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Making Morse code available to more people on Gboard

Making Morse code available to more people on Gboard

Earlier this year, we partnered with developer Tania Finlayson, an expert in Morse code assistive technology, to make Morse code more accessible. Today, we’re rolling out Morse code on Gboard for iOS and improvements to Morse code on Gboard for Android. To help you learn how to type in Morse code, we’ve created a game (on Android, iOS, and desktop) that can help you learn it in less than an hour! We’ve worked closely with Tania on these updates to the keyboard and more—here, she explains how Morse code changed her life:

My name is Tania Finlayson, and I was born with cerebral palsy. A few doctors told my parents that I probably would not amount to anything, and suggested my parents put me in an institution. Luckily, my parents did not take the advice, raised me like a normal child, and did not expect any less of me throughout my childhood. I had to eat my dinner first before I could have desserts, I had to go to bed at bedtime, and I got in trouble when I picked on my older brother.

The only difference was that I was not able to communicate very effectively; basically, I could only answer “yes” and “no” questions. When I was old enough to read, I used a communication word board with about 200 words on it. I used a head stick to point to the words. A couple of years later, my dad decided that I should try a typewriter and press the keys with the head stick. Amazingly, my vocabulary grew. My mom did not dress me in plaid any more, I could tell on my brother, and I finally had the chance to annoy my Dad with question after question about the world. I am quite sure that my Dad did not, in any way, regret letting me try a typewriter. Ha!

Several years later, I was one of four kids chosen to participate in a study for non-verbal children at the University of Washington. The study was led by Al Ross, who wrote a grant funding the creation of a Morse code communicator for disabled children. Morse code, which is a communication system that dates back to the 1800s, allowed us to spell out words and communicate just by using two buttons: a dot “.” and a dash “—”.

The device was revolutionary.  It would convert my Morse code into letters then speak out loud in English and had a small printer installed in it.  I could activate a light to “raise my hand in class.” At first I thought learning Morse code would be a waste of time, but soon learned that it gave me total freedom with my words, and for the first time, I could talk with ease, without breaking my neck. School became fun, instead of exhausting. I could focus on my studies, and have real conversations with my friends for the first time. Also, I did not need an adult figure with me every moment at school, and that was awesome.

My experience with the Morse code communicator led me to a partnership with Google on bringing Morse code to Gboard. Working closely with the team, I helped design the keyboard layout, added Morse sequences to the auto-suggestion strip above the keyboard, and developed settings that allow people to customize the keyboard to their unique needs. The Morse code keyboard on Gboard allows people to use Morse code (dots and dashes) to enter text, instead of the regular (QWERTY) keyboard. Gboard for Android lets you hook external switches to the device (check out the source code my husband Ken and I developed), so a person with limited mobility could operate the device.

gboard ios

I’m excited to see what people will build that integrates with Morse code—whether it’s a keyboard like Gboard, a game, or educational app, the possibilities are endless. Most technology today is designed for the mass market. Unfortunately, this can mean that people with disabilities can be left behind. Developing communication tools like this is important, because for many people, it simply makes life livable. Now, if anyone wants to try Morse code, they can use the phone in their pocket. Just by downloading an app, anyone anywhere can give communicating with Morse code a try.

When I was first able to communicate as a child, the first feeling that I had was “Wow! This is pretty far out!” The first thing I typed was “You’re an old fart, Dad!” That was the first time I saw him laugh with tears in his eyes; I still don’t know if I made him really laugh or if I made him really sad! Probably a little of both.

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Posted by amiller in Accessibility, Blog
Building accessible products for everyone

Building accessible products for everyone

Over one billion people—15 percent of the population—live with some kind of disability, and this number will continue to rise as people get older and live longer. At Google I/O this week, we shared a few new ways that we’re helping people with disabilities. Here’s a bit more about these new products, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how we designed I/O to make it more accessible and enjoyable for everyone:

3:36 Shennice Cleckley: One-woman show Google 61K views   1:07:47 #madebygoogle Google Recommended for you   1:10:15 Tech Talk: Linus Torvalds on git Google Recommended for you   1:05 Announcing the Lookout app Google 29K views New   1:14 Tour Creator- Show people your world Google 16K views New  Hey Google: How to get movie tickets with your Google Assistant Google 32K views New  Google Maps Navigation (Beta) Google Recommended for you  Detecting cancer in real-time with machine learning Google 123K views  Service Brewing Company: On a mission Google 65K views  Introducing Google Nose Google Recommended for you  Take Your Child to Work Day at Google 2018 Google 109K views  Learning “what architecture really means” with some help from Pixelbook Google 32K views  Google's US Data Centers Google 82K views  Making every phone smarter with Federated Learning Google 60K views New  A Chrome Superhero Google Recommended for you  Accessibility at Google I/O: Working to Make Events More Inclusive

Lookout:

Lookout is a new Android app designed to help people who are blind or visually impaired gain more independence by giving auditory cues about objects, text and people around them. People simply wear a Pixel device on a lanyard around their neck, with the camera pointing away from their body, and the app shares relevant information about the things around them, as they move through a space. Lookout is a big step in an effort to use technology to make the ever-changing and evolving world around us more tangible to people. It uses AI technology to bridge the virtual world with the physical world, making day to day tasks and interactions a little easier.

Announcing the Lookout app
Morse Code on Gboard

Now, people who communicate using Morse code can do so on Gboard. To do this, we collaborated closely with Tania Finlayson, who was born with cerebral palsy and is an expert in Morse code assistive technology. Tania has been using Morse code to communicate since the 1980s, and she’s also the designer and co-developer of the TandemMaster. Her insights into the nuances of Morse code as an alternative assistive technology were invaluable throughout the design process, and by bringing Morse code to Gboard, we hope that more people might also be able to use Morse to communicate more freely. To get Morse for Gboard beta and to learn how to type Morse code, go to g.co/morse. This feature is currently available in the public beta version of Gboard, and will roll out more widely on Gboard for Android in the coming weeks.

Tania’s Story: Morse code meets machine learning

YouTube Live Automatic Captions

In February, we announced that YouTube is bringing English automatic captions to live streams, and have been slowly rolling it out. With our new live automatic captions, creators have a quick and inexpensive way to make live streams more accessible to more people. With our speech recognition (LASR) technology, you’ll get captions with error rates and latency approaching industry standards.

LSAR

Also at I/O, we introduced more features that developers can use to create more accessible app experiences for users with disabilities, including new accessibility testing, best practices and APIs for Android P.

Time and time again, we’ve seen the benefits of not just designing for one person or one community, but with them. By working together, we can truly make technology more available and useful to everyone.

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Posted by amiller in Accessibility, Blog
Lookout: an app to help blind and visually impaired people learn about their surroundings

Lookout: an app to help blind and visually impaired people learn about their surroundings

There are over 253 million blind or visually impaired people in the world. To make the world more accessible to them, we need to build tools that can work with the ever-changing environment around us. Our new Android app Lookout, coming to the Play Store in the U.S this year, helps people who are blind or visually impaired become more independent by giving auditory cues as they encounter objects, text and people around them.

We recommend wearing your Pixel device in a lanyard around your neck, or in your shirt pocket, with the camera pointing away from your body. After opening the app, and selecting a mode, Lookout processes items of importance in your environment and shares information it believes to be relevant—text from a recipe book, or the location of a bathroom, an exit sign, a chair or a person nearby. Lookout delivers spoken notifications, designed to be used with minimal interaction allowing people to stay engaged with their activity.

Office

There are four modes to choose from within the app: Home, Work & Play, Scan or Experimental (this allows you to test out features we’re working on). When you select a specific mode, Lookout will deliver information that’s relevant to the selected activity. If you’re getting ready to do your daily chores you’d select “Home” and you’ll hear notifications that tell you where the couch, table or dishwasher is. It gives you an idea of where those objects are in relation to you, for example “couch 3 o’clock” means the couch is on your right. If you select “Work & Play” when heading into the office, it may tell you when you’re next to an elevator, or stairwell.  As more people use the app, Lookout will use machine learning to learn what people are interested in hearing about, and will deliver these results more often.

Screenshot

Screenshot image of “Modes” available in Lookout including, “Work and Play,” “Home,” “Scan,” and “Experimental.” Second screenshot of a “Live” image of Lavender plants.

The core experience is processed on the device, which means the app can be used without an internet connection. Accessibility will be an ongoing priority for us, and Lookout is one step in helping blind or visually impaired people gain more independence by understanding their physical surroundings.

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Posted by amiller in Accessibility, Blog