RESNA Exhibits Cool Technology By John M. Williams
I love attending conferences where cool assistive technologies are shown. This year’s RESNA (The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) conference met my expectations. The appropriate theme was Campaigning for Assistive Technology. While visiting the exhibits, I learned about new technologies. One of them is Low-tech Visual Scenes Templates. They can be downloaded at http://aac.uni.edu and www.aac-rerc.com. Based on research underway at the University of Nebraska, these tools are helpful for individuals with cognitive linguistic requirements who require visual supports to enhance communication, memory and participation.
There was also the Voice Switch and the Sound Switch developed by InvoTek. The Voice Switch and Sound Switch are examples of successful technology transfer within the AAC-RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement).
There was the Easy Tally of Performance for clinicians. This is software developed for individuals with motor speech disorders (apraxia) to help clinicians manage a variety of tasks on-line during treatment that require practice.
Trace’s Director Gregg Vanderheiden introduced me to AOL’s incorporation of Real-Time Text in instant messaging. Users see each other’s text as it is being typed. This option is useful for people who rely on text messaging as a primary means of communication, especially people who are either deaf or hard of hearing. The receiver will be able to see each letter that the sender types in real time, rather then waiting to view the entire message after it is sent. This function can be life saving in an emergency situation when the information needs to be received immediately.
“AIL enjoys a loyal following among consumers who are either deaf or hard of hearing, so we were pleased when Gallaudet University and the Trace Center chose to work with us to leverage its popularity and explore integration of real-time text functionality,” said Tom Wlodowski, Director of Accessibility at AOL.
Exercising good citizenship was on display through promoting accessible voting. As we make voting accessible for everyone, we increase citizen participation. We can enhance the usability of the mainstream voting systems so that nearly 99% can use mainstream voting systems and about 2 percent would need a special interface. You accomplish this by:
1. Adding touch to hear, voice confirm and easy to use controls to all electronic voting machines, you can end up with extended usability systems that work for most everyone and can reduce error as well.
2. Plug-in modules then can be used that would connect to these systems and provide the special tactile interface needed by people with n vision at all and people who need to connect special input switches. In this manner the usability of the mainstreaming voting machines can be extended to cover most disabilities- particularly older Americans.
I learned about RERC’s efforts on universal interface and information technology access. The goal of this program is to make possible the continuous design of mainstream information products so they can be used by people with disabilities, and to improve assistive technology and the interoperability of AT and standard information technology. A number of the research and development projects are disability and interface characterization study, research on abstract user interface sockets, technology watch, development of tools and investigating server assisted and virtual AT. To learn more about these programs visit http://trace,wisc.edu/iterc/.
I expanded my knowledge of EZ Access – interface enhancements applied to electronic products and devices so they can be used by everyone, including people with disabilities. EZ Access products include Amtrak Quik Trak Ticket Machine. IBM Accessible Travel Self-Service Kiosk, U.S. Postal Automated Postal Center, World War II Memorial Information Kiosks and the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport System. How does EZ Access work? A product that has only a touch screen may be difficult or impossible for many people to use. By adding some buttons and voice output, the product is usable by people who can’t see, can’t read, can’t reach the screen or can’t make fine movements with their arms, hands or finger. The addition of captions extends its usefulness to people with hearing challenges.
I was introduced to a Coin-u-lator (coin counting calculator) a Kelvin Thermostat, a voice activated programmable thermostat and the James, an environmental control unit. The keypad on the James can e used by people with minimum finger or hand movement. The James can be controlled through a single switch using row/column scanning or full step scanning. Add-ons are available to control a telephone, cell phone and more.
I learned that the University of Colorado, Boulder’s program of Excellence for the Advancement of Cognitive Technologies is researching, developing, evaluating, implementing and disseminating innovative technologies that will have a positive impact on the way individuals with significant cognitive disabilities function within their communities and workplace.
I increased my knowledge of activities in universal design and the challenges in meeting diverse needs that will improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and seniors.
While going through the exhibit hall, I watched people as they marveled at the empowering opportunities these technologies offer. How did they react to seeing these products?
Tommy Cramer, whose 17-year-old son is blind, told me, “These technologies are awesome. They provide independence.”
Karen Chen, whose 21-year-old brother uses a wheelchair exclaimed, “Wow! These wheelchairs, these products give disabled people, like my brother, more options to live a better quality of life.”
Senior citizen Martin Landau applauded the efforts to include the elderly population in product development.
More than 1,000 people attended the annual conference.
The conference offered a variety of workshops and networking opportunities.