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...making Linux just a little more fun!
Handicapped People of the World, Unite!
By Janine M Lodato

This article explores Linux's potential role in assistive technology (AT). AT allows those living with multiple schlerosis, other handicaps or the affects of aging to take greater control in maintaining their health and living independently.


Some of the most criminal and immoral aspects of the monopolistic practices of Microsoft, which for all practical purposes eliminated or curtailed competition, is the fact that PCs today are

These negative attributes of the Windows world makes the PCs of today useless for the truly needy:

The sum of these people account for more than half the population of the world. They are in need of a collaborative assistive technology (AT) system which operates with telephone-style simplicity. An end-to-end AT-based collaborative system connected via the Web will allow the professionals to provide support group-style assistance in the form of a simple virtual community.

Now that Linux is available, it is feasible to approach this very large market using a low-cost, rugged and simple client system. Linux-based client systems connected to Linux servers are perfect for such end-to-end AT systems offering. The reliable and simple features of Linux coupled with low cost Linux based hardware and platforms and applications are the only solution for these end users who need AT capabilities.

The work to be done

A very significant upgrade of self-supported health improvement can be achieved using assistive technologies (AT) connected via the Web. Recent scientific studies by major universities in the field of behavioral medicine including psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) indicate that getting involved with collaborative group activities has significant rehabilitation potential. In fact behavioral medicine can prevent disease, and improve quality of life and rehabilitate. Of course it does not replace the pharmaceuticals, but it does improve their effectiveness.

It is suggested that the collaborative virtual community systems, based on Web-connected AT clients and servers, supporting the disabled and the aging can also be used for the able-bodied eyes-busy, hands-busy professionals to improve their productivity. Also learning-disabled children can make very good use of AT. This low cost set of AT platforms and associated Web connectivity could be very useful in many government and commercial employment arenas. This dual-use type approach will significantly lower the cost of the needed technologies for all groups.

Of course there is still work to be done. Applications for AT technologies must be developed or perfected to allow collaboration between the health service professionals or social worker professionals and the many people in need. Web connected AT oriented software components running on Linux client machines connected to Linux servers have to be created such as

Through such systems the professionals can monitor, mentor and moderate and even medicate the members of the collaborative community. For a good example: when dealing with students with learning disabilities, it is important to get their attention, to bolster their behavior and finally to improve their cognitive productivity. With assistive technology people can prevent further destruction of their faculties, improve their quality of life and can even be rehabilitated somewhat. Just the idea of being productive adds to a person's self-esteem enormously.

A personal example

I have many years of personal experience using AT and found it very helpful in SPMS (secondary progressive multiple sclerosis) conditions as described below in a brief review of my personal experiences.

In addition to my extensive experience with AT I also have related graduate credentials from both California State Univ at Northridge (the center for AT corporate interactions) as well as CSU in Sacramento and UOP in Stockton.

In spite of my handicap, I find it gratifying and fulfilling to concentrate my efforts on projects worthwhile to a very deserving community. Involvement such as this has proved to have healing powers for me. I am living proof of the powers of PNI based on personal involvement.

Having relied on AT in order to survive my wheelchair imprisonment, specifically voice recognition for writing, I see dual value: one for the hands-busy, eyes-busy professionals increasing their productivity through ease of use, and the other, of course, for use by the physically disabled.

Being disabled with MS, I use IBM ViaVoice on a MAC to write. It allows me to verbally communicate by email with my friends as well as giving me the opportunity to express myself and get involved with worthwhile projects in the AT arena.

Typically voice recognition systems spell very well but now and then some of them do make typos which really take the cake:

I receive enduring fulfillment from developing my intellectual strengths and putting them to positive use. I learn from my negative experiences which have been many in my 54 years of existence and I savor my positive experiences to learn optimism.

The best way to use these intellectual strengths is to get involved with collaborative teamwork and personal communications within the disabled community and with companies who provide assistive technologies for this community.

It is important for me to maintain what little health I have and to become involved in something I hold great faith in. So I have decided to become involved in the latest AT systems available to people with disabilities. I am especially interested in technologies that help the disabled express themselves, such as voice recognition for writing and voice-activated telephone service for talking.

There are many AT type technologies that focus on, and make good use of the physical abilities a disabled person may still have such as voice, lip movement, eye motion and brain waves. These capabilities can be used with brain-actuated computer systems and voice recognition software, to name a few. Integrating these already-existing technologies into something usable by disabled clients so they can express themselves will offer them freedom in spite of their handicap.

Understanding that there are companies already seeking to address this market makes my involvement in the area that much easier and completely natural. Finding companies geared toward brain-actuated computer control systems is my next assignment.

As a handicapped woman who still has control of her mental faculties and voice, I have something to offer by connecting the right people so that I can integrate systems through the Internet to develop a mutually beneficial virtual community.


Personal communications and collaborative teamwork need assistive technologies to further the self-esteem of the disabled. Linux, due to its low cost, open architecture and international development, provides an ideal platform for building these technologies. Those living with handicaps (and their relatives and friends) can make a unique contribution to this effort because they know firsthand what benefits AT can provide.

Involvement in AT projects can help disabled people in another way too. Not only does it provide a distraction from their problems, but it's also a constructive way to spend their time while furthering a cause they believe in.

The positive rehabilitative effects of Behavioral Medicine is my method of surviving and thriving until a final cure for MS is developed.

[LG would like to see additional articles and Mailbag letters about Linux's applicability in assistive technology. If you have any ideas, let us know. -Ed.]

Copyright © 2002, Janine M Lodato. Copying license http://www.linuxgazette.com/copying.html
Published in Issue 85 of Linux Gazette, December 2002

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