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WATA Bulletin

Summer 1997


Conference offers look at latest technology

John F. Elmer
Shoreline Community College

A brief word of introduction: In 1983, Shoreline Community College began providing academic and personal support for students with significant cerebral palsy. Since 1993, we have been active in the provision of assistive technology to our students, primarily for computer and Internet access. We enjoy a long-standing collaboration and mutually beneficial relationship with WATA and the Assistive Technology Resource Center.

This spring, I attended the Technology and Disability Conference in Los Angeles sponsored by California State University-Northridge (CSUN), which was held March 18 - 22. For me, the opportunity to attend the CSUN Conference is one that I will value for some time to come.

My goals in attending were to gain insight into and knowledge of existing and emerging technology and it's application for persons with disability. I also wanted to look specifically for technology that could benefit students served by our program.

I was not disappointed.

Probably most exciting to me was the Speech Enhancer, a product based on recently patented technology that has already been licensed by NASA. It was almost magical.  [Editors note:  Dr. Jim Rothwell, president of Electronic Speech Enhancement, Inc. writes: "although it is certainly true we have been involved with representatives of NASA regarding an application of our speech enhancement technology, their involvement was solely on behalf of a third party, not on behalf of NASA itself. At no time has the NASA organization licensed our technology, nor is it anticipated that they would do so in the future. I trust this will clear up any misconceptions which might have occurred."]

The device consists of a headset microphone and a small processor box with speaker that is worn by the user. Its target users are people whose speech is generally only understood by a family member, therapist, or others well practiced in listening to the individual. The user simply talks into the microphone and their own voice emerges from the speaker in real time, but with remarkably improved intelligibility. There is no need for programming, practice, etc.-it just works.

I know it's not the solution for everyone, but it appears to be a major step forward. We're hopeful that it could benefit some of our students who are limited in their independence in the community because of communication barriers. Gee-I sound like their sales representative! You can get more information at their web site: http://www.SpeechEnhancer.com.

I was also pleased to have the opportunity to try out Madenta's "Tracker." This is a hands-free mouse alternative software program, that when combined with an on-screen keyboard, allows alternatives for mouse button functions and word prediction. This could be an excellent resource for a person for whom other devices (e.g., the use of a switch, an alternate keyboard, etc.) have proven ineffective.

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