Technology tackles disabilities

Kristine Gill

“Wouldn’t it be great if everyone used this?” Mollie Miller directs her questions into the microphone on the headset she’s wearing. The words appear on the computer screen in her office, but the program didn’t catch the last part. It typed gibberish instead.

“Scratch that,” Miller says, and the words disappear.

Miller, the adaptive technology coordinator for Student Accessibility Services, said her job is to provide adaptive technologies similar to her speech recognition software to students with disabilities.

This week is disAbility Awareness Week at Kent State. As part of the week long observance, a demonstration of adaptive technologies available through Student Accessibility Services will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. today in conference room B of the DeWeese Health Center.

The software Miller demonstrated is called Dragon Naturally Speaking. She uses it to dictate e-mails, but the program was created to benefit people with disabilities.

“Adaptive technology is the precursor to mainstream technology,” Miller said.

Adaptive or assistive technology is technology that helps people with vision, hearing or mobility impairments do things they couldn’t do otherwise.

Bill Meisel, editor of Speech Strategy News, said people with carpal tunnel syndrome commonly use the program to minimize the amount of typing they do. But according to the Student Accessibility Services’ brochure, adaptive technology is for everyone.

“Doctors use it for dictating medical reports, and I’ve heard of a prize-winning author who hasn’t typed a word in years,” Meisel said.

Miller said while the line between mainstream and adaptive technology is becoming more blurred, the products were originally intended to improve the independence and quality of living for people with disabilities.

Jim Leahy, of the Center for Assistive Technology at the University of Buffalo, helps develop products that serve the elderly and those with disabilities. He said he agrees that adaptive technology is for everyone.

“All of us will age into a state of disability,” he said.

Contact student affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].