articles about the project here and here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

New Videos

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!  This Sunday, we have two new camp videos to share with you.  The first is about the amazing Leann Horrocks, who has been a part of the MHKC staff for twenty-one years.  The second follows campers Gary and Corey around for some of their favorite camp activities.  Enjoy, and let us know what you think in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter!

Leann has been a part of the MHKC staff for 21 years. She perfectly captures one of the many things that makes MHKC so magical. "Campers look at you for your heart. I think that's what we're missing in society."
Posted by Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp on Thursday, April 30, 2015

Meet MHKC Campers, Corey and Gary.
Posted by Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp on Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Come see us at PSU's Capstone Fair on May 7th!

The Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone will be at the PSU Senior Capstone Fair this Thursday, May 7th.  The fair will start at 11:00am and go until 1:00pm, and it will be located in SMSU (Smith Memorial Student Union) rooms 327, 328 and 329.

All students are welcome, including first- and second-years.  Our Program Director Monica Corbo, Practicum Coordinator Ann Fullerton, and Graduate Assistant Molly Moran will be on hand to answer your questions, so come by and say hello!

Read more about the Capstone Fair here on PSU's website.

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Introduction

Greetings, everyone!  I am the new Social Media Manager for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone, taking over for the lovely Shelley, who is graduating this term.  I'm excited to get to know you all and be a part of this amazing community.

A little about me: I'm a junior here at PSU, majoring in English, Social Science, and Liberal Studies, and minoring in Writing.  I haven't been to Kiwanis Camp yet, but I am hoping to schedule a trip this summer so I can go out and meet all of you.  I've already seen the pictures and videos on this blog and in the Kiwanis Office (located in the Graduate School of Education room 204), and I've been able to meet two future Capstone attendees during the filming of a new before-and-after video we're putting together about the camp experience.  Look for that video in a few months.

Here at the Kiwanis Camp capstone, we're always looking to improve our social media presence, and especially with this recent change of staff we are very interested in hearing community feedback.  So, to our past attendees, future attendees, and especially prospective attendees:  What kind of content would you like to see from us?  Up to now, we've been focusing on stories that affect the disability community and doing write-ups of those stories here on the blog.  We still want to do that, but we're thinking about posting both short and long pieces, as well multimedia like videos and podcasts to keep things interesting.  Additionally, we'd like to shift the focus more toward camp life and what exactly goes on during the two weeks that counselors spend on site. 

We'd also like to know which social media platforms you'd most like us to be on.  Right now in addition to this blog, we have a Facebook and a Twitter.  The blog will likely always be on this platform (to function as an easy place for students to find stories for projects), but we could also host it on Instagram and/or Tumblr or other places if you would find that useful.  Let us know where you'd like to see us!  Share your ideas in the comments to this post or on Facebook or Twitter

Thank you for reading this, and as we say in my hometown,

Don't Forget to be Awesome.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Farewell Post

Good evening (or morning or afternoon or whenever you should happen to be reading this), everyone! As many of you may know, today was the last official day of winter term, excluding finals week. I don't have any more classes to attend, and in spite of a poorly timed case of food poisoning, I presented my thesis today, which is required for graduation from PSU's honors college.

Required for graduation? Graduation??

Yup. Today was my last official day of school. That means, too, that today is my last official day working for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp senior capstone.

Kiwanis has become such a significant part of my life in the past couple years that it's kind of strange to think that I was so close to never having been involved with MHKC at all.

I started working for MHKC when I first came to Portland State in fall, 2012. I got an email through the English department listserv saying that a social media manager was needed for a capstone project that allowed students to work with and learn from members of the disability community while spending two weeks at summer camp. I saw it and thought, “Yes! A writing job with flexible hours!” And then I had a sinking realization.

Two, actually.

The first was that I would have to jump back into the world of social media, which, after not having had Facebook for a year and a half or so, was not appealing. The second realization was that I didn't really know anything about the disability community. The way I saw it, I wasn't qualified, except that I like writing. But I decided to apply anyway.

Another conflict.

I needed a writing sample. Or rather, it was suggested I include a writing sample. But what should I send in? I had no idea what the mysterious person behind the email wanted. An academic essay didn't seem right. Neither, certainly, did poetry. Maybe fiction? But those pieces were all awful. Anyway, the writing sample was optional, right? So I sent in my resume and an enthusiastic paragraph that flattered both myself and the capstone, and closed it out with this:
“I wasn't sure what genre of writing would be best to send as a sample, so if there is a specific type of writing you are looking for, please let me know. I would be happy to send something your way.”

Well, I got an email back. It wasn't a request for a writing sample. It just said that I did not have the qualifications they were looking for. Well, at least I hadn't gotten my hopes up?

Except I had! Of course I had! And what a blow! Was it because I didn't have experience with the disability community, or was it because I forwent the writing sample? The uncertainty was aggravating. But...I'm here now, saying farewell. So obviously something happened.

Luck, mostly. Serendipity. Happenstance. Someone neglecting to show up for their interview. So I got an email wondering if I was still interested in the position, and could I please send a writing sample. This time, I sent two, just to be safe. If the second chance wasn't enough, ultimate excitement was soon to follow. The graduate student who had emailed me and read my samples, Jon Stark, happened to be part of the Ooligan Press publishing program. He asked if he could publish my piece on the Ooligan blog! I figured I probably still would not get the job, but publication was a huge, huge deal.

Quick fast-forward. I had to leave my American Sign Language class early to go to the interview. I had neglected to look up how to sign “interview”. Instead, I told my professor that I had to leave early to go to a “work communicate”. In all my nervousness (signing with my professor one-on-one always made me nervous, which was just great given that shaky hands are a byproduct of my anxieties), I forgot that I actually do know how to sign “job”, and I do know how to spell, which means I could have spelled “interview”. But it didn't matter; he got the point.

It's funny to me now how appropriate my “work communicate” sign ended up being in describing what I would end up doing with Kiwanis. As I mentioned, one of my big fears that almost kept me from applying for the position in the first place was that I didn't “have experience” with the disability community. I mean, it's not like I had never interacted with people who have disabilities or that I was afraid of them by any means, felt like simply existing with people who have disabilities wasn't enough.

I guess I was partly right. I was on the right track, anyway. I did my best to not make people feel singled out by their differences and things like that, but there was also so much to learn. As I did research for blog posts and talked with people involved with Kiwanis, I constantly found myself thinking, “I didn't even know that was something I could know.” But it was okay. It was okay that there were things I didn't know, because no matter how you're involved with Kiwanis Camp, you're allowed to go in not knowing, and you leave with shiny, sparkling knowledge. One of the great things about MHKC is that you get to learn.

For me, it has been a constant learning process, and often there were lines so fuzzy that I didn't know where I should stand. Or if I thought I knew where I wanted to stand, I sometimes wasn't sure if MHKC was the appropriate venue to express those sentiments. But as time went quickly by, it became clear to me that my main purpose of my work was to communicate with others, communicate with members of two different communities and hopefully bring them into one...

[cue cheesiness in 3...2...]

The Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Community!!!

[cue applause]

During my time here, I did a lot of learning. But I always kept in mind that if I was in the dark about things, then maybe other people like me were, too. Passing on what I learned and helping create a fuller understanding of various aspects of disability in our culture was invaluable for me. I really hope that my contributions to the MHKC @ PSU community have interested or helped at least a few of you dear readers.

It's sad to go, but we are working on finding someone superneat to take over and explore ways to further better the MHKC capstone community. And I'll still be poking around here and there. Old habits die hard, as they say.

(Speaking of old habits, I hope you liked the pug pictures. I simply can't help myself! And it's my last official post, so why not?)

So I conclude with thank you, and farewell. Stick around, though! Who knows what changes may be coming in the future? I know I'm eager to find out.

And as always, enjoy your weekend!

Sincerely yours,


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Yoga Visual: Sharing Yoga with Portland's Special Needs Community

Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay, but...(in other, semi-related news), this humble blogger is almost done with her thesis! So I know you won't hold my lateness against me, will you? :)

Okay, okay, so that being said, my brain fry is preventing me from coming up with a smooth segue in to today's blog topic, so let's just get right into it. Movement! Safe spaces! Activity! Learning opportunities! We all deserve that, don't we? But sometimes it's difficult for parents of children with special needs to find guided physical activities that are designed specifically around their children's needs and abilities. That's a shame, because movement is a powerful teaching tool, and it's important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy.

Cindy Hurlbert, a George Fox alum, recognized this issue and thought that kids on the autism spectrum should have the opportunity to learn life skills in a safe environment while also increasing their coordination, strength, and body awareness. And so, from Cindy's experience with the special needs community and her love of yoga, Yoga Visual was created.

A recent post on the Yoga Visual Facebook page reads: Yoga for Special Needs = yoga adapted to meet each child's needs and capabilities, Yoga for Special Needs = empowerment and tools to help themselves.

“I really feel that way about structuring yoga for the special needs population,” Cindy says. “I want the kids to leave with tools that they can use outside the yoga studio. Everyone should have access to the benefits of yoga.”

Benefits like strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility, but also increased focus, confidence, relaxation, and self-regulation. Yoga can also help promote language and communication skills—after all, body language is the language we all share—as well as give opportunities to connect oneself to others. One student even asked Cindy to write down a savasana relaxation poem he learned in yoga class because he thought it would be helpful for his bedtime.

Cindy is a fluent American Sign Language interpreter and a registered yoga teacher who has completed two 200-hour teacher training programs. The first was taught in conjunction with the Deaf Yoga Foundation, where she learned how to teach Deaf-friendly yoga classes using American Sign Language. The second was an “outstanding program” put together by Dina Lang at Santosha Yoga, a studio that promotes the idea of of yoga for every body. Cindy has also taken a Yoga for Special Needs training course, and has been working with the special needs community in Portland and Beaverton for years.

One of Cindy's feedback tools that is especially
helpful for kids with speech expressive and
receptive delays.
After becoming fluent in ASL, Cindy worked for the Portland public school system as a classroom interpreter. She worked there for five years before switching to a more steady job so she could reach her goal of earning her Bachelor of Arts degree, which she did. She moved up in the company to become Assistant Vice President of Internal Audit, but after the unexpected death of one of her mentors (who was also chairman of the Beaverton School Board), Cindy decided to leave after 17 years with the company.

“He was my age,” Cindy says of her mentor. “It was a shocking loss, and it caused me to take a step back and reflect on what was important in my life. As I evaluated options, I kept coming back to my experience with the kids I had worked with before and how much I had enjoyed working with them, and how much I learned from them every day.”

So she began working as a substitute instructional assistant for special education programs in the Beaverton School District and was eventually placed at Sunset High School to support kids on the autism spectrum.

“Just like my past experience, I learn something from them every day.”

Cindy usually teaches her yoga sessions at Santosha Yoga, where her interest in yoga really took off, but in April, as part of Autism Awareness month, she will be teaching a class for children with special needs at VillaSport, an athletic club in Beaverton. This is particularly exciting because so far, no other athletic club in the area has offered classes to the special needs community. Cindy is excited to explore the possibilities that may come with special needs yoga being made available at different venues.

So check it out! I happen to know that Cindy is a great person who is able to think quickly and creatively, and is very well qualified. For more information, head over to the Yoga Visual website and Facebook page.

(**Note: Yoga classes for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community are not yet available but will be coming soon!)

Also, enjoy this great weekend weather and take the opportunity to get in some movement of your own! :)