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Trace Center Brings Assistive Tech to Life

April 7 2009 | by

For nearly 40 years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Trace Research and Development Center (TRACE) has developed technology used around the world, with the goal of making technology accessible to as many people as possible, no matter their age or disability. The effort that began in the early 1970s by a group of UW-Madison engineering students has grown into a center with a worldwide impact. The goal then was to help a child with cerebral palsy communicate better.

According to WISC-TV, today, the work at Trace is having a broad impact on the lives of people with disabilities and the elderly worldwide. The center developed systems for more accessible ATMs, electronic voting systems and automated postal centers. It has also developed computer accessibility options for people who are deaf, blind or have limited use of their arms.

Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden was a UW-Madison student when he started the Trace Center in 1971. “There wasn’t a lot of information available and so we suddenly became the central resource for information about the field,” said Vanderheiden.

In the decades since, the center has become a pioneer advancing technology to help others. “We didn’t set out to try to be No. 1. We just set out to do the best job we could,” he said. “People with disabilities needed to not only do special things, they needed to do the same things as everybody else.”

One of the newest pieces of technology added is the EZ Access ticket kiosk at Amtrak stations. EZ Access is also installed at 2,500 postal offices throughout the U.S., letting people who are blind listen — with earphones — to the machine and use it to mail packages and buy stamps. It’s the same technology that people who are blind can use on Election Day, thanks to the Trace Research and Development Center in Madison.

Another technology invented by Trace are keyboard controls — known as StickyKeys — for people who have difficulty typing or pressing multiple keys at once. Today, all of the major operating systems have accessibility features built into them that were developed here at the University of Wisconsin,” said Vanderheiden.

The center is funded in part by The National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Read more at WISC-TV

Read more at the Trace Center

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