Category Archives: Accessibility & Assistive Tech

Makeathon at Kellogg Northwestern

On April 28 – 30, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is hosting a Makeathon where Makers and Need-Knowers (people with a deep understanding of a specific disability challenge) develop extremely affordable solutions for real-life challenges. Teams of Makers are paired with a need knower to build a product to address the Need-Knower’s unmet need over the period of a 3-day weekend. The Need-Knower gets to keep the product at the end of the weekend and the design is open for anyone in the world with the same need to use free of charge.

This would be a great opportunity to get hands-on with technologists in areas that we have been discussing at our meetings (3-D printing, Maker scene, IoT, etc.). However, you will need to act quickly. Below are the deadlines:

  • Submit an application by April 5
  • Be able to meet with paired Maker team on April 12. Transportation will be provided if needed.
  • Be able to attend the Makeathon at the Evanston Campus of Northwestern University on April 28, 29, and 30 to work with your Maker team as they develop your product. Transportation will be provided if needed.

You can see PDF of the handout flier, and apply on the Makeathon website.

Microsoft Data Scientist develops intuitive app. for vision loss

Data scientist dreams up ideas and then brings them to life

ITKAN Chat – Interview with Steve Luker

The disability community in Chicago is an active one in various sectors, from advocacy and accessibility to various employment resources like AbilityLinks, nAblement and ITKAN. These three organizations have grown in myriad ways during the past ten years. One of the most interesting people – and colleagues – that I have worked with is Steve Luker. I actually first encountered  Steve through an educational film entitled “The Forerunners”.  The film was a collaboration between The Mind Alliance, Professor Fong Chan, and Pat Maher of nAblement. It profiles several nAblement consultants, and is intended to support students with disabilities from diverse backgrounds to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines and careers. Steve was also profiled as part of a Chicago Sun-Times article related to ITKAN .

Steve Luker

Steve Luker

Steve has been able to focus his disability workarounds and use of accessible technology into a budding career in IT, specializing in .NET programming and mobile game development. I was able to sit with Steve to discuss his background, career and views on IT.

Hello Steve, we have known each other for years, but for our readers, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came into the IT sector?

I have been a Chicagoan for all of my life. I moved to the Wheaton, IL area and I am married to Michelle. I am a developer focusing on the Microsoft side of the industry. I worked on projects for BP and other large corporate clients, as well as other smaller companies. I have worked on websites and desktop applications, and am currently working on a game called “Falling Fruit”.

When did you start to develop an interest in IT?

As you know, technology users with disabilities sometimes have the opportunity to test out new accessibility devices. When I was a young child, a company came to my school with a computer which would make communicating with people easier. One of the challenges that my Cerebral Palsy creates is verbal communication. That was when I developed a rabid interest in IT. Everything I saw I thought, “I can do this or anything with this technology”.

Did IT assist you in your early education?

I started to read at age 3 so it could have been when I was 4 to 6. My disability does not allow me to speak, so I learned American Sign Language finger spelling at 5 and I was spelling every word out. What’s interesting is that I was not a good speller until I got a speech synthesizer, because I couldn’t sound out words in my head. I always found myself thinking about the possibilities that IT would bring in the future.

How did you come across nAblement?

In 2006, I met Pat Maher at an AbilityLinks networking breakfast at the College of DuPage. It was a few months after I got my degree in IT. He asked me to serve on a panel at Manpower’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee for the Breaking Down Barriers program developed by nAblement. I was able to meet Rob Figliulo, the CEO of SPR Companies, and I really became more involved with nAblement and SPR.

I understand that you have developed a game for the Windows Phone platform. ITKAN has seen Falling Fruit, and it’s very good (and difficult!). Can you tell us about your considerations for developing the game and challenges you have faced?

I wanted to do some kind of app that would go into all of the app stores. I began thinking about how people were actually making money and what tips they gave. Instead of developing an app that people might use for a few seconds every day or two, I thought of a game that might hold people’s attention longer. That’s important when income is coming from ads or in app purchases.

I know that you are registering Falling Fruit on the Windows Store for the Windows Phone operating system. As there is so much money moving with app purchases, I’m assuming this isn’t a labor of love altogether. As Microsoft, Apple and Google are making millions with their app marketplaces, what are your expectations for revenue from Falling Fruit?

Created by Steve Luker, ITKAN member

Falling Fruit, Created by Steve Luker, ITKAN member

Well, at first, I initially thought of sit-down comedy, as there would be a lot less competition than in stand-up, but that didn’t pan out 🙂 .

From there, looking at apps as a prospective business, Apple and Google app stores take 30% of each app sold. Microsoft is different in that they take 30% up to the first 25,000 of sales. Then they take 20%. That makes it more profitable if you come up with the next Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. I don’t mind not receiving 100% of my work, because the nice thing about all of the app stores is that they do so much of the work for you. Distribution, the billing…all of the back-end work is done well by all of the app stores. However, all of the creativity is in the hands of the app designer themselves. For example, I did some of the art myself. However, I am not much of an artist, so I ask family members and friends to help me with the more involved work.

After Falling Fruit is established and earning revenue on the Windows Store marketplace, my next goal is to roll it out on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

Were there any core needs that you had in developing Falling Fruit?

It has to do with the processor and its ability to do virtualization. That’s when the computer creates a virtual computer. The game is being developed in a game engine so it could be exported to other platforms with a lot of code reuse. So I know .NET, but the game isn’t written in that. The game engine was key to being able to create Falling Fruit.

Name your top favorite websites and why.

Microsoft has news, learning resources, documentation, etc., even for a rookie programmer, and you can use Yammer to ask Microsoft programmers questions on their message boards and internal social network. Also, any Microsoft-related sites go here as well. At ITKAN we have access to BizSpark as well, which is a great developer site for Microsoft technologies offered free to not-for-profits. Thanks to Adam Hecktman of Microsoft for supporting us in securing our BizSpark license.

Feedly is my personal news reader. There are many others out there that work well, but as a matter of personal taste, this is my pick.

Twitter is great for following news and political discussion. You can reach out and really interact with who you are tweeting.

Finally, Twit.tv is an excellent resource for programmers.

What do you think of ITKAN’s progress, the upcoming year and the road ahead for the organization?

I think we have come a very long way. There’s such a strong bond on technology and careers in technology. We had service providers, technologists and so on in the past, but now we develop a critiquing atmosphere where we want to be better IT geeks as well as prospective IT employees.  For example, I know a little about accessibility and I know where it affects me, but now I know so much more after working with ITKAN members who have visual disabilities. I’ve learned so much more that I would have ever thought I would.

Thanks, Steve.

Thanks Bill. See you on 13th of February at our next ITKAN meeting.

The Final Megatrends Presentation for 2013 and an Outlook to 2014.

The Final Megatrends Presentation for 2013 and an Outlook to 2014.

November 15, 2013 by Bill O’Connor

ITKAN’s last “Megatrends” meeting was an outstanding discussion based on “Cloud Computing”, led by Chris Kabat, Vice President and Co-Founder of MPS Partners.

Starting from a more general perspective on how cloud computing works well for small to mid-sized business to the “how” of the cloud, The presentation was very well-received, provoking questions on cost, security, control and efficiency as well as an appreciation for the incredible technology associated with a cloud data center.

Cloud

Subjects discussed were:

  • Speed of cloud setup, scale of setup and cost control
  • Cloud workforce patterns through different platforms and devices (This was fascinating stuff!)
  • The differences between how the cloud is delivered – Packaged Software, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Virtual Machines

We also discussed the Microsoft Global Data Centers, who are impact players in developing cloud services for Microsoft end-users. One of the main Global Data Centers is right here in Chicago…and it’s a green complex!

ITKAN 2013 - Megatrends

ITKAN 2013 – Megatrends

This meeting was emblematic of the essence of ITKAN, technology leaders reaching out to those who want to dig deeper into IT and developing technology, process and trends. As always, many disabilities were represented within this rich and diverse group. ITKAN extents a heartfelt thank you to Chris, Jeff Seagard  and Ross LaForte as well as our other presenters for excellent Megatrends presentations for 2013.

As always, a special word of thanks goes to Adam Hecktman, the director of the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, for access to this great  space and his great insights, and the supportive staff of the MTC.

If you would like to join us for our strategy session for 2014 (which will be spirited!), we will be having our next meeting on December 12th at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, 5 PM. If you would like to reserve a spot for your next meeting, contact Pat Maher or Bill O’Connor via email, and we’ll get you on the ITKAN mailing list to  stay abreast for meeting times, subjects and other ITKAN happenings!

What’s an ITKAN meeting like? – From an ITKAN member’s perspective

Many times, prospective candidates, service providers and employers ask me, “What are ITKAN meetings like? Are they formal? Laid-back?”. I can tell you that from the greenest rookie to the most grizzled veteran, ITKAN fits a need – they work on developing their skills, they meet…and even get a great opportunity. After attending these engaging meetings, we’ve really hit a groove with our Megatrends (see our previous blog post to find out more in 2013, a growing network with employers, entrepreneurs and the like, and we are constantly looking for opportunities for fellow members. Networking groups can be loose-ended or with strong ties to fellow colleagues, and ITKAN is definitely one of the best groups I’ve been involved with. I did not foresee that I would meet such a great bunch of folks who are dedicated to the the mantra of ITKAN, where we are building (and nearing) towards a goal of showcasing solid, passionate professionals that any company would be interested in hiring.

It’s the tall one, and we are on the second floor.

On arriving to ITKAN meetings, which are held at the Microsoft Technology Center in Chicago, I enter a work-space for us that  is a collaborative environment that provides access to innovative technologies and world-class expertise.  Take a peek here to see what the MTC is like, how it works and the space itself.  Usually, there is always a few ITKAN members that arrive early. We network, talk about work, and talk a little bit of play as well (gaming and the Chicago Blackhawks are the conversation du jour.) After our intros, ITKAN goes to work. We discuss IT in different sectors and formats, going from general info to the most granular info that Microsoft professionals give to us. We get out around 7, but there’s always a few folks who hang around to network, have a laugh and separate until next month. Adam Hecktman, director of the Microsoft Technology Center has a room set up for us, and Pat Maher, the director of ITKAN, starts our meetings. We introduce ourselves to the group and find out a bit about new members. I’ve been working with ITKAN for over 2 years now. I started using ITKAN as a basis to build a stronger personal brand for my career as well as an opportunity to see where information technology would go next.

Our gracious hosts, Microsoft and Microsoft Tech. Center in Chicago.

The location for ITKAN meetings is in the Aon Center, at Michigan and Randolph, and there are great transportation options via Metra & CTA to the Center. My personal favorite is driving as parking at Aon Center costs $6 after 4 PM. Not only is a great price, but it’s accessibility is great. Join us next time. 2nd Thursday of each month (July 11th is next), at the Aon. Email me if you have questions

Passion starts with ITKAN, and StopGap shows how passion works.

Recently, I came across an article about Luke Anderson and StopGap, an organization in Toronto that is based around raising awareness  of accessibility issues to local businesses.

Luke Anderson, speaking at the Canadian Urban Institute forum in November 2011.

You might think that StopGap was an initiative of an aggressive disability advocacy organization or well-oiled city government, but in fact it’s the concept of passionate 12 and 13 year olds. Coupled with the support of grassroots educators and area professionals, StopGap is making a big difference in overall accessibility.

After reading this great story, I immediately made connections to our efforts within ITKAN. Our mission is to strengthen our members’ professional technology network, expand their knowledge base in developing IT applications and tools, and better prepare them for a career in this exciting and demanding field. We are a passionate and engaged membership – and we’re always looking to grow!

Throughout 2013 we’re exploring four Megatrends in technology at ITKAN. We’ve begun with mobile which we’ll continue covering in February and March. We will explore social media, big data and cloud computing respectively through the balance of year.

Come join us to find out more to gain insights and career-impacting knowledge in technology Megatrends!.