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Adaptive Technology

Technology and disability may be linked, but technology doesn’t always catch up to the needs of people with disabilities. Cell phones are a great example. Manufacturers of these handy devices only recently added features that allow easier access to people with poor vision.

What about MP3 players? None of them provide verbal cues for menu options, album or song selections. Moreover, the controls are so small that anyone with a dexterity issue has difficulty operating them. These are only two devices that are either difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use; there are many others. A huge market awaits manufacturers that can provide alternate (enabling) means of interacting with these devices. Those alternatives are coming.

My cousin is a quadriplegic who has limited use of his arms and virtually no use of his fingers. All his electronic devices have been jury-rigged to allow him to grip and use them more easily. I recently discovered a television remote control that he could operate by voice alone.

Accessible TV/Cable Remote Control

The Surfboard Voice Activated Remote Control was developed for those with difficulty seeing or pressing buttons. With it, you can control all the basic functions on your television, cable box, or satellite (power, volume control, channel selection) by issuing a few simple voice commands. Up to 12 commands can be stored in the Surfboard’s memory. Press the “Help” button. A voice will guide you through set-up instructions. It has a “learn” feature that allows the device to mimic the functions of the remote(s) that came with your video device.

Music/MP3 Players

“Wink your eye if you like this device, or if you want to hear a song.” Music players are all the rage in today’s society. Almost everyone seems to be listening to one as they walk down the street. The trouble is that touch screens, tiny buttons, and lack of voice control make these devices difficult to use. Well, there is a solution coming, at least for those with mobility impairments.

A student at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Engineering Science is trying to perfect something he calls a “Temple Switch.” The accessible device uses infrared sensors to monitor skin movements around the eye. Those movements are translated into electronic commands to control a music player. Wink the right eye to skip to the next song. Close both eyes to pause or play your music. The device is still two or three years from consumer production, but the long-term goal is to be able to use this assistive technology to control other devices as well.

Accessible GPS Navigation System

Now that you turned off your television and switched on your iPod, let’s go outside. It’s a good thing your brother bought you that GPS for your birthday. But wait a minute. To use those things you need to be able to see the screen and use your fingers to type in your destination, or do you? Navstar Technologies humbly disagrees. Their new VoiceNavigator allows you use your voice instead of your fingers to ask for directions to a destination and get verbal replies. With this device, you can plan a trip in advance, or let whimsy guide your steps.Lomak Keyboard Designed for People with Disabilities to find out exactly what it is and how it can help you.Small-Talk Ultra: A Review of the PC for People with Visual Impairments.

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