All posts tagged Special Needs

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 elizabeth@orbiTouch.com

OrbiTouch to release new products

MAITLAND, FLORIDA–OrbiTouch, makers of the original keyless keyboard, are known for innovative design in assistive technology. We are extremely excited to announce the availability of two new products:  orbiTouch Wireless and orbiTouch for tablets. These products will be available first quarter of 2012.

OrbiTouch Wireless

OrbiTouch Wireless resembles it’s predecessor, the original orbiTouch, on all levels except one–we’ve eliminated the cord. Through listening to customer feedback, we’ve been able to create an orbiTouch that is wireless, efficient, and powerful.  orbiTouch Wireless is battery powered and works with a wireless USB receiver.

Benefits of orbiTouch wireless

Increased flexibility and mobility: Users are no longer confined to cord length.  The new orbiTouch wireless can even be mounted onto a wheelchair.

Increased comfort:  Not only does orbiTouch’s unique design take the pain out of typing, but the user can now recline in their favorite chair and use a computer comfortably from anywhere in the room.

OrbiTouch for Tablets

Within recent years, tablets from Apple and Motorola have increased in popularity due to their convenient size and practicality.  To adapt to growing consumer demand, orbiTouch has developed software that allows the consumer to use orbiTouch typing on their tablet screen.

Once the software is downloaded onto the tablet, typing is accomplished by using thumbs on the far left and right sides of the tablet screen and moving them in the same direction combinations as with the original orbiTouch. Because this typing method requires the user to use only their thumbs, one never has to put the tablet down to type.  He or she can hold their tablet in their hands at all times, which makes surfing the web and note taking easier than ever.  An orbiTouch application for Android will be debuted first, followed by an iPad application in the second quarter of 2012.

By specializing in products that make technology more accessible and user-friendly for all, orbiTouch has been able to help persons with disabilities become more connected, productive, and engaged.  We hope by offering alternatives to the standard keyboard, more people will have access to technology and hopefully, a better quality of life.

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: 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?

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

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.