CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information

WHIZ BANG TECHNOLOGY FOR THE DISABLED

Index Number: 34158

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subject: WHIZ BANG TECHNOLOGY FOR THE DISABLED - by Hope C. Mcpherson
The following is reprinted with permission from the premier issue
(July issue) of Computer Wave. The actual
newspaper can be found in many bookstores & computer shops.

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| 2 | WHIZ BANG TECHNOLOGY FOR THE DISABLED - by Hope C. Mcpherson
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In the mid-1980s, Stephen Hawking's book said it all. The
world-renowned theoretical physicist communicated one letter at
a time.

Surgery and Lou Gehrig's Disease had left Hawking without speech
and with very little movement. When someone holding a spelling
card pointed to the letter he wanted, he signaled--by raising
his eyebrows.

But, he writes in Black Holes and Baby Universes, "It is pretty
difficult to carry on a conversation like that, let alone write
a scientific paper." Then an adaptive computer system created in
California gave Hawking a new voice. With a single switch and a
voice synthesizer, he has since given numerous lectures, written
several scientific papers and two books--including the
best-seller A Brief History of Time.

Hawking isn't alone in the futuristic world of whiz-bang
computers. An estimated 30 million Americans with disabilities
can be helped at work, home, and school with adaptive computer
technology.

"Anybody who has a physical or sensory disability that affects
their ability to use a computer should probably investigate ways
to adapt the computer," explains Peter Borden, communications
director of well-known Trace Research & Development Center in
Madison, Wisconsin. "There's something for almost anybody's
needs."

Some assistive devices are as simple as enlarged keyboard
letters, some are so sophisticated that they allow a person to
operate a computer with a blink of an eye. Thousands of devices
and software programs already exist, a few include:

Switches, like the one Stephen Hawking uses, come in about 50
designs. Different movements can activate them, and often the
switches are coupled with a scanner that highlights menu
choices. The computer user trips the switch once the desired
choice is scanned. Some switches are large and can be mounted on
a wheelchair; some are held in the hand; some are positioned so
that a person's head or foot activates them.

Sip and Puff switches activate a computer when users "sip and
puff" Morse Code through a plastic straw.

Eye blink systems come in two types. In one, a blink of the eye
interrupts an infrared beam, triggering a switch. It works much
the way other switch-driven systems do. The other eye-blink
system is more complex and for people whose best-controlled
voluntary movement is their eyes. The computer has a video
camera that actually tracks the movement of the user's pupils.

Alternative keyboards that are large (about 14 inches by 24
inches) have big square keys that need only a light touch; mini
keyboards (about seven inches by five inches) make it easier for
one-handed typists.

Keyguards are thick plastic templates that rest on a keyboard.
Holes are over each key, letting a user with a mobility
impairment select keys accurately and without inadvertently
pressing other keys.

Dragon Dictate by Dragon Systems, Inc. recognizes the voice of
its regular user (or users) and allows a person to control a PC
by speaking through a microphone headset rather than using a
keyboard.

Track Ball by Kensington, Inc. is a ball easily controlled by
finger movement alone and replaces a mouse for people with a
limited range of motion.

Screen flashes signal an error for users with hearing
impairments. This option is also helpful for computer users in
noisy environments or ultra quiet ones, including libraries.

Enlarged text and graphics on computer screens for people with
impaired vision. It's already standard on some programs.

Braille 'n Speak by Blazie Engineering is a mini computer with a
six-key braille keyboard. It can talk, has a built-in spell
check, and connects to a PC via a serial port. It can print to a
braille printer and a standard text printer.

Screen reader programs read a computer screen with a voice
synthesizer for people who are visually impaired.

One-Finger Software by Computers to Help People, Inc. lets users
who can't press more than one key at a time do multiple key
combinations such as Ctrl-Alt-Del by pressing keys sequentially.

Computer-design maestros continue to develop adaptive computer
systems, enabling people with disabilities to pursue the same
employment and education opportunities as those without
disabilities--something Congress intended when it passed the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Yet high-tech gizmos
are useless if potential users don't know what assistive
technologies are available, which can offset their disabilities,
and how they can pay for them. A federal grant program is
supplying some answers. Adding a few states per year, the
federal government began awarding assistive technology grants in
1989.

Last October, Washington received its grant. Now with a main
office in Olympia and a resource center at the University of
Washington, the Washington Assistive Technology Program offers
people a cornucopia of information.

"If someone calls our 800-number and they want to know about a
piece of equipment, we will be able to answer the question,"
says Dagmar Amtmann, program manager for the resource center.
"If they want to know about training that's available, we'll be
able to tell them what kind of training is available....We're
trying to integrate all the services that are available within
the state of Washington and provide people with comprehensive
information."

Although the assistive technology program is still in its
infancy, "comprehensive information" is the name of the game in
Washington. The program offers a newsletter and legislative
action bulletin, informational videos, books, and magazines. The
center also houses an assortment of adaptive hardware and
software that people can "test drive" to discover which works
best for them. Because the cost of adaptive equipment is
frequently another barrier, the program will offer a computer
recycle/exchange program to help keep costs down. Within the
year, it will also provide a handbook that lists hundreds of
funding sources.

Potential users aren't the only people who need to learn about
whiz-bang adaptive technology. "Employers have to be aware that
[the technology] is not as expensive as they might think, and
people have to be aware of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
requirements," says Borden at Trace R & D. "It's a change in the
way things are done in business and in society and in
government."

With that in mind, the designers of Washington's Assistive
Technology Program will work to influence state and federal
government as much as the lives of individual computer users.
"We anticipate the program director will play a key role in
educating legislators, insurance executives, and Medicaid folks,
because the primary barrier to assistive technology is never the
access to technology, it's always funding" says Kurt Johnson,
Ph.D., principal investigator for the resource center and head
of the UW Division of Rehabilitation Counseling.

Healthcare reform will be at the top of their list, he adds,
because neither the state nor federal healthcare reform
proposals include provision for rehabilitation services or
assistive  technology. Yet both are vital to people with
temporary or permanent disabilities. For a person who's lost the
use of his or her voice, an augmented communication device may
be as important as a prosthetic limb.

"Yet a health care provider probably wouldn't [feel that way],"
Johnson says. "You might very well find out there was no source
of funding," showing politicians and bureaucrats the advantages
of adaptive equipment is key, he adds.

"We know that when people have access to appropriate assistive
technology, not only is it a humanistic civil rights issue, but
it's also an economic issue," he explains. "People are able to
remain independent....They are able to work."

Equal access to employment is a prime mover for many who
investigate adaptive technologies. Education is another. Less
than a generation ago, note taking and double-checking
assignments were luxuries for some people with disabilities.
Special education teacher Bonnie Roth is blind, and recalls
using non-adaptive equipment such as typewriters while in school.

"We had no way of knowing what we typed once we typed it," she
says. "When computers became available, we had the
opportunity--just like anybody else--to go back and proof read
our work and correct it."

In her Federal Way classroom, Roth now teaches visually impaired
students the ins and outs of computing with voice synthesizers
and enlarged text systems. Other students with disabilities that
inhibit speech use computers as communication boards. Elsewhere
in a classroom of sighted students, a teacher shows pupils how
to scan a text book. What they scan into the computer will
eventually be sent to a braille printer and printed out for the
visually impaired students.

Says Roth: "What computers have done for the handicapped
population is pretty incredible."

The Washington Assistive Technology Program and the Trace
Research & Development Center answer questions and offer
suggestions. The Trace R & D Center also produces a book and
compact disc that lists thousands of adaptive computer products
for people with disabilities.

University of Washington
Assistive Technology Resource Center
Mail stop WJ-10
Seattle, WA 98195
1-800- (voice/TDD)

Washington Assistive Technology Program
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation
Mail stop 45340
Olympia, WA 98504-5340
1-800-637-5627 (voice/TDD)

Trace Research & Development Center
S-151 Waisman Center
1500 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53705-2280
(608) 262-6966 (voice) (608) 263-5408 (TDD)

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