by Susan Gonsalves (originally published in the SHARE Notes Newsletter and reprinted here with permission)
SHARE client Robert Maloney says it is his responsibility to educate other people “in the same situation I am in” about the possibilities available through assistive technology.
Since May of 2007, Bob, who has cerebral palsy and quadriplegia, has been living independently in an apartment in North Easton. He previously worked with Easter Seals and was trained on Dragon Naturally Speaking, a software program that activates household items and the computer via vocal commands. He operates his several systems by pressing switches with his head, using his voice, and sipping on a special tube.
About a year ago, he began working with Tom Meggison, computer technologist at the UMass Dartmouth Center for Rehabilitation Engineering, which SHARE funding supports.
“I’m not serious very often, but honestly, without SHARE and Tom in particular, I wouldn’t be able to live independently,” Bob says. “He’s one of the best technicians I’ve ever worked with since I was exposed to technology way back in the 1980s. If I have any little problem and I call the SHARE office, he helps me very quickly. The whole SHARE program has been real responsive to all of my needs.”
Bob admits that the process to learn vocal commands and get the assistive technology to work can be challenging and frustrating at times. Those difficulties occur not because he isn’t adept at operating his voice operated system, but rather because the user has to repeat the commands in the exact same way each time without deviation. “My voice can change from day to day. If I’m having a bad day, I use what I call my ‘falsetto’ type voice and it can’t recognize commands. That’s when there is a problem.”
Bob has what amounts to three separate and independent systems. The first employs a head switch mounted on his wheelchair that sends a radio frequency signal to a SHARE-modified garage door opener that Tom interfaced to the device that opens Bob’s apartment door. The second system is a voice activated infrared controller with which Bob can operate any device that responds to an infrared signal. He actually has two of these—one in his bedroom and one in the living area. By means of an X-10 interface, Bob uses his voice to control his TV, two separate air conditioners, his radio and CD player, several lamps, and overhead lights, as well as the buzzer system that enables him to open the outside door to the apartment complex.
The third system employs a “Quad Joy” mouse by which he controls his computer. With the Quad Joy, he moves the mouse with a rod that he clasps in his teeth, and he clicks the mouse by sipping on the Quad Joy mouthpiece. He writes e-mail and accesses the Internet using a combination of an on-screen keyboard and a speech recognition program called Dragon. On the computer, he enjoys shopping online, browsing the Internet, writing and sending e-mails, and watching movies. He can change channels by speaking a word to indicate his viewing preferences, such as “comedy” or “news.”
“I want to use the knowledge I have every day to do for myself and rely on what I have,” he says.
Although Bob is assisted by personal care attendants, he spends a lot of time alone at home. “Technology is so important. If there’s a problem, I first try to figure it out and troubleshoot…” Tom notes that Bob is different from typical clients because he is “proactive and recommends things to us.” For example, following a recent hospital stay, Bob saw other quadriplegic patients with cups mounted on their wheelchairs and at their bedsides.
After trying what Bob describes as “frustrating Velcro and duct tape type alternatives that ended up spilling all over,” Tom installed a Drink-Aide on his chair. Designed by and for people with disabilities, the Drink-Aide has served him well.
“The reason I’m proactive is because I’m so in love with technology and I want other people with disabilities to be exposed to SHARE and this equipment because I know it can help them.”
Learn more about the SHARE Foundation (opens in a new widow)