Have you heard about Google Action Blocks? Google is currently testing this new program for mobile devices, which is meant to make phones more accessible to people with certain cognitive disabilities. Action Blocks are designed to simplify the user experience, allowing users (and their caretakers) to program their phones so that they can access complex commands with only the touch of a button. The program allows users to identify a command with an image, so that the phone can be programmed, for instance, to "call mom," simply by the user touching mom's picture. This will make it easier for people who do not use language to "ask" their phones to make calls, summon ride sharing services, and pay bills via apps, among many other actions. Action Blocks are flexible enough that users can program complex commands, such as "summon a car service to take me to school." The program would be able to save the user's frequent locations and recall them when the button was pressed.
This technology could help people with disabilities, particularly those with cognitive disability who are often forgotten in our conversations about technology, become more independent. The program could be used for simple things like watching a favorite movie on the go or accessing a soothing playlist. It could also be used, however, for more complex commands, like this one Google demonstrates, wherein the user is able to program their action block to tell them a bedtime story. This technology could be particularly useful for some people with autism spectrum conditions, who don't rely primarily on verbal language. For them, this technology could mean they could easily navigate social situations without speaking, while still getting their needs met. That said, the technology has applications for a range of situations. One of the engineers behind the project, Lorenzo Caggioni, designed a related program called DIVA for his brother Giovanni, who experiences vision and hearing impairments and has Down Syndrome. DIVA stands for "DIVersely assisted," and the program allows Giovanni to access and control his device without using his voice or relying on his vision.
If you're interested in building a DIVA device for yourself or someone you love, you can access instructions here. Interested in trying out Google's accessibility products? If you or a loved one have a cognitive disability and could benefit from the programs, you can sign up to become an official Google tester here.