A vision of cloud based accessibility

by Wayne Caswell, Modern Health Talk

About the submission

Lifted by the Cloud is a 7min vision video of cloud-based accessibility submitted by Modern Health Talk founder Wayne Caswell  as part of a contest sponsored by the FCC, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and Raising the Floor. It’s based on the author’s 2006 presentation on BIG Broadband and Gigabit-to-the-Home. The source PowerPoint slides and a script with additional information are available online.

If you can’t see the video below, you can watch on YouTube.

Lifted by the Cloud – Presentation Script

This presentation by Wayne Caswell was submitted as part of a contest sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and Raising the Floor, located on the web at http://challenge.gov/challenges/82.

“Lifted by the Cloud” is presented as a vision of BIG Broadband and Cloud-based Accessibility. It’s based on the author’s 2006 presentation on Fiber Optics and Gigabit-to-the-Home, his experience as a technologist and futurist, and his vision of “Consumers with Easy access to services and service providers with Equal access to consumers.”

The narrated video is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRV4pTKa-Ng, and the PowerPoint slides and PDF script with additional background info are available at www.slideshare.net/waynecaswell.


Video conferencing is a great way to keep in touch with office workers on one hand and grandchildren, elderly parents, or caregivers on the other. The technology is available today and rapidly improving as networks get faster.

PC-based products like Skype, Google Chat, iChat, and FaceTime are free if you already have a broadband-connected PC with a webcam and speakers. High-def telepresence on TV comes with consumer products like Microsoft Xbox 360 with Kinect and Logitech Revue with TV Cam. There are also consumer versions of enterprise systems from companies like Cisco, Polycom, and Lifesize Communication. And then there are the portable smart phones & tables, including iPhone4 and iPad2.

The choices are confusing because each has certain advantages, and the different products don’t always communicate with each other. So how do we solve this interoperability problem so one device can connect with family, healthcare providers, and employers who may each be on different systems? A logical solution is with bridging technology in the network Cloud. Using a remote service to do that gives the user flexibility to pick the solution that best fits their needs, not the one dictated by someone else.

The resolution of a high-def TV may be ideal for someone who’s deaf and relies on signing and lip-reading. An iPhone4 or iPad2 is useful when your doctor says, “Show me where it hurts.” You can just point the camera at the exact spot. And if there’s a need for multi-user conferencing so a patient, family advocate, caregiver, and physician all be on the call at once, cloud services like VuRoom support that.


When telepresence is part of a Telework program, employers can hire the best candidates without uprooting them and their family, and unemployed or mobility challenged knowledge workers can seek new employment anywhere. Employers find that Telework supports people with disabilities that limit mobility and moms who want to work from home. They also notice increased worker productivity and reduced office expenses. And cities have noticed a reduction in rush hour traffic, pollution, and wear and tear on roads, among other benefits.


Healthcare costs are rising faster than inflation and will get worse as baby boomers retire and unless something drastic is done in the field of telemedicine. Telepresence, for example, gives someone with limited mobility or in a remote region access to big city medical services, but there are many other health benefits of cloud computing.

Both Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault let Mom manage her entire family’s medical records online in a secure vault that includes information about insurance, important contacts, prescription drugs, shot records, baseline vital signs, and even a history of sensor readings. All of that is available anywhere and on any device when needed, such as in an out-of-town emergency.

Advancements in new medical devices and services are evolving daily, but how are we to discover and evaluate them? That’s the role of a new online community, Modern Health Talk, which connects people with technologies for home healthcare. Like many other cloud-based services, it relies on social media and a community willing to share personal stories, experiences and advice.

Distance Learning

Cloud computing can help reform the entire education system, from pre-kindergarten through college and life-long learning. It can give young students access to the best teachers and course material electronically, in ways that engage them and lets them learn at their own pace. Imagine taking trumpet lessons from Winton Marsalis himself or participating in a music ensemble where each musician is in a different city. For adults facing many career changes during their working life, the Internet cloud gives them new opportunities with the ability to learn new skills for a new job while still working at the old one. And for people with disabilities, cloud-based services make it easier to adapt course material to the needs of the student without forcing them into a special school.

Cloud computing can help reform the education system, from pre-K through college and life-long learning. Young students can learn at their own pace while accessing great teachers and course material. Adults can develop skills for new job opportunities while still working at the old job. And course material materials can be adapted for special needs.


Sharing documents with team members through email is so… old school. It’s also less secure than collaborating online and working from the same master copy. That vision is real today with Google Apps, a collection of cloud-based applications. Social media and other apps that bring groups of likeminded people together online can give people new hope, inspiration and purpose so they can find the best way to contribute to society.

Universal Design

Technology products for niche markets almost always cost more than mass market products, because development serves fewer customers. So it makes more sense to design products for everyone universally and incorporate different user interfaces for different needs.

Developers are starting to design products with flexibility to interact in different ways, including typing, pointing or gesturing, speaking, and even thinking. Even the popular iPhone, with its black touch screen, can be used by a blind person, thanks to the flexibility of also using speech commands and gestures.

Some products can also anticipate user needs and function automatically, whether based on a set of predefined rules or through intelligent agents. A truly “smart” home, for example, would include artificial intelligence and an army of distributed sensors, cameras, and microphones that give the home a sense of what’s going on in the environment, the ability to learn and act on behalf of the occupants, and the ability to carry on a natural language conversation.

But if you lived in a smart home, what would happen if you moved? All that learned “knowledge” of your preferences would be lost – unless the knowledge is stored remotely in the Cloud.

Parallel Processing

One view of cloud computing has many users sharing the resources of a single application server. Another view is to combine the resources of many PCs into a grid with the combined processing power of a supercomputer. Consumers can already share the capacity of their otherwise-idle PCs across high-speed networks to enable a World Community Grid. Parallel processing is then used to split complex tasks into small pieces that can be processed simultaneously on thousands of personal computers to address complex applications such as predicting the effect of global warming, fighting HIV & AIDS, and detecting extraterrestrial intelligence through analysis of radio telescope data.

Personal Television

Broadcast television works well when a large demographic all watching the same content, but the on-demand model is enabling mass personalization and user-generated content posted on sites like YouTube.  But with so much video content being generated, how will we find what’s meaningful to us and absorb it?

Google, which already searches text, can adapt to search video with closed captioning and take users to specific frames in the video where search terms are mentioned. But user-generated content doesn’t have captioning. So why not use speech recognition to automatically add it?


It makes little sense to create, store and manage different video formats for phones, standard definition and high-def TVs, as well as the ultra-high-def, 3D, and holographic displays of the future. Transcoding is a solution that converts between different formats automatically, usually as part of a cloud-based service.

Third Wave Computing

As more apps move from PCs to Internet services over high-speed lines, there’s less need for local drives except as a buffer. Data stored in trusted services becomes accessible anywhere, from any device, and can be shared securely with anyone you authorize. It’s like the PC itself is exploding into the cloud where users no longer have to worry about software maintenance, security, anti-virus protection, and data backups. All that’s left for them to worry about is the user interface, and that can be made flexible enough for any special needs.

Lifted By The Cloud – Backup Material

What is the Cloud?

Cloud computing is a new buzz word derived from the cloud image that’s used to represent the Internet and services running on remote servers. All you really need is a good web browser and access to the Internet. You no longer have to install and maintain all of the software and data on your own computer system but can rely on a trusted service for that.

The concept of using network-based services rather than PC-based applications is driven largely by big corporate players like AT&T, Verizon, IBM, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. But it’s just another form of distributed computing, enabled by technology trends, where network bandwidth capacity, or speed, is getting cheaper faster than storage, and storage is getting cheaper faster than computing.

Cloud computing adds a new layer – services – to the Internet collection of data pipes, routers, servers and networks. Behind the services are computing resources and companies we trust to manage the data for us. We don’t necessarily care about how it’s implemented or what technologies are used or how it’s managed. We only care that we have access to it and that it meets our reliability and security needs.

The key word here is “trust.” To be successful, cloud services must be trustworthy.

We all use some form of distributed/cloud computing every time we access the Internet – to make airline and hotel reservations, buy stocks, read and respond to news stories and blogs online, use Facebook or Twitter, share photos, watch videos on YouTube, etc. Each time we give up some personal information in exchange for a benefit. We don’t often think or care much about what’s going on out there in the cloud except that we want to reliably and securely do stuff and share stuff.

Alternative Visions

Is Cloud Computing a good thing or bad? Will I benefit personally? Will my family or company? Will society? It all depends, and in many ways it’s up to us.

Futurists consider alternative visions of future events based on different assumptions and possible scenarios. By understanding these possibilities and factors leading toward each, it’s easier to choose a preferred future outcome and make plans to achieve it.

The Current Path Looks Dark

The path we’re currently on is driven by private industry profit motives, market-driven requirements, and a political climate that favors big corporations over ordinary citizens. It’s a path where shareholders demand that investments be financially justified in business terms such as profit margin, return on investment, and payback period. It also sees big telecom companies as having a natural incentive to build only enough network capacity to satisfy the bandwidth needs of the most popular and profitable applications. They want their own apps to have a competitive advantage over those of competitors, and bandwidth-intensive apps that don’t generate enough revenue are considered wasteful. So, they impose limits over how much network capacity any one person, organization or application can use.

Along this dark path, network operators redline markets to serve profitable customers while ignoring others. The underserved are stuck in the network slow lane with less access to education, jobs, influence over government, and opportunity. Just as with individuals, entire communities stuck in the slow lane are doomed and will eventually die off, unable to compete with those having greater opportunities in the fast lane. That’s because business migrates to towns and nations with the best infrastructure, including broadband infrastructure for cloud computing services.

What does our world look like with ten more years along our current path?

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan sets a 10-year objective of 100 megabits per second, but other nations are planning for gigabit speeds and some have it already. With the FCC mandate, broadband speeds will continue to rise and prices will continue to fall, just not as rapidly as in other nations with more robust competition. Ultimately, it means we will continue to lose our competitive edge in education, technology and business in a global economy, and the Digital Divide will widen considerably. Congress will eventually be forced to address a worsening condition as social unrest increases and voters rebel. But why wait?

The Alternative Looks Bright

It’s nice to be able to invent an alternative future, and I chose one where our leaders encourage innovation by investing in broadband infrastructure – public networks with no limits. As a society we can view such investments differently than private, for-profit corporations. Because politicians answer to voters and not shareholders, at least theoretically, they can justify investments that take longer to deliver benefits and can measure success in non-business terms such as increased economic development, jobs creation, graduation rates, affordable healthcare, and national security.

Public networks can be installed along with other public works projects such as widening roads or fixing sewer systems, thus reducing costs and eliminating much of the worry that private network operators have with obtaining rights of way. By giving independent service providers open access to the public networks, we can eliminate redundant overbuilds and increase competition. ISPs won’t have to install and manage their own physical plant but can simply connect their electronics to public networks.

The Public alternative supports a vision of BIG Broadband at gigabit speeds with no incentive to throttle bandwidth usage. Such a vison addresses today’s Chicken versus Egg dilemma, where many innovative apps can’t even be developed without enough widely deployed network capacity. Many municipalities have installed fiber networks to homes and businesses, and some already have the ability to deliver gigabit speeds. There’s no reason why every American home can’t be connected that way. Simply investing in open-access broadband infrastructure would give service providers equal access to customers, and give consumers easy access to a wide range of competitive services.



Author BIO

Wayne Caswell is Founder and Senior Editor of Modern Health Talk, an online (i.e. Cloud-based) community that connects people with technologies for home healthcare, aging in place, and persons with disabilities. He’s a computer technologist and marketing consultant with over 40 years of experience at IBM, Dell, Siemens and CAZITech, a consulting firm that he founded to focus on Digital Home and Broadband Internet solutions.

Wayne is a past member of FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, where he served on Technology, Homeland Security, and Underserved Communities working groups. He has lobbied for the rights of municipalities to install public, open-access broadband networks that support Cloud Computing concepts and has held leadership positions in various industry standards groups. Find more at WayneCaswell.com.

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