All posts tagged Autism

ATiA Orlando 2012

Assistive Technology Industry Association’s semi-annual conference is coming to Orlando next week, and we here at orbiTouch couldn’t be more excited. ATiA Conferences are like the Superbowl in the assistive technology industry, except they happen twice a year, once in Orlando and once in Chicago. We heard great things about the ATiA Chicago conference back in November, and we can’t wait to see what they bring to Orlando.

With over 100 exhibitors and a jam packed schedule of presenters, we know this year’s conference brings great things. With so many respected industry professionals speaking, it’s difficult to plan your day, so we picked two of the sessions we are most looking forward to. Unfortunately, they are both at the same time–Thursday, January 26 from 8:00-9:00 AM, but make sure you send representatives to each.

“AT year in review: 2011’s Hits/Misses Cliffs Notes Style” 

Michele Paley, Enablemart

With so many emerging AT products, it’s difficult to know which ones really help and which ones are just fads. Michele Paley, Product Manager for Enablemart, a leading reseller of assistive technology (including orbiTouch), knows first hand. Ms.Paley will address how to determine the efficacy of new technologies on a user by user basis. We know she will do an incredible job and look forward to hearing about her product experiences.

“Accommodating Individuals with Limited Dexterity: Common Workplace Situations and Solutions”

Elizabeth Simpson and Teresa Goddard, Job Accommodation Network

Multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, prosthesis, hand and wrist injuries, carpal tunnel: All of these conditions produce limited dexterity and pose multiple challenges is at work. While employers initially balk at outfitting workspaces for persons with special needs because they think it will be too expensive, top leadership of multi-national companies such as Marriott tell us otherwise.

Elisabeth Simpson and Teresa Goddard of Job Accomodation Network (JAN),  the prevailing experts on disability employment, will illuminate the issues individuals with limited dexterity encounter in the workplace. Ms. Simpson and Ms. Goddard will show us actual workplace accommodations JAN has used to improve special needs employability.  We at orbiTouch are knowledgable about the ramifications limited dexterity has on typing and computer interface, but we are eager to learn about other issues individuals who have limited use of their hands face in the workplace and how to use assistive tech to overcome these challenges.

Interested? Check out the ATiA Orlando 2012 Official Website and download Conference Schedule for more information. If you are attending the conference and would like to meet up, give us a shoutout on Twitter or Facebook. Hope to see you there!

OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard: Breaking Barriers

The following is an excerpt from an guest blog post featured on the special education technology blog Teaching All Students that follows the orbiTouch experience of a young man and his mother. A big thanks to Patrick Black, blog creator, for featuring us!

Devin Spangler was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when he was 7 years old. When you sit down with Devin, now 13, it is evident he is an articulate and bright young man. In fact, he speaks more clearly and cogently than many adults. However, according to his mother Allie, self-expression hasn’t always been easy. 

Only years earlier, completing school work was a daily battle. Devin became increasingly reluctant to handwrite school assignments because his hands would fatigue quickly. Standard keyboards didn’t go over much better–their QWERTY layout seemingly had no order, something individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder crave. OrbiTouch helped him break through communication barriers. This is Allie and Devin Spangler’s orbiTouch story. 

Questions For Devin:

Which features about orbiTouch did you like best? For example, alphabetical order, corresponding colors with characters, comfortable design, etc.?

Well, personally my favorites, or my top three favorites, are alphabetical order, comfortable design, and I love the mouse. The fact that it has a mouse in it. It just makes it less cluttered. You have a desk and an orbiTouch. It makes it easier to have it all there.

Did using orbiTouch make typing more comfortable?

I think using the orbiTouch actually led me into typing more. Now, I’m writing five paragraph essays and the whole nine yards.

Before orbiTouch, when you would sit down at a computer, what kind of feelings did you experience? After using orbiTouch?

Well, before the orbiTouch, I would experience the feeling of discomfort, unhappiness. It was very tedious, like math. After the orbiTouch, it was better. I felt a little more comfortable approaching a keyboard, because I knew how it really worked, the basics of typing. The keyless keyboard led me into typing.

Questions For Allie: 

Did you see Devin change the way he viewed computer use after using orbiTouch? What kind of emotions, as a parent, did you experience?

Absolutely, I did. I immediately saw that spark and that love of learning come back. Because we were getting to the point where he was losing that zest for learning because it was becoming so tedious, having to sit there and type on a keyboard. Physically writing is very difficult for him. It still is til this day.

He has low muscle tone in his fingers so when he writes, everything gets tired. And it’s painful. It gets up all the way up into his shoulders. So we had to find an alternative. His first grade teacher was fantastic. She was open to allowing him to use different forms of technology in the classroom.

For the entirety of this article, please visit

Blue Orb awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Multi-year award will help provide online entrepreneurial opportunities to persons with disabilities.

MAITLAND, FLORIDA–Blue Orb, Inc., parent company of the assistive technology keyboard orbiTouch, was awarded a three year Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation in partnership with Central Florida Disability Chamber of Commerce. This grant focuses on providing persons with disabilities an opportunity to independently develop their own ideas as entrepreneurs. Service-disabled veterans also fall into the scope of this project.

The goal of the most recent NSF grant is to develop an online environment that allows persons with disabilities to participate more fully in the process of becoming and being an entrepreneur.

In addition to providing individuals with disabilities a tool set to improve and enhance entrepreneurship among them, the proposed collaborative environment will be a very powerful research tool to test hypotheses about the cognitive, affective, and inter-personal constructs and mechanisms involved in entrepreneurship and among persons with disabilities.

This is the second grant awarded to Blue Orb. In 2008, Blue Orb received a grant dedicated to studying communication constructs of children with autism and developing a program using assistive technology to compliment lesson plans and help children with autism achieve higher in school. This initiative, called Project Blue Skies, proved successful in helping autistic children communicate their thoughts more clearly, leading to better student-teacher understanding and higher grades.

Director of Social Media Elizabeth Rissman commented, “This endeavor will promote learning and independence among persons with special needs who want to start their own businesses. Individuals with disabilities are highly underrepresented in the national workforce, and programs like these will hopefully alleviate some of the challenges they regularly encounter.”

Blue Orb invites people with special needs to participate in this exciting program. If you or a friend or family member could benefit from this initiative, please contact

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.

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.”

The Importance of Autism Advocacy

During the recording of our first video blog focused on the applications of orbiTouch with autistic individuals, I was reminded of the importance of Autism advocacy.

Autism is a relatively new addition to the sphere of disease awareness. Beforehand, Autistic children and adults, most of them undiagnosed, were just thought of as eccentric, strange, or just weird overall. I think about how frustrating it must’ve been for Autistic individuals back then, and even now, in understanding their behaviors. In a society where conformity is king, many of these people must have asked themselves, “Why can’t I just be like everybody else?”

I could tell you that it is our unique differences that make life interesting (which ultimately, I do think is true), but try telling that to a person who has to live with the ramifications of being different every day. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have the gall to tell another person how they’re feeling.

It has been very recently—within the past 15 years particularly—this condition has started to receive the recognition it deserves. In fact, many people believe Autism numbers have been on the rise due to environmental factors, but according to a recent article on, it is more likely researchers and doctors are just more adept in diagnosing this incredibly misunderstood cognitive and behavioral challenge.

It is evident that this condition must be further researched to be fully understood. In the meantime, we must have compassion as we learn more about this complex condition. We might not know for certain the causes of Autism, but hopefully with the right research and advocates, we someday will.

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.