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February 18, 2003

Revolution in disability aids

From: News Interactive, Australia - 18 Feb 2003

Karen Dearne
FEBRUARY 18, 2003 AGEING of the population would spark a revolution in technologies to help people with disabilities, the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference was told.

Screen displays that deliver the written word to people with poor vision, ear implants for those with hearing impairments and tools for individuals with mental challenges are on the drawing board.

But sense-heightening technologies cannot replace reading and writing skills essential for people with disabilities to function in real-world environments.

Blind physicist Kent Cullers says a generation of blind people is being "imperilled by the use of cheap speech displays in preference to more expensive braille".

"If new technology heedlessly tips blind people away from studying braille reading, it can do more harm than good," he said.

Dr Cullers is research and development director at the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project in California.

With the workforce ageing and the number of elderly hearing-impaired people growing, it was critical to develop technologies for real-life problems, University of Pittsburgh Professor Katherine Seelman said.

"Research needs to be conducted in more natural surroundings, where people live, work and learn, rather than in controlled laboratory settings," she said.

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