All posts in Assistive Technology

OrbiTouch Review: International Test and Evaluation Association

Up, down, left, right and into the corners. These are simple yet powerful words that are part of the context of a central Florida company located in the city of Maitland called Blue Orb, Inc. The words are associated with their uniquely U.S. designed, patented and manufactured technology tool called the orbiTouch®. It is an innovative, ergonomically honed keyboard that does not require the use of fingers or handwrist agility needed for a QWERTY keyboard and mouse.

A first look at the orbiTouch® keyboard causes you to wonder how any manner of typing is accomplished. However, it is as real and functional as a standard keyboard and mouse. The convincing moment comes when you actually try it out. There is one thing in particular that the orbiTouch® can do you wouldn’t normally think possible from a technology tool.

Hearing about or observing the transformation that takes place for adults and children who use the orbiTouch® keyboard can be a heartfelt experience, not only for the user but for amazed family and friends.

The driving force that creates such an experience stems from a passion to push the envelope for Internet accessibility and computer use. Envelope pushing that builds community, learning and independence for people who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, prosthetic hands, or other types of limiting physical conditions. Individuals who are visually impaired, blind, have autism or traumatic brain injury have benefited from the orbiTouch® keyboard. It also enables people with no disabilities or non limiting conditions to find greater comfort by learning a new way of typing that can help avoid injuries or developing painful conditions associated with traditional keyboard typing.

For the entire article written by Elizabeth Hood of the Central Florida Chapter of ITEA, please visit www.facetpm.com/uploads/orbiTouch_article.pdf

3 Reasons to Hire Persons with Special Needs

People with disabilities are veteran problem solvers.  

If you are one of the millions of Americans looking for a job, you will know that companies want to hire candidates who demonstrate “creative problem solving.”  Why not then hire individuals who out of necessity must creatively problem solve in their daily lives?  Because people with disabilities find innovative ways to maintain their independence, they are used to analyzing challenging situations and coming up with a viable game plan.  It is conceivable that this behavior would beneficially transfer to a business setting.

Hiring persons with disabilities sets an example for your company culture. 

If you’ve ever gone through orientation at a large corporation, there normally is a segment in the orientation curriculum about Company X’s “commitment to diversity.”  Yet people of protected classes are still underrepresented in the majority of American companies.

Last week when orbiTouch attended the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ Employment Conference, we learned that company culture at organizations who hire those with special needs becomes stronger because the company is figuratively and literally “putting their money where their mouth is.”  Companies experience higher retention rates and increased company morale because those in charge followed through with the company’s commitment to diversity.  In an age characterized by layoffs and broken promises, follow through speaks volumes about credibility as a company.

People with disabilities offer a unique perspective. 

Say you’re planning the biggest event of the year for your company.  By holding this event, you’re hoping to strengthen relationships with existing clients and gain exposure to develop relationships with new ones.

But have you considered the following:  Is your event venue wheelchair accessible?  Do you plan to incorporate media into your presentation?  If so, did it occur to you to use closed captioning for dialogue so individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can fully understand the presentation?

These are details may not seem that important–until you lose business when a potential client who has a special need was not accommodated. Businesses who fail to accommodate those with special needs are often seen as backwards and non-progressive.  By ignoring the needs of a sizable population, in this case persons with disabilities, you are narrowing the potential impact and success of your company.  Employing persons with disabilities and having them play a active role in company policymaking prevents the likelihood of a public relations faux-pax, like the hypothetical example above, because people with disabilities bring a unique life perspective to the table.  Because of their incredible problem solving skills, persons with disabilities are able to anticipate problems that would be overlooked by the non-disabled.

OrbiTouch Review: Ergonomic Info.com

OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard has a strong focus on helping to improve the lives of those with disabilities.  People with cerebral palsy, for instance, usually possess ordinary or even above-average intelligence, but have difficulty communicating because of their handicap.  They have trouble not only talking and writing, but also using that basic accessory of the information age, the computer keyboard.  By removing this frustrating obstacle, the orbiTouch allows people with various debilitating conditions to communicate effectively, and even to have gainful employment which would otherwise be beyond their reach.

I was particularly glad to hear that orbiTouch units are getting into the hands of disabled American veterans.  There is no other two-handed input device I can think of that would allow someone to type and mouse using a prosthetic arm or hand, and there are surely many veterans doing just that thanks to Blue Orb.

For this article in its entirety, please visit ergonomicinfo.com/reviews/orbitouch-review/

OrbiTouch: Get back to work

This might be a gross generalization, but let me say it anyway: We all, at one time or another, have complained about work. The themes are largely the same: An overbearing boss, piles of papers, inundated email inboxes, to-do lists that seem to never end. If you’ve ever been to the point where you’re pulling your hair out in frustration, you know what I’m talking about.

But what if you couldn’t work due to injury or disability? In the midst of a frenetic 9 to 5 buzz, we tend to take for granted the satisfaction we gain from an honest day’s work. The sense of pride from making your own money and feeling fulfilled in your life’s purpose. It’s the self-esteem that comes from being an active participant in the creation of your own life’s course.

That’s where assistive technology like orbiTouch comes in.  Assistive technology, such as alternative keyboards, hearing aids, touch pads, and speech generators, help bridge the productivity gap.

In a blog article posted earlier this year, John M. Williams discusses the transformation that takes place when you take a motivated individual with autism combined with the empowerment that comes with using a keyboard like orbiTouch.

Twenty-year-old Catherine Grace Zeh is a high functioning individual with autism. A graduate of Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA, in June 2000, Zeh loves working with computers. In fact, she just loves working. She dreams of returning to work in an office where she can utilize her computer skills and general administrative skills.

“I have the ability to work and want very much to work full time,” says Zeh who is determined to succeed. One of her immediate goals is to work fulltime so she can travel to Europe soon with family or friends. Her burning desire is to visit Italy where she can see all the wonderful sights of Rome and ride on the canals of Venice. Working sporadically, Zeh feels as though her abilities are being wasted. She is looking for a full time job. After dozens of interviews without success, she is optimistic she will find one. She is certain the orbiTouch will play an important role in her career.

John M. Williams wrote another article on the orbiTouch, this time recounting his experience when Sean Grassley, a man with cerebral palsy living in Michigan, tries orbiTouch for the first time.

For the first time in his life, without assistance from anyone, 35-year-old Shawn had typed his name. For the fist time in his life, [Shawn] Grassley said, “I feel empowered. I want to continue.”

Grassley is intelligent. He knows what he wants and says what he wants. He told me, “I want to use this keyboard so I can access the Internet. I want to write e-mails. I want to write letters.”

 More importantly, he wants to work. He wants to be independent. He says, “I want to earn my own money and be my own man.”

Assistive technology like orbiTouch helps open an entire world of information for a population that regularly feels isolated from technology and society as a whole.  Writing emails, instant messaging, and posting on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not only crucial in social interaction, but necessary for business interaction as well.  Ability to operate a keyboard makes this interaction possible.

While many of us fantasize of the day we can retire, we can see through these testimonials many individuals with disabilities dream of the day they are able to work and earn money. In fact, it is remarkable how many individuals with disabilities want to work–and could work–given the right tools.

OrbiTouch: Shawn Grassley Discovers A New World Through Assistive Technology

You had to be there to capture the moment. It was more than a Kodak moment for Shawn Grassley. It was a moment of joy beyond description. It was an exhilarating moment of liberation when Grassley looked up and saw he had spelled his name using the orbiTouch keyless keyboard.

I was attending the Helping Hands 20th Annual Telethon in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, on April 26. Hundreds of people were in the studio. Telephones were ringing. Voices were everywhere. Hundreds of eyes were focused on the master of ceremonies, who was making an impassioned plea for donations. In the center of all of this exuberance however, one set of eyes was focused on two domes. Shawn was sitting in his wheelchair, his head bent over the domes. His hands moved the domes forward and backward, left and right, and in other directions. His focus was like a laser beam. He eyes moved left and right and up and down as he moved the domes one at a time. First the letter S appeared. Then H. After two tries A was on the screen. Then two tries later W and finally N. Grassley moved his eyes upward and his head was rigid as he saw his name. Then came the look of triumphant victory. There was the smile. There was the shouting, “I did it. I am not a dummy.”

Very few moments have ever affected me like this one.

For the first time in his life, without assistance from anyone, 35-year-old Shawn had typed his name. For the fist time in his life, Grassley said, “I feel empowered. I want to continue.”

Continue he did. Slowly Grassley typed G. Then R, A, S S L E Y. Nothing Grassley did before in his life prepared him for this time as he read GRASSLEY. He had triumphed again. He was a man with renewed confidence. For the second time in less than five minutes he said, “I can write. I can write. I can speak. I am not a dummy.” Grassley created a keystroke by sliding the two domes into one of their eight respective positions.

When I asked his jubilant mother, Sandy, “Why does he say, ‘I am not a dummy?’” She said with bitterness, “His caseworkers and some of his former school teachers called him a dummy because of his cerebral palsy, and because he could not use a regular keyboard. He is not a dummy!”

Grassley is intelligent. He knows what he wants and says what he wants. He told me, “I want to use this keyboard so I can access the Internet. I want to write e-mails. I want to write letters.”

More importantly, he wants to work. He wants to be independent. He says, “I want to earn my own money and be my own man.” Grassley’s jubilance was shared by others. John Seamon, the executive director of Helping Hands, could not believe what he had just seen. A person he had known for more than 20 years, had in Seamon’s words, “surprised me beyond my expectations.”

Seamon wanted the orbiTouch keyboard. He has been looking for a device to help Grassley communicate, and now he grabbed it, saying with a tear, “I can not describe what I am feeling. I am speechless. This tool is the embodiment of what assistive technology was designed to accomplish for users.” Grassley’s story does not end there. He learned to use the keyboard in minutes, and kept it for some time. He smiled, laughed, and delighted in his new-found power of expression. He said triumphantly, “I can write.”

Grassley is getting an orbiTouch of his own. He knows it will change his life. He knows he has discovered the great equalizer for him. Thanks to technology, he is ready to move forward with his life.

– John M. Williams, Assistive Technology Writer 

What is assistive technology, anyway?

When people ask me about orbiTouch, I immediately tell them it’s an assistive technology keyboard for people with special needs.  And, almost immediately, they give me a blank stare.

For people inside the assistive technology industry, we live and breathe everything assistive technology.  There is no reason anyone with a disability should feel they are excluded from living a fulfilling life, because there are literally thousands of people who use AT to overcome physical and cognitive challenges everyday.

But when you mention the term assistive technology, many people outside the industry have no idea what you’re talking about.  In a 2010 article in Ability Magazine, Suzanne Robitaille, a noted AT writer and consultant, comments, “ Many people in my field don’t like the term ‘assistive technology.’ It’s medical sounding, doesn’t trip off the tongue, and, quite frankly, seems boring.”

Even more ponderous, the legal definition of “assistive technology” as defined by the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1998 is as follows:

“Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially or off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a person with a disability.”

Wow.  No wonder people give me a blank stare when I use the term “assistive technology.”  Chances are, unless you have someone directly affected by a disability, it’s never even come up.

In real talk?  Assistive technology is any device that helps one bridge the gap between inclusion and exclusion.  It’s equipment that helps people adapt to their environment so they can experience and enjoy life the way they want to.

Examples of assistive technology are:

  • Alternative keyboards and mice, like orbiTouch
  • Hearing aids
  • Wheelchairs
  • Speech generators
  • Touch pads

Seem a little more tangible?  My list is shortened for reading purposes.  There are multiple places online where you can find and buy assistive tech, but one of the best sites is Enablemart because of the breadth and depth of their inventory.  OrbiTouch is available through this website and Amazon.

Now that we have defined assistive technology and its uses, what does it all mean? In the aforementioned Suzanne Robitaille article, she discusses the positive ramifications of assistive technology:

“Assistive technology is a life-changer. It can help people with disabilities increase their independence, build their self confidence and self-improve their quality of life, and break down barriers to education and employment.”

Assistive technology not only helps advance individuals with disabilities, but society as a whole.  When people have the ability to think and do for themselves, they can contribute to an ongoing dialogue that challenges the status quo, which is essential for us to progress as society.

People with special needs offer a perspective that is indispensable to understanding our past, present, and future.  How can we use assistive technology to empower them?

Communication Without Barriers: The orbiTouch® Keyless Keyboard For Persons With Autism

It’s been a while since we’ve done a post on how orbiTouch can be used by autistic individuals, and well, it’s time for a change up.  The following article was written by John M. Williams, an assistive technology writer and blogger who founded the website Assistive Technology News.  In this article, Williams recounts his experience with the orbiTouch, and in particular, watching a young, highly functioning autistic adult gain independence by using orbiTouch.

Original Article:

Catherine Zeh sits in front of her desk with her Hewlett Packard PC sitting on the desktop. She is preparing to input information onto a page. In front of her is a plastic sheet showing her various directions to move the two domes on the orbiTouch keyless keyboard in front of her. Resting comfortably with the keyboard at arm’s level, she starts typing. “There is no finger motion involved in using the orbiTouch. I just move the two domes in different directions and I am typing,” says Zeh with a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. She says she likes using the orbiTouch because there is less finger and wrist motion, and she can sit longer spells without being tired.

Ten minutes later, she has typed 303 words in four paragraphs. A spell check review shows she typed nine words incorrectly. Still, her periods, question marks, quotations, spacing between lines and paragraph indentation are flawless. Before she started today’s work she had not used the orbiTouch in close to four weeks. She believes her efficiency rate and typing speed would be higher if she had used the orbiTouch during those four weeks. Almost three of those four weeks were spent vacationing with her parents and then grandparents. Twenty-year-old Catherine Grace Zeh is a high functioning individual with autism. A graduate of Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA, in June 2000, Zeh loves working with computers. In fact, she just loves working. She dreams of returning to work in an office where she can utilize her computer skills and general administrative skills. Her software experience includes working with Data Entry Speed 8000 KPH, Microsoft Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint and CPC 700 Closed Captioning Software. She enjoys filing, web researching and perhaps captioning once again. She was a Closed Captioning Editor from July 2000 to December 2000, for Fairfax County Public Schools, Chapel Square Center, Annandale, VA. She did transcription from audio and written scripts. However, she does not want to do captioning full time “Captioning full time is tedious and tiring because your fingers are moving all the time,” she says.

Returning to the orbiTouch she says, “The orbiTouch can be used by people who caption. After 30minutes of captioning, especially in real-time, your fingers are awfully tired, and your back aches,” says Zeh.

Zeh’s typing speed is 50 words per minute. With the orbiTouch it is 30. With more usage, she believes she can reach 40. Aware of repetitive stress injuries resulting from too much typing, she believes the orbiTouch can reduce injuries because, “there is no finger and wrist motion.” Zeh says it took her five hours to learn to use the orbiTouch to where she was typing more than 20 words per minute. Some people with autism have an ability to memorize songs, dates, facts and other information that they can recall instantly. According to Zeh, initially sitting in front of a computer for about two hours with the combinations chart in front of her, she memorized about 60% of the combinations of movements. She believes she knows more than 75% of the letter combinations and half of the other combinations.

“I have the ability to work and want very much to work full time,” says Zeh who is determined to succeed. One of her immediate goals is to work fulltime so she can travel to Europe soon with family or friends. Her burning desire is to visit Italy where she can see all the wonderful sights of Rome and ride on the canals of Venice. Working sporadically, Zeh feels as though her abilities are being wasted. She is looking for a full time job. After dozens of interviews without success, she is optimistic she will find one. She is certain the orbiTouch will play an important role in her career.

Her one wish for the orbiTouch is, “I would like to see a smaller version,” she says. By smaller she means a thumbs version. She thinks a smaller version will attract more people with autism to become users because using their thumbs will hold their attention.

She has told her friends about the orbiTouch and believes it can play educational, recreational and career roles in the lives of people with autism. Zeh, who weighs her words carefully before speaking says, “The orbiTouch gives individuals with autism a voice in the information technology field.” Zeh adds, “The orbiTouch is a communications tool. Since it can enhance my communications, it can help other people with autism to communicate.”

OrbiTouch and Wounded Veterans

The induction of Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry on Wednesday got me thinking about orbiTouch’s involvement with the military. SFC Petry knows the true meaning of sacrifice–he lost his hand in Pakyta, Afghanistan, after saving two fellow Army Rangers from a live enemy grenade.  While Petry’s actions are nothing short of heroic, his life will be irrevocably changed as he learns to assimilate to life using a prosthesis.

SFC Petry, along with thousands of other military veterans who now use a prosthesis, must learn how to acclimate to a new life where keyboard use is intrinsically different. Products like orbiTouch aim to address this difference.

A couple of months ago, we sent one of our orbiTouch units to Ft. Bliss, Texas, so the staff operating the Warrior Transition Unit could evaluate our product.  Here’s what SSG Roy Havens, Squad Leader to assist Wounded Warriors, had to say:

“Given the nature of our Wounded Warriors transitioning through the Warrior Transition Battalion here in Fort Bliss Texas, the OrbiTouch is a useful asset to Soldiers with debilitative arm and hand injuries and motor functions.”

We were thrilled by this early positive feedback.

Because in a digital age, the inability to use a computer is synonymous with losing your voice. orbiTouch is a tool that can open up immense possibilities for those transitioning to post-military life.

Just think about job search, for instance. Writing resumes, researching prospective employers, composing emails, and networking through Facebook and LinkedIn are all things that can be done using orbiTouch.  If using a standard keyboard is difficult for you because you have limited hand mobility, orbiTouch may be the answer for you.

The kind of feedback we received from Ft. Bliss is crucial to making this product the best it can be. IIf you are a military veteran or organization, and would like to try orbiTouch for free, please email elizabeth@orbiTouch.com or find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/orbitouch

Two domes. One mission. Independence.

With the July 4th holiday weekend fast approaching, one’s mind almost can’t help but turn to the issue of independence.  Of course, Americans celebrate Independence Day as an homage to our forefathers who fought for freedom from what they deemed an oppressive government.  But when talking about what we do in the assistive technology realm, the term independence takes on an entirely new meaning.  For a person with a disability, he or she isn’t fighting against an unfair political system, but rather overcoming his or her personal physical or mental challenges.

Independence in this context represents the ability to be self-reliant, to have the freedom to do everything and anything you please.  You are the controller of your own destiny.  You may succeed.  You may fail.  But the point is you have the ability to live your life on your own terms.

Independence and the ability to communicate is at the center of why we do what we do.  We live in a digital age where if you aren’t online, you can’t join the conversation.  You feel isolated, frustrated, and alone.  Other people can communicate, share thoughts and feelings, and build connections.  For example, if I am a wounded veteran with a permanent hand injury who has just returned from Afghanistan, and I want to connect with old friends and family members, I can’t because my disability precludes me from doing so.  I can’t use all of these platforms (social media, email, etc.) that are highly integrated into how people nowadays communicate with one another. If quality of life is determined by the strength of your social connections, then the inability to connect with others is devastating.

This is why we designed an alternative to the standard keyboard.  If normal keyboard use is not an option for you because you have limited mobility in your hands, orbiTouch could be a great alternative for you.  It gives you the chance to communicate using a computer.  And in the digital age, almost nothing is as important as the ability to share ideas.

We recently came up with a new slogan for our orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard.  It is:  “Two domes.  One mission.  Independence.” We hope this communicates how this product works and the power this it has to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

We’re not saying to give orbiTouch a try because it’s different or it will increase your typing speed, but because it represents the ability to express your personal thoughts and opinions, whatever they may be, despite physical and mental challenges.  You have the unalienable right to be your own person, and if we can give you the tools to do so, then we’ve done our job right.

OrbiTouch to donate arcade game to Easter Seals Camp Challenge

ORLANDO, FLORIDA–OrbiTouch will donate an arcade game equipped with an orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard and the highly popular Bubbles Blaster tutorial software to Camp Challenge, a summer camp for children and adults for special needs directed by Easter Seals of Central Florida.

“We are really excited about this,” says Director of Social Media Elizabeth Rissman. “We think combining the appeal of arcade games with the communicating power of orbiTouch will be a hit with the campers.  Easter Seals’ Camp Challenge is a place where kids with disabilities can play outdoors in a stigma-free setting, and we hope the addition of an arcade cabinet will add to the fun.”

Arcade games like Pac-Man, Galaga, and Centipede got their start in the early 1980s, but orbiTouch has given this fun pastime a new twist by adding an orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard to the control panel so campers can play the child-friendly Bubble Blaster game, which teaches typing with orbiTouch.

OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard is an ergonomic keyboard that requires no hand or wrist motion to operate.  It helps those who experience limited mobility their hands, such as individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, autism, low vision or blindness, and an array of other physiological and cognitive challenges.  For people who experience discomfort when using standard keyboards, the orbiTouch is a great alternative.

The OrbiTouch arcade game is the first of its kind, and will primarily be used during registration on the first day of camp.  Camp sessions are one week long with starting dates on June 12, June 19, June 26, and July 3.  For more information on Camp Challenge, please visit the Camp Challenge Official Website