Sunday, April 01, 2001

Alive & Well

Latest technology to help disabled

        LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of new products were demonstrated at the 16th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference last week.

        The international event, sponsored by California State University, Northridge, has earned a reputation for being the place to unveil hardware, software and low- and high-tech devices that enable people with disabilities to work, learn and play more independently.

        Among the products exhibited is software to teach learning-disabled kids to spell and build math concepts, a computer driving game with steering wheel that a blind child can play and a host of products making communication and conversation possible for people unable to use their voices.

        Switch-activated toys, high-quality no-tip luggage designed for people with strength or balance difficulties, and videos, books and publications on specific disability topics were featured.

        The presence of such technology giants as Microsoft, Sun, Compaq and IBM indicates that companies recognize the 54 million Americans with disabilities as a significant market.

        Here are a few of the products highlighted:

        • A new cursor-control product called TrackIr offers a solution for using a computer to people who are quadriplegic and might not have vast financial resources. While other head-pointing systems have cost thousands of dollars, TrackIr sells for only $99.

        A camera-sized device connects to any standard PC and provides access to popular computer applications with only minimal movement. With a small blue sticker, about the size of a pencil eraser, affixed to fingertip or forehead, the user points to desired locations on the screen to type, click, double click, open and close applications in the same way that a mouse or keyboard is used.

        Eye Control Technologies, PO Box 2317, 33872 SE Eastgate Circle, Corvallis, OR 97339; phone (541) 753-6645;

        • The Quicktionary ReadingPen II reinforces reading comprehension and vocabulary-building skills for students with learning disabilities by combining auditory with visual learning.

        Scan a word from printed text into the pen, and the word is spoken aloud and displayed. Words can be broken into syllables for pronunciation help, and definitions are available from the unit's 200,000-word American Heritage College Edition dictionary. The 75 most recently scanned words can be stored in memory for review.

        Weighing only 3 ounces, the device comes in right-handed and left-handed models, includes batteries, earphone and carrying case. Price $279.

        Wizcom Technologies Inc., 257 Great Road, Acton MA 01720; (888) 777-0552;

        • Parrot SA, a French company known for gadgets such as hands-free car phones, took on the challenge of designing a lightweight voice organizer usable by blind and visually impaired consumers unable to read LCD displays.

        The voice Mate learns to recognize your voice, then searches by voice input, up to 999 appointments, 999 contact entries, personal notes and other information.

        Up to six phone numbers can be stored for each contact. Once the proper one is located, the unit will dial it for you.

        A talking clock, talking calculator and talking currency converter are also built into this five-ounce device. The Voice Mate sells for $259, with carrying case and PC interface available as options.

        Parrot SA, 28 Rue Meslay, Paris, 75003, France;

        • For information on other exhibitors or papers delivered at this year's event, visit or write the Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Suite 103, Northridge, CA 91330.

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