All posts in Assistive Technology

OrbiTouch: Social Media and the Next Generation of Advocacy

It’s no secret: Here at orbiTouch, we are huge advocates for providing communication technology to individuals with special needs.  We try to do our part by raising awareness through our business, but getting involved with a worthy cause—whether it is disability related or not—is easier than ever.

In the past, there was no other option besides picking up a sign and picketing the front lines if you wanted to be heard.  Nowadays, in the advent of social media ubiquity, it’s as easy as clicking the “Like” button.

Social media advocacy campaigns are often criticized because of the little effort they require.  Naysayers claim participating in social media to promote a cause is an extension of Gen Y’s ambivalence towards charity work.  In fact, the term “slacktivism” has been recently popularized, describing the tendency to half-heartedly interact with a cause online rather than actually volunteering or donating.

However, the slacktivism argument, in my opinion, is a short sighted.  Social media is a great way to engage people on a non-invasive level.  It’s the first rung on the ladder of engagement.  First, you get people’s attention through social media.  Then, you compel them to take the next step, whether it is signing a petition, volunteering, or donating.

In a recent article on Mashable.com, Ben Rattray, the founder of Change.org (i.e. the organization responsible for the successful viral Internet campaign for President Barack Obama), says, “The goal here is social change, it’s not to make things difficult. It may be really difficult to go protest in person, but it might be more effective to mobilize a hundred other people using the web to simultaneously send letters to a single target.”

As I said, orbiTouch’s main focus is providing means of communication for people with disabilities, and social media has been a great way for us to reach out to new groups.  A couple of months ago when I started doing social media on behalf of orbiTouch, I found the Warrior Transition Battalion in Ft. Bliss, Texas, a center that teaches disabled veterans computer skills, through a Facebook group interested in helping wounded soldiers.  I thought their program was a great fit for our company, and after exchanging Facebook posts and emails, our company ended up donating an orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard for them to try out.  I have since learned that there is a sizable population of wounded veterans stationed in Ft.Bliss who now have access to this technology and are already having success with using our keyboard.  If we hadn’t been able to start the conversation through a mutual interest Facebook group, we probably would never have crossed paths.

So, how do you get involved?  That’s up to you.  If you are interested in working with special needs or wounded veteran groups, please visit our Facebook page,http://www.facebook.com/orbitouch, for information on accessing a variety of worthy causes.

Transformations: Using technology to unlock the special needs user

Earlier this week, I came across a video that told the story of Carly Fleishmann, a non-verbal autistic teen. Despite intensive therapy with her parents and therapists, it was obvious that Carly was lost in her own world, unable to communicate with those around her even with hang signals because she was prone to flailing and tantrums. But those closest to her never abandoned the belief “there was something else there.”

“When you look in Carly’s eyes, you see an innate intelligence. So we never gave up,” says her father, Arthur Fleishmann.

In the course of one day, Carly’s life changed forever. Carly, age 11 at the time, ran to the family laptop in desperation and typed H-E-L-P. Her family and therapists were astonished. Carly had never directly communicated with anyone before, and they had never thought to use a computer. Several months later, she was using the computer to communicate with others.

“She started to realize that by communicating, she had power over her environment,” says one of her therapists.

Carly used the computer to communicate her wants and needs, but also to illuminate causes of high autistic behavior. For example, enigmatic behaviors such as head banging are prevalent because, as Carly explains, “If I don’t do them, I feel like I might explode. I create output to block out input.”

Carly, though still non-verbal, now blogs and uses social media services such as Twitter to tell her story. She is now happier, calmer, and more independent. The transformation, in the eyes of her parents, has been nothing short of profound.

This video, in its essence, has broader applications to the disability community–the importance of technology. That transformational “Aha” moment when communication becomes fluid and attainable. The impact is enormous.

When you have a condition that limits communication, it is physically dangerous to the disabled individual because they cannot express distress. It is also very emotionally isolating. Misconceptions of disabled people normally arise because they cannot correct their critics.

Sean Grassley, a man living with cerebral palsy, knew this feeling all too well. Sean Grassley typed his name for the first time at 35 years old with help from orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard. Before hand, ignorant case workers had referred to Sean as a “dummy” because his cerebral palsy made it difficult to communicate his thoughts and feelings. He later used orbiTouch to type, “I did it. I am not a dummy.”

Often, there is a disconnect between the person and their disability. The disability is an aspect of their life, but it’s not who they are. As we see with Carly and Sean, their mental capacity mismatches their physical capacity. Their minds are completely in tact–it’s their body that doesn’t cooperate.

Persons with disabilities often describe their disability as being “trapped inside their own body.” We are finding that technology, however, is a way to free oneself from a lifetime of silence. The key to unlocking mysteries that have baffled scientists and caregivers alike lies with the devices and gadgets created today. The human mind and body are infinitely complex, but with the right tools, we can help alleviate the weight that silence brings.