Enabling Technology  

Video: ENABLE: People with Disabilities and Computers, with the Flying Karamazov Brothers -- by Microsoft

with optional descriptive audio (for blind people)

COMP 290-039
Class #1 - 01/09/2003


The video shows the loss of independence and communication that disabled people face. It shows ways of compensating for disabilities by substituting the use of abled senses / physical body parts, assistive technologies, and abled human aides. It points out that most disabled people were once abled, so abled people should care about enabling technologies not only for currently disabled people, but also for themselves and their abled friends. While watching the video, is important to focus on how to improve (1) assistive technologies (e.g., interfaces, expense, physical size), and (2) social interaction with abled people.

Three formats are interleaved. The #1 humor has questionable relevance.

  1. Humor: The two Karamazov brothers, who are abled, feign acquiring disabilities and juggle objects in compensatory ways. For example, they lose use of their arms and juggle as a pair, and they become deaf and play the xylophone by juggling with a rhythm. They do not make use of assistive technology at all.
  2. General Info: A group of three disabled people (blind man, deaf woman, wheelchaired man) and one abled man have a dinner conversation about the common hardships of being disabled. The deaf woman communicates by signing and using a human interpretor.
  3. Specific Info: Seven individual disabled people each discuss the hardships that they face as individuals, and that other individuals with their disability also face. Some have chosen careers that cater to theirs or others' disabilities, while others have chosen careers similar to those they would have chosen if abled. All have managed to gain or maintain some communication and mobility, through the use of assistive technology. [GB commented: Perhaps a one-handed keyboard would be useful for people who can use only one hand, or for people who can use two hands but currently require "three" hands for multiple tasks.]
    1. Jim Mullen, former police officer, totally paralyzed due to shooting in 1996, aged ~30s
      1. Jim founded the Visual Highway Corporation, a website that has sports trivia.
      2. Jim also founded the Jim Mullen Foundation, which collects used PC's, upgrades them, and donates them to disabled people. This is important because PC's provide independence for disabled people, but some disabled people lack the money to buy decent PC's.
      3. Jim feels disabled people can produce work of the same quality but in a longer time, as compared with an abled people.
      4. He uses a speech-driven cursor, navigating it to specific physical (coordinate) locations on the screen. Speech-driven "mouse" cursor commands = directions {"up","down","left","right","stop"}, not destination e.g., "baseball". [GB commented: Perhaps it would be better if the cursor could be navigated to a specific "important" object on the screen, using commands like "go to the picture of the ball" instead of "up up up right stop".] [SV: Accuracy of speech-driven devices requires lack of background noise.]
    2. Les LeRoss, former business man, paralyzed on left side due to stroke, retired, aged ~70s
      1. Les uses a regular (two-handed) keyboard and mouse with just one hand. This interface is not very accomodating: It was built for the abled. [GB: Perhaps a one-handed keyboard would be useful for people who can use only one hand, or for people who can use two hands but currently require "three" hands for multiple tasks.]
      2. Les uses speech recognition software, but he must speak very slowly and pronouncing punctuation so that the system can translate his words into text. Requires speaking slowly and inserting punctuation. [GB commented: Speech recognition software can be trained on one person, for use by that one person, but it probably cannot be trained on a group of people, for immediate use by some arbitrary person.]
    3. Melissa Philips, blind since birth, high school student, aged 16
      1. Melissa feels that  with computer technology, many disabled people can work on same jobs, in same place, as abled people.
      2. Melissa uses a Braille typewriter (keys + typed output) (Why not regular PC???) to do homework. See an article on the two types of Braille typewriters: those with one key per letter and those with one key per Braille dot.
      3. She uses a PC with speech-to-text / text-to-speech software (eg. DECTalk text-to-speech auxiliary PC device) for e-mail.
      4. She uese a Braille printer for class notes and other documents. 
    4. Lindsey Dolich, hearing impaired since birth, high school student, aged 15
      1. Lindsey speaks okay and reads lips, which is inconvenient because this requires the speaker to face her and enunciate clearly. To "hear" a lecture in class, she uses a human typist with a networked PC that transmits the text onto her own PC. This is the most primitive of assistive technologies. [SV's comment: Perhaps the teacher could use speech recognition technology that was trained specifically for her, if she wore a microphone that funneled her voice and none of the students'.]
    5. Mark Parente, paralyzed (can use one arm fully plus one arm partially, cannot use legs at all), information technology (IT) specialist with website, aged ~30s
      1. Mark seems to use a regular PC interface fine, although one of his arms he can use just partially.The disability has made Mark much more patient, out of necessity.
      2. Mark runs a website for people with spinal injuries: It has a database "community" of people with disabilities and links to products / services for people with disabilities. [GB's comment: Anyone, either disabled or abled, can start a business if they have an ISP and something to sell.] [My comment: That is not a panacea for people with disabilities. Not everyone has something to sell or even wants to sell anything.]
      3. Mark's car is modified for his disability. He boards the car with the help of a lift and drives the car with hand controls.
    6. Michael Williams (transcript), cerebral palsey (CP) since birth (cannot speak clearly), writer and consultant on augmented / alternative communication, age 66
      1. Michael is a writer for a journal on augmented / alternative communication: Alternatively Speaking. He is also consultant to Penn State group, and Chair of International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
      2. Michael "speaks" in real time using a voice output communications aid (VOCA). [SV's comment: The device looks like a McDonald's cash register or a child's educational toy.] Years ago, he used a board with letter buttons (a "letterboard"), which was extremely slow and could not be used with blind people. [SV's comment: The device with pictorial buttons could be modified to produce text output instead of speech output, serving as a PC keyboard.]
      3. More information on VOCA: It is a box ~1.5' x 1.5' with pictorial buttons programmable with phrases + regular keyboard (?) (pictorial buttons require planning speeches in advance). See a short article on VOCAs. See a catalog of $500-$8,000 VOCA's.
    7. Krista Caudell, deaf / blind since birth, college student majoring in computer science and minoring in cognitive science at Univ of Delaware.
      1. Krista is helping to develop Braille-to-speech / speech-to-Braille device, with $98,000 NSF grant
      2. Krista uses a human translator to "hear" lectures in class.
      3. Krista uses a book with braille-letter tables (similar to Michael's initial letterboard) to "speak" to hearing people, which is extremely slow.
      4. Krista uses a PC with Braille output via pop-up pins. [GB's comment: Tactile displays of images could use pop-up pins.] [GB's comment: Krista is alternating two hands for her keyboard and one hand for her Braille, so perhaps a one-handed keyboard would be better.]
      5. She used her PC to visit a chatroom and happened to meet her boyfriend there.
      6. See an introduction to speech output and Braille output.
      7. See a more detailed introduction to speech output and Braille output, including buying tips.
      8. Screen-reader software, such as JAWS, must be used to translate text into speech or Braille output.
      9. Braille output devices can be attached to or detached from the keyboard. Most cost $3,500 to $15,000.
  1. All seven disabled individuals have enough money to pay for their education, human aides, and assistive devices. Such is not generally the case.
  2. Communication between an abled person and a disabled person can be socially uncomfortable, because (1) disabled people sometimes are unable to produce normal social feedback (e.g., eye gaze, head orientation) and (2) abled people tend to overly avoid interacting with and helping disabled people due to the political fear of treating them differently.
  3. Some assistive technologies were developed to be fast to learn, not fast to use in the long run. One example is Michael's device with pictorial buttons. [GB's comment: Perhaps a device could be used instead that took Morse code as input and produced speech as output. A person with CP cannot type, but they can probably generate Morse code using three buttons: "dash", "dot", "end-word".]
  4. Most webpages lack structures that would identify "important" items, enabling driving the mouse to specific items and skipping text-to-speech reading of unimportant info (e.g., certain links). [SV's comment: But perhaps webpages have a good structure to speech-drive a mouse such as Jim's to specific objects, since objects are denoted in HTML by tags such as table or picture.] [SV's comment: Good webpages are laid out hierarchically and can be viewed as more than one item simultaneously, but text-to-speech software reads linearly and sequentially. The eye can wander everywhere, but the text-to-speech software most likely cannot. Surmising that this is more of a problem for map reading.]

Last updated 01/13/2003