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Haptic icons in mobile phones can help visual impaired users

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An article entitled “Enhancing mobile phones for people with visual impairments through haptic icons: The effect of learning processes” was recently published in the Assistive Technology journal [1]. It reports a study performed by researchers from the University of Málaga and Technosite in Spain, pointing out the potential of using vibrotactile feedback for improving mobile phone use by people with visual impairments.

Nowadays, vibrations are used in mobile phone in a very simple way, as to launch alerts or notifications. However, modern smartphones can communicate much more complex information by modifying the intensity, duration or rhythm of the signal. The authors of this study developed an application for incoming call identification that communicated the caller id through different vibration patterns. The question was: Will visual impaired users be able to recognize vibrations and learn their association with different callers ID?

The results of the study showed that visual impaired users were not only able to learn the association between the different vibrations and their corresponding contacts, but also had a better performance and user experience than their sighted counterparts.

Therefore, the study supports the idea of using haptic icons to create new assistive technologies for people with visual impairments.

More information:

[1] Galdón-Conejo,P.M., Madrid,R.I., de la Rubia–Cuestas,E.J., Diaz-Estrella,A. & Gonzalez, L. (2013). Enhancing mobile phones for people with visual impairments through haptic icons: The effect of learning processes. Assistive Technology, 25 (2), 80-87.

vAssist - Project

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I would like to draw your attention to the vAssist project.

Currently, 87 million persons in the EU-27 are aged 65+. With increasing age, the prevalence of physical and cognitive problems increases, resulting in a high demand for supportive services. These facts not only support the claim for advanced services but also for interaction paradigms that enable the compensation of age-related restrictions.

In direct relation, the vAssist project focuses on providing specific multilingual natural speech controlled home care and communication services for two target groups of older persons: seniors suffering from chronic diseases and/or (fine-) motor skills restrictions. European statistics on diseases leading to motor problems show 1.2 million seniors suffering from Parkinson`s [1] and 630.000 from multiple sclerosis [2]. The main objective is the development of simplified and adapted interface variants for tele-medical and -communication applications applying multilingual natural speech interaction (and supportive graphical user interfaces where necessary).

The main innovation is expected in the reduction of costs by achieving channel independence in the delivery of vAssist services so that existing hardware in the homes of seniors can be used. Moreover, an intelligent module enabling the interpretation of user requests by distinguishing between commands, information requests and inputs will be integrated following a triplet model. Research studies will concentrate on behaviours of seniors to adjust the natural speech interaction flow. Further, a User-Centered Market-Oriented Design approach (UCMOD) is followed involving end users in all phases of the development process considering market-oriented aspects from the initial phase of the project.

This assures that the iteratively developed services and business models are adapted to the requirements and needs of the users. From an interface point of view vAssist leverages approaches to connect to universal interfaces for the delivery of AAL services and provides user-specific natural speech controlled interfaces in order to address a broad audience. However, the aim of vAssist is not to develop another platform for service and interface integration, but to provide specific modules in order to enhance existing services with speech intelligence. Existing platforms and initiatives (e.g. UniversAAL) are considered in the exploitation strategy and technical design of the project.

First results from studies with primary, secondary and tertiary users indicate a strong need for future vAssist packages that are open to individualization offering low, mid and high cost models differing in the number of included services. Future users claim for static and mobile solutions that present information by both, voice and text. The evaluation of cost models and technical developments continues during lab studies and a final field trial. Further, smooth and pleasant voices, pro-active error solving strategies and high security standards related to personal data, and active feedback on battery status are requested.

[1] Wright, D., Gutwirth, S., Friedewald, M., Vildjiounaite, E. and Punie, Y. (2010). Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence, Springer, Dordrecht, 2010.

[2] European Parkinson’s Disease Association: (last visit: 21.05.2012)

Mobile for Good Europe Awards: 200.000€ prize fund

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With four categories available to enter, developers, researchers, social entrepreneurs and other professionals can compete for a share of a 200,000 Euro prize fund. Winners of the awards are selected following the evaluation of a professional jury across two rounds.

The Vodafone Foundation Mobile for Good Europe Awards are composed by four categories of: Health, Education, Accessibility and Public Services.   We’re looking for prototype apps in the areas of health, education & accessibility to help provide effective and efficient benefit to target users. The investment from the Vodafone Foundation will be dedicated to the further development of these apps in bringing them to market. Within the final category of mobilising public services, we will be looking for thought leadership papers exploring mobilising government services in the developed context.   More info:
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European Commission proposal for the Active and Assisted Living R&D programme

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The proposal includes the objectives of the new AAL Programme, i.e.: "1.1 accelerate the emergence of innovative ICT-based products and services for active and healthy ageing at home, in the community, or at work, thus improving the quality of life, autonomy, participation in social life, skills or employability of older adults and increasing the efficiency of health and social care provision;  1.2. maintain and further develop a critical mass of applied research, development and innovation at Union level in the areas of ICT-based products and services for active and healthy ageing;  1.3. develop cost-effective solutions, including establishing relevant interoperability standards and facilitating the localisation and adaptation of common solutions, which are compatible with varying social preferences and regulatory aspects at national or regional level, respect the privacy and dignity of the older adults and, where applicable, support access to services in rural and peripheral areas or benefit other groups of people, such as people with disabilities.  2. The AAL Programme shall establish a favourable environment for the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises.  3. The AAL Programme shall focus on close-to-market applied research and innovation and shall complement related longer-term research and large scale innovation activities envisaged under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, and other European and national initiatives. It shall also contribute to the implementation of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. " Governance would be ensured by a unique body based in Belgium. More information here.
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Assistive technology for disabled and older people: research and development work

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UK Parliamentary report on R&D in assistive technology has been published. Summary: This annual report is published in accordance with section 22 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. It describes the wide range of government funded projects supporting the development, introduction and evaluation of assistive technology that might increase the range of activities and independence or wellbeing of disabled and older people. Final version available at:
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CURE Elderly Personas

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The CURE-Elderly-Personas [1] are a tool that can be used within AAL research and industry for enhancing the understanding of older people needs.

In AAL (Ambient Assisted Living) projects the ability to understand the needs of older users with different genders and age from different European regions plays a crucial role for success. Although in AAL projects the end users are defined, specific needs often remain unclear.

Personas represent a powerful tool to make complex and abstract data come alive. The main drawback of current Personas is their lack in validity as they are often based on qualitative data only or on quantitative data from small samples. The SHARE_PERSONAs project developed a valid set of 30 CURE-Elderly-Personas based on quantitative data from 12,496 persons aged 60 and older from the SHARE dataset ( in form of narrative Persona descriptions focusing on gender, region (north, south, central) and age differences.

CURE-Elderly-Personas represent an accurate picture of the older European population outlining gender, age and region as well as socio-demographic parameters, social life activities and interaction, communication behaviors and expectations, living conditions, activities of daily living, economic situation, health status, lifestyle aspects, social networks and personal attitudes. The final set of 30 CURE-Elderly-Personas covers the major areas and criteria highly important for the design of future AAL products and services.

CURE-Elderly-Personas can be used throughout the whole development process of AAL and related products and services. This empathy tool eases the planning of AAL projects as well as the development and evaluation of technology and business solutions focusing on European senior citizens aged 60 and older. Further, applying CURE-Elderly-Personas enable a more fluid communication about the target group as they visualize a unified picture of older users in the mind of project teams.


[1] Bernhard Wöckl, Ulcay Yildizoglu, Isabella Buber, Belinda Aparicio Diaz, Ernst Kruijff, and Manfred Tscheligi. 2012. Basic senior personas: a representative design tool covering the spectrum of European older adults. In Proceedings of the 14th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility (ASSETS '12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 25-32. DOI=10.1145/2384916.2384922

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