Articles

 

 

 

 

 

Management Information: Limit and Extent

Gaining New Ability
Export of IT Services
Data Communication in Nepal
The role of IT: Efficiency or Burden?
Sharing Multimedia Endeavor
Intelligent System
Memory Hierarchy
Emerging Technologies

   


Gaining New Ability

 

Published in CORE, Jul/Aug, 1994

 

Since coming to Nepal one year ago, it has been interesting to observe the mushrooming of computer education and training, through schools and training institutes. For many of us the computer is providing a powerful tool, to increase our efficiency and skill. For some, the computer is a way of communicating and integrating their working lives in Society, in a new and exciting way.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to be able to see work being carried out amongst disabled people, at Jorpati. The dedicated staff, were providing medical and rehabilitation services to a group of severely physically disabled adults. The skills being taught, were practical crafts such as knitting, tailoring and typing skills. According to a survey conducted in 1980, approximately 3% of the population of Nepal are disabled (i.e. approximately 600,000). Only a handful of these people were employed, mainly as musicians, teachers and unskilled laborers.

Roughly one tenth of disabled people acquire their injuries through accident or illness, often severely effecting their ability to    work, or even to communicate.

I asked whether any training was given to disabled people on the use of the computer, and was delighted to be referred to Mrs. Shashi Kala Singh, the Secretary for the "Technical & Skill Development Center for Blind  and Disabled". At this center I met with deaf and blind students, from SLC to Undergraduate level teaming computer skills.

The center is equipped with several PCs, incorporating voice synthesizers, and 'Zoomtext' software to enlarge characters. These systems, worked well with the common software application packages, and I was impressed by the ability of the voice synthesizer (which suffered from a slightly strange accent) to read words, sentences or whole documents, and identify menu options to the user. Input and output was assisted by Braille printers and image scanners. Mrs. Singh's belief is that the traditional skills provided to disabled people "are not enough for them to make their life easy and to enjoy equal opportunities in Society". As I watched the students and teachers working together, I became aware how the computer has the potential to add so much to the lives of people with disabilities, and how deaf, blind and able-bodied people had at their disposal a common means of communication. I saw the blind and deaf communicating with one another, and I was impressed by the articles and work they were producing, incorporating use of fonts, English and Devnagari, and graphics.

I believe that this work is important, and inspirational for Nepali Society, and want to challenge Businesses, Schools and Universities, to integrate those with disabilities into the workplace and education system, through provision of the right equipment. For many of the larger employers, the additional cost of equipment would not be too large, particularly as our PCs increasingly support multi-media, and advanced features.
 

Technology for the Disabled

Recently, innovations based around the computer have started to enable people with handicaps to word again. Ironically, in order to help these people, the computer itself has to take on the apparent ability to 'see', 'hear' or 'speak'. New products are constantly being tested and introduced, to encourage use of information technology by disabled people.

In the sections below, I have highlighted some of these developments.  

 

Simple Software Aids

Some aids are complex and expensive, while others offer simple solutions, for example keyboard and screen aids such as :

TOGGLEKEYS

-beeps when CAPS LOCK, NUM LOCK  or SCROLL LOCK are activated.
SHOWSOUNDS

 -makes the screen blink or display a symbol when the computer makes a sound and user may not hear.
 

Aids for Different Disabilities

In the box below I highlight some of the application areas, which are developing and becoming accessible for use with specific disabilities.

 

SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENTS


Helping the Blind and Visually Impaired

Braille has been a successful medium of reading for blind people, but listening is easier still, and the idea of the 'talking compute' can made a major contribution. 
An external speech synthesizer e.g. Screen Reader can read out the contents of a spreadsheet or database and can be programmed to understand abbreviations and speak them in full. It can read out text, menus, commands and windows. 


Speech Therapy

Interactive speech therapy tools, such as Speech Viewer or Speech Viewer II can be used to help overcome difficulties with articulation and pronunciation. Examples of speech are given by the computer, and using a microphone the user can practice, and watch as visual feedback monitors progress and analysis performance.


Therapy for Brain Damage

Multimedia software, such as Thinkable provides a tool for therapy sessions, where it can be used to assist n restoring the ability to think systematically to brain handicapped people. It tests four fundamental areas of visual thought by using visual images ad image sequences: attention, discrimination, memory, and memory-in-sequence. 
In the box below I highlighted some of the application areas, which are developing and becoming accessible for use with specific disabilities.

 

Moving towards a Multi-Media PC Environment for all users

Some developments are taking place, which due to their very high cost, are available only to a very few disabled people. I describe these below, because they may show the seeds of technological change which have a general benefit:

 

Good-bye to the Keyboard?

Software such as VOICETYPE, enhances voice recognition software, enabling the computer, and other electrical appliances  ( such as lights, fans, etc..), to be controlled by voice recognition. 
This type of software is principally for those who have difficulty using the keyboard, but could eventually replace the keyboard  altogether. It might one day translate texts into other languages as you speak, or record entire trials in courts of law. 

 

Good-bye to the Mouse?

Powerful software is being developed at the University of Virginia in the US, and enabling the computer o be controlled by the  movements of the user's eyes ( called the Eyegaze-Response Interface Computer - ERICA). The eye takes on the role of the  mouse, choosing data on screen. The technology is based around a PC, and TV camera coupled to an Audio Capture and  playback card which determine the exact spot on teh screen where the eye is resting. 

ERICA can prove particularly helpful to those whose mobility is restricted to their eyes.

 

Development of Hardware and Software of the Disabled

Many disabled people would like to see their specific needs taken seriously in standard hardware and software design, and it is encouraging to see moves being made in this direction.

 

However Research and Development is very expensive resulting in a very low level of access to the sort of technology described, in developing countries and across the world.

 

The disabled must themselves begin to made choices about the sort of technology that can be useful to them and society in Nepal and across the world must look to see how it can support the needs of the disabled, by providing appropriate research and development, and opportunities in the workplace.

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