My favorite gadgets at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association conference, which featured more than 100 vendors, include two communications products and a new PDA for the blind. I also note some worthy mentions – gadgets that I liked because of their design or originality. Here’s the list.
This eye-gaze system brings the latest in alternative input. For people who cannot use their limbs, nor speak (perhaps someone with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease – or a person who has had a stroke), Prentke-Romich’s ECO2 is a great innovation. To calibrate ECO2, I followed a bouncing ball on screen while it recorded my eye movements – this takes all of 30 seconds. The program, a combination of words, phrases and pictures, can be operated using just the eyes, allowing someone to express their thoughts (and their gratitude for this program.) ($7,795)
An iPhone/iTouch app for people who have trouble communicating, Assistive Ware’s Proloquo2go is genius. Founder Samuel Sennot designed the app earlier this year, and it has received rave reviews, particularly among the autism community. Users press icons to express phrases, comments, or questions – and it is cooler and less bulky than a traditional speech-generating device. ($189 plus the cost of an iPhone or iTouch)
If you’re not blind, you might not grasp the importance of having an all-in-one personal digital assistant strapped to your waist 24 hours a day. Simple tasks, like fishing for a pen or paper to write down a person’s telephone number, can be difficult when you can’t see what’s around you. The BrailleNote Apex is the thinnest (less than an inch) and lightest (less than two pounds) notetaker on the market, and is the latest model to come out of HumanWare’s lab. This PDA takes notes, reads books, plays downloaded music, streams Internet radio, has a web browser, Braille (or QWERTY) keyboard, and makes snow cones. Just kidding on that last one. ($6,195)
From HumanWare and Code Factory comes a the first-ever screen reader for the BlackBerry. It uses state of the art text-to-speech technology that makes the BlackBerry fully accessible to the visually impaired. Oratio is expensive, but there’s a discount for 50 or more license — making it a good choice for enterprise communications where the iPhone won’t do. ($449)
Steven, a rep for ChatterVox, ebulliently demonstrated the power of this human-speech amplification system. While it looks like something you’d see on one of those fake-audience informercials at 3 a.m., ChatterVox really does boost a person’s voice up to xx decibels, allowing him to speak without straining – with no auditory feedback. This product is designed for those who can’t speak very loudly due to weakening vocal chords (many people with ALS have this condition). It also looks like it would come in handy for CEOS and teachers. ($285)
Optelec Compact Mini
Sure, you could just use a cheap magnifying glass to read those restaurant menus, but this thing is cooler. The Optalec Mini video magnifier is as small as an iPod and can increase font sizes up to 11 times with the press of a button. The FarView, its larger counterpart, has a built-in camera; take a snapshot of a far-away sign –- say, the train schedule at Grand Central station – and zoom in. You’ll catch your ride, without looking like Sherlock Holmes. (£295)
Read a 2009 New York Times article about the Optelec Mini.
I was hoping for edgier slogans, but these T-shirts from Dare2Dream were selling like hotcakes. Teenage boys had a preference for the black T-Shirt that read, Attitude Is The Real Disability. Rock on. ($12)
ATIA has officially come to an end. Dynavox Mayer-Johnson broke down their exhibit village. The communications device company showcased their popular V Max speech-generating device, which also has an eye-gaze version.