Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week on our program, we have the third part of
our series on living with a disability in America. In January we looked at
education. Last month we talked about jobs. Today we discuss assistive
Technology offers many different ways to help people with
disabilities lead more normal lives. Devices that help them perform an activity
are called assistive technology. Assistive technology can help people reach
their personal and professional goals.
The invention of the telephone might not have been very exciting to a deaf
person. But it led to a way to send text messages over a phone line with the use
of a teletypewriter, or TTY.
Today, with special care, Web site designers can make their sites highly
accessible to disabled users.
There are both simple devices and very complex ones to help people with
Even something as low-tech as a small piece of soft plastic can be an
assistive technology. Attached to a pencil, it might help a child hold the
pencil better if the child has trouble writing.
Blind people can have documents read out loud electronically on their
computer. And for people who cannot use their arms to type, speech recognition
programs may be the answer. These let people give commands to their computer or
have their words turned into print.
What about a person who is not able to speak? There are now special devices
to help them, too. An American company called Blink Twice produces a device that
looks like a handheld computer game. The device is called Tango.
Tango was invented by Richard Ellenson, the father of an eight-year-old boy
with cerebral palsy. This condition affects a person's ability to move and
speak. With Tango, his son Thomas can touch pictures that express his feelings
or the words he wants to say. A voice then speaks the words that Thomas has
The company's Web site has examples of what Tango sounds like:
TANGO: "How was your day? OK. Where did you go today? Oh. Did you do anything
fun? Let me think of another question. Did you see anybody I know? Ah-ha! Last
question. Did you miss me? I missed you!"
Other voices, ideas and words can be added to meet the interests and needs of
the individual user. For example, when Thomas watches sports, he can play cheers
for his team that were recorded in his father's voice.
Richard Ellenson says he wants Tango to help people with disabilities build
relationships, not just sentences. Right now, Tango costs about seven thousand
dollars. But this is a new device, and the price of new technology often comes
down after a few years.
There are many devices to help people with disabilities use computers. There
are ways for people to operate a computer by moving their heads or even just
There are also keyboards that can be used with only one hand. One of these
small keyboards is called a FrogPad. One young girl used the FrogPad at school.
Her mother said the small keyboard helped her daughter work normally at school,
and her friends thought the FrogPad was great.
Students with disabilities want to be like their friends; they want to be
able to do things as normally as possible. So for young people, technology must
not only help them do their work. The devices must also be cool.
Ben is a fifteen-year-old boy in Maine. He was born with a condition called
spina bifida. He cannot move his arms or legs. He uses a small device called a
TongueTouch Keypad, made by a California company, newAbilities Systems.
The keypad is placed in the mouth. Ben learned to use his tongue to touch
different keys. They operate his telephone, his computer, his electric
wheelchair, his bed and his music player.
Ben is able to get in and out of his house without help. And he can even turn
his music up loud if he wants to.
Sometimes, all it takes to improve on existing technology is a little
imagination. Like adding a voice to clocks and watches so they announce the
time. Or printing children's books in Braille with both raised marks and
traditional text. That way the parent of a child who is blind can read the same
book out loud while the child reads with his or her fingers.
Using a motorized wheelchair requires the ability to operate the controls.
But what about people who are not able to use their hands? One solution is to
attach a tube to the chair. The person operates the wheelchair by sucking air
through the tube or blowing into it. This is called "sip and puff" technology,
and it can also be used to operate other devices.
Things that are designed to help the disabled may also make life easier for
people who are not disabled. The opposite is also true.
Think of the millions of people who send and receive messages over cell
phones and other wireless devices. This ability to communicate quickly by text
messaging or e-mail is very useful. But imagine just how useful it can be to a
person who is deaf.
Many times, the technology that helps people with disabilities is invented by
people who have disabilities themselves.
TecAccess is a company that helps government offices and companies provide
technology for people with disabilities.
TecAccess has fifty-two employees. Forty-six of them have one or more
disabilities. The company is in Virginia, but its employees work all over the
A man named Don Dalton started a company in Illinois called
Assistive Technologies. Mister Dalton became a quadriplegic in a swimming
accident almost forty years ago. His company offers computer technology to help
people with disabilities become more independent.
His newest product, in fact, is called Independence One. Once the system is
put into a house, the user wears a wireless headset to control it. By voice, the
user is able to control many devices and systems around the house.
Don Dalton uses the Independence One controller when he rides in the elevator
in his office building. The system answers him in a woman's voice.
DON DALTON: "Wake up."
INDEPENDENCE ONE: "Hello. I'm here."
INDEPENDENCE ONE: "Elevator going down."
A video on his company's Web site also shows how Mister Dalton uses his voice
to operate devices in his house. He can turn on the television, close a window
in a different room, or work on his computer, all by using his voice.
He also uses the controller to make telephone calls over the Internet.
DON DALTON: "Start computer phone."
INDEPENDENCE ONE: "Starting computer
phone. Please say login."
DON DALTON: "Login."
INDEPENDENCE ONE: "Logging
DON DALTON: "865-7004. Dial phone."
INDEPENDENCE ONE: "Thank you.
INDEPENDENCE ONE: "I'm calling the cell phone on my wheelchair and
it's ringing. [sound]"
In the United States, the federal government is expected to be a leader in
supporting the use of assistive technology. For example, federal agencies are
required by law to purchase or develop technology that can be used by all
The government is providing money to research new assistive technologies.
Loans are also available to help disabled federal employees and others to buy
equipment. For example, a disabled person who owns a computer may be able to
work from home instead of having to travel to an office.
Research centers are working to improve technology for people with
disabilities. They are working in the areas of education, employment, computers,
communication and community living.
Assistive technology can do a lot to improve the quality of life for people
That is, if the technology is available to them. Sometimes it can be very
costly. People with a disability, especially a severe disability, have lower
earnings and higher poverty rates than the general population. But government
programs and private organizations may be able to help them get the assistance
Next month we have the fourth and final report in our series on living with a
disability in America. Find out how recreation programs are helping people with
disabilities have fun like they might never have thought possible.
And if you missed any of the earlier reports, you can find transcripts and
audio files at voaspecialenglish.com.
Our program was written by Karen Leggett and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm
Steve Ember with Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in
VOA Special English.