Assistive Technologies Help People in Creative and Amazing Ways

Interactive Tools Dispensing with Limits

by / April 30, 1998 0
When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, most of its initial focus seemed to be on mobility -- wider parking spaces situated close to facilities with ramps and elevators for easy and convenient access to buildings.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities for employment, government programs and services, private-sector goods and services and access to public and commercial facilities. To level the playing field, people need the proper tools -- Braille machines, written notes instead of just verbal instructions, special telephone lines, etc.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey in 1994 reported that approximately 54 million Americans have a physical or mental disability, and nearly half of those people are receiving disability assistance. Technology companies have paid attention to those figures and are servicing that large consumer base while helping the government save billions in assistance dollars.

The result are technologies that help those who suffer from blindness, dyslexia, paralysis and other disabilities. Interactive tools -- such as speech-recognition software and brain-actuated computer interfaces -- allow people to perform word processing and computer programming, and use fax machines, e-mail, copy machines and more. A number of such products are presented here.

TALKING WEB

pwWebSpeak is an Internet browser for the visually impaired that converts Web page information into synthesized speech.

The software enables Internet navigation by reading text and scanning for hyperlinks.

When integrated with RealAudio 3.0 from
Progressive Networks, pwWebSpeak allows people to hear radio shows, news broadcasts, live concerts and sporting events in broadcast-quality sound over the Internet using a 28.8 kbps modem and near CD-quality sound over ISDN or LAN connections.

pwWebSpeak runs on Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 and requires 5MB of hard-disk space and 8MB of RAM.

For additional information, contact The Productivity Works, 7 Belmont Circle, Trenton, NJ 08618. Call 609/984-8044.

HOT JAVA

Java Accessibility API, developed by Sun Microsystems, enables Java developers to write applications specifically designed for people with disabilities.

Java Accessibility API lets screen readers, magnifiers, speech recognition and Braille terminals access Java applications on the Web.

Java Accessibility applications are not dependent on machines that require assistive technologies support and can run on any Java-enabled machine with or without assistive technologies.

For additional information, contact Sun Microsystems.

SPEAK IT

ViaVoice Gold from IBM is a speech-recognition software for Windows 95 and Windows NT.

By talking naturally, users can format text, surf the Web, dictate documents and e-mail, and create customized commands to quickly insert frequently used sentences, paragraphs, addresses and documents with perfect spelling.

The software requires Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0; an Intel Pentium 150MHz processor with MMX or equivalent; 32MB of RAM for Windows 95 and 48MB of RAM for Windows NT 4.0; 125MB of hard disk space; and a Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 or Mwave audio system or their respective equivalents.

The system supports Microsoft Word 97, Microsoft Office 95, Microsoft Word 7.0, Power Point, Excel, Access 7.0, Lotus, MS works 4.0 and more.

The English version costs $99. ViaVoice Gold will be available in French, German, Spanish, Italian and UK English this year.

For additional information, contact IBM.

IT'S ALL IN THE MIND

CyberLink is a brain-actuated computer interface that allows users to move and click a cursor to select menus, operate a word processor, surf the Internet, play interactive video games, create computer-aided music, and activate external devices. The system was originally developed to help jet pilots manage the overwhelming array of manual switches in the cockpit.

A headband with three sensors detects electrical signals on the forehead resulting from facial muscle, eye and brain activity. The headband connects to an interface box that amplifies and digitizes the forehead signals and sends them to PC.

The interface can recognize up to 12 separate brain-body frequencies, each of which can be linked to a different command.

For further information, contact Brain Actuated Technologies, 139 East Davis St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387. Call Andrew Junker at 937/767-2674

WYNDTELL

WyndTell, developed by Wynd Communications, is a pager-like wireless communications device that gives hearing-impaired people another communication option.

WyndTell provides TTY (teletypewriter), e-mail, fax, pager and phone services that are accessible from just about anywhere.

Within the network's coverage area, users can send and receive messages from any TTY; send faxes; send text-to-speech messages; receive speech-to-text messages; exchange e-mail messages; and send alphanumeric pages, including other WyndTell devices.

Users must subscribe to a month-to-month service plan -- at $19.95 per month -- and either purchase the pager for $499 or lease it for $34.95 per month.

For additional information, contact Wynd Communications, 75 Higuera St., Suite 240, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Call 805/781-6000.

UNIVERSAL COPIER

Pitney Bowes Office Systems is currently developing its first Universal Access Copier System to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities. The 23 page-per-minute copier incorporates advanced speech-recognition technology, an extra-large touchscreen interface and Braille labeling on the control panel.

To accommodate operators in wheelchairs, the system is designed lower to the ground than conventional office copiers, and the display panel angles have been adjusted.

The copier can be controlled by voice, touch screen, keyboard and keypad interfaces, allowing users to choose how they prefer to operate the system.

Using voice activation, operators can adjust settings, such as the number of copies, sorting, stapling, reductions or enlargements. The copier will "talk back" to confirm the settings. The same commands are also available on a large touch-screen color monitor next to the machine.

For additional information, contact Pitney Bowes Office Systems, 100 Oakview Drive, Trumbull, CT 06611-4724.

WRITING THAT TALKS

Don Johnston Inc. provides a variety of reading and writing solutions for students or people with augmentative disabilities:

* CO:Writer -- An intelligent word prediction program for language development that helps students choose the right words for their compositions. It is ideal for those students who need to listen as they write as well as for students who need an auditory review of their writing for reinforcement and proofing.

* Write:OutLoud -- A talking word processor that also has a talking spell checker. It speaks as students type or reads back typed text. Auditory cues give students positive reinforcement.

* Talk:About -- A conversation software that helps those who are non-speaking learn how to initiate and carry on conversations.

For additional information, contact Don Johnston Inc., 1000 N. Rand Road Bldg. 115, P.0. Box 639, Wauconda, IL 60084-0639. Call 800/999-4660.

MAGIC WAND

Magic Keyboard is a small computer keyboard for people with limited or no hand movement. It works with the lightest touch of a wand -- either a mouth-stick wand or a hand-held wand. The keys require absolutely no force -- only contact.

For additional information, contact InTouch Systems, 11 Westview Road, Spring Valley, NY 10977. Call 800/332-MAGIC.

GREAT VOICE

DynaMyte is an easy-to-carry augmentative communication device that provides -- text to voice -- a voice for individuals with speech, language, learning and physical disabilities.

DynaMyte is also a powerful word processor. It can edit and store letters, speeches and other long documents to be spoken or printed.

By using DynaMyte with the DynaBeam infrared receiver, users can access and create files on Macintosh and PC platforms. It can even surf the Net.

DynaMyte weighs 3.2 pounds and comes with either 8MB of RAM or with 16MB -- at a cost of $6,000 or $6,500, respectively.

For additional information, contact Sentient Systems Technology.
forehead signals and sends them to PC.

The interface can recognize up to 12 separate brain-body frequencies, each of which can be linked to a different command.

For further information, contact Brain Actuated Technologies, 139 East Davis St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387. Call Andrew Junker at 937/767-2674

WYNDTELL

WyndTell, developed by Wynd Communications, is a pager-like wireless communications device that gives hearing-impaired people another communication option.

WyndTell provides TTY (teletypewriter), e-mail, fax, pager and phone services that are accessible from just about anywhere.

Within the network's coverage area, users can send and receive messages from any TTY; send faxes; send text-to-speech messages; receive speech-to-text messages; exchange e-mail messages; and send alphanumeric pages, including other WyndTell devices.

Users must subscribe to a month-to-month service plan -- at $19.95 per month -- and either purchase the pager for $499 or lease it for $34.95 per month.

For additional information, contact Wynd Communications, 75 Higuera St., Suite 240, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Call 805/781-6000.

UNIVERSAL COPIER

Pitney Bowes Office Systems is currently developing its first Universal Access Copier System to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities. The 23 page-per-minute copier incorporates advanced speech-recognition technology, an extra-large touchscreen interface and Braille labeling on the control panel.

To accommodate operators in wheelchairs, the system is designed lower to the ground than conventional office copiers, and the display panel angles have been adjusted.

The copier can be controlled by voice, touch screen, keyboard and keypad interfaces, allowing users to choose how they prefer to operate the system.

Using voice activation, operators can adjust settings, such as the number of copies, sorting, stapling, reductions or enlargements. The copier will "talk back" to confirm the settings. The same commands are also available on a large touch-screen color monitor next to the machine.

For additional information, contact Pitney Bowes Office Systems, 100 Oakview Drive, Trumbull, CT 06611-4724.

WRITING THAT TALKS

Don Johnston Inc. provides a variety of reading and writing solutions for students or people with augmentative disabilities:

* CO:Writer -- An intelligent word prediction program for language development that helps students choose the right words for their compositions. It is ideal for those students who need to listen as they write as well as for students who need an auditory review of their writing for reinforcement and proofing.

* Write:OutLoud -- A talking word processor that also has a talking spell checker. It speaks as students type or reads back typed text. Auditory cues give students positive reinforcement.

* Talk:About -- A conversation software that helps those who are non-speaking learn how to initiate and carry on conversations.

For additional information, contact Don Johnston Inc., 1000 N. Rand Road Bldg. 115, P.0. Box 639, Wauconda, IL 60084-0639. Call 800/999-4660.

MAGIC WAND

Magic Keyboard is a small computer keyboard for people with limited or no hand movement. It works with the lightest touch of a wand -- either a mouth-stick wand or a hand-held wand. The keys require absolutely no force -- only contact.

For additional information, contact InTouch Systems, 11 Westview Road, Spring Valley, NY 10977. Call 800/332-MAGIC.

GREAT VOICE

DynaMyte is an easy-to-carry augmentative communication device that provides -- text to voice -- a voice for individuals with speech, language, learning and physical disabilities.

DynaMyte is also a powerful word processor. It can edit and store letters, speeches and other long documents to be spoken or printed.

By using DynaMyte with the DynaBeam infrared receiver, users can access and create files on Macintosh and PC platforms. It can even surf the Net.

DynaMyte weighs 3.2 pounds and comes with either 8MB of RAM or with 16MB -- at a cost of $6,000 or $6,500, respectively.

For additional information, contact Sentient Systems Technology.

WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING?!

With the Eyegaze System, physically disabled people can operate a computer with eye movements.

The system uses the Pupil-Center/Corneal-Reflection method to determine an eye's gaze direction. The user operates the system by looking at keys displayed on a computer monitor. To "press" an Eyegaze key, the user looks at the key for a specified time. The gaze duration required to visually activate a key is adjustable.

For additional information, contact LC Technologies, Eyegaze Systems, 9455 Silver King Court, Fairfax, VA 22031. Call 703/385-7133.

REFRESHING COMMUNICATION

Refreshable Braille displays are electronic devices that read text displayed on a computer monitor. The PowerBraille 80 provides access to highly formatted materials, such as columnar text, spreadsheets and graphic-based programs.

The device is connected to the computer by a serial cable and produces Braille output on the display.

It reads one line of text at a time and includes directional keys and a cursor routing function that allow the user to navigate through a document.

It supports DOS, Windows, OS/2 and UNIX.

For additional information, contact Telesensory, 520 Almanor Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086. Call 408/616-8700.

MULTILINE BRAILLE

Braille Displays is developing a multiline refreshable Braille display that provides four lines of text with 40 characters per line.

The system will provide a refresh rate of less than 1 second for four or 16 lines. The display is quiet, power efficient, runs on Windows 3.1 and DOS, and provides basic access to a graphical user interface -- all at a cost of $35,000.

For additional information, contact Braille Displays, 186 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139. Call Paul Maxwell at 206/784-5601.



LEGISLATIVE DEVELOPMENTS
WITH ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

* Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (PL 100-407) -- Provided assistance to states implementing assistive technologies coordination. Provided states with grants, information and technical assistance for developing and implementing statewide programs.

* Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (PL 101-336) -- Extended civil rights for people with disabilities and references assistive technology in each title.

* Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (PL 101-476) -- Public agencies are to ensure that assistive technologies or services are made available.

* Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (PL 102-569) -- Requires each rehabilitation agency to address assistive technology in every phase of the rehabilitation process.

* Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1994 (PL 103-218) -- Requires states to be more accountable in conducting systems change projects; advocacy services take a greater role. It continues the grant competitive program to states for an additional five years. States receiving grants are required to engage in activities that result in system change.

Legislative development courtesy of "Assistive Technologies: A Resource for Schools, Work and Community" by Karen Flippo, Katherine Inge and J. Michael Barcuse.


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