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Inclusive Communication Technology For People With Disabilities

November 04, 2014
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It could have been a car accident, a surgical procedure, or a stroke. Knowing what led to this moment is not significant. Understanding what happens next is important.

Picture this: you wake up but have yet to open your eyes. Your body lies straight as a board. Your head feels out of place, as if it is not situated on the pillow quite right. Bare arms rest on stiff sheets, exposing you to chills.

It is not clear whether cold temperatures or discomfort cause you to react, but suddenly, you become alert. You want to open your eyes but all you see is the backs of your eyelids.

Soon, you forget about opening your eyes because of an unrelenting sensation in your stomach. It seems upset, hungry, and anxious all at once. It is feigning for something, but this is also overshadowed by the numbing pain that traces throughout your entire body. What is going on?

Racing to alertness, your eyes shoot open and are immediately confronted by a fluttering picture that extends from a screen. The emblem reads, “Frasil.”

A New Sense of Control

A person who finds him or herself in such a situation rarely has the ability to communicate immediate needs. Unfortunately, if lying in hospital or on bed rest at home, these may be dire circumstances. Assistance could bring about physical comfort or be necessary for survival.

With communicative technology, it may be possible to reach someone who can offer a helping hand. In the near future, a tablet or similar device may offer solace to a person who struggles with disability. If in hospital, shooting pain, swollen eyes, and little recollection of the caregiver on duty may be of little concern when a person realizes he or she can relay messages through a device without ever uttering a word. In fact, the individual is just a few subtle movements away from submitting a request for medication, or viewing realtime diagnostics, or being face-to-face with the primary physician.

Frasil software is making this possible with “life changing technology.”

Has Accessible Technology Arrived?

For some time, there has been buzz about how technology will change the lives of people with disabilities. But before devices and software can be developed to serve people with disabilities, there needs to be a clear understanding of who this technology will serve.

According to Fran Killoway, the creator of Frasil, adaptive and accessible technology is intended to serve the person, not a disability.

To clarify this point, let’s use one of Fran’s examples. A woman with cerebral palsy should not have to alert a computer that she has cerebral palsy. Rather than a disability, the individual has a number of physical and mental challenges that require her to use alternative communication cues. The computer ought to adjust to her needs.

Another example touches on a prevalent concern in Australia, Canada, and the United States (among other countries). A young man does not know how to read or write. At school, he sits next to a boy who is confined to a wheelchair. On one of their computers is a program specially made for people with disabilities. To the naked eye, nothing seems amiss, but a crippling disability belongs to the abled bodied boy who needs help learning to read and write.

A disability diagnosis has little to do with how a person interacts with technology. The intention for Frasil is that software will adapt to the individual it serves, rather than offering a pre-planned program to address certain traits of familiar disabilities.

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