BY RAYNALD C RIVERA
DOHA: People should take advantage of advancements in technology to enable the disabled to communicate and engage with the society, this was underscored at a masterclass organised by Mada (Qatar Assistive Technology Center) yesterday at Four Seasons Hotel Doha.
Mada’s second event of the series this year, the masterclass provided parents, caregivers, therapists and special needs education coordinators best practices and future trends in the ever advancing field of assistive technology.
With the theme ‘Giving Disabled People A Voice Through Technology’, the event brought experts in the field of assistive technology to particularly talk about the latest gadgets and applications to give the disabled more access to communication.
“The past few years have seen revolution in the way people communicate through new technology. For people with disability, the same revolution is taking place enabling them to communicate in ways not possible 25 years ago,” said David Banes (pictured), CEO of Mada.
Mada has been intensifying its efforts to develop new technology and increase its use through various projects, the latest of which was the Mada Reader Writer, a revolutionary solution for Arabic-speaking learners with dyslexia, which was launched on Wednesday.
The Arabic product comprises “reader,” a simple text to speech utility and “writer,” which predicts words as when typed. Together, they form a significant contribution to assisting those who struggle with reading and writing throughout the Arabic speaking world.
Giving an introduction to the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) technology, Ohood Al Sheeb, Head of Training Services at Mada stressed the goal of AAC is not to find technology solution to difficulty in communication but to enable the individual to efficiently and effectively engage in the community.
Paul Hawes, Managing Director, Sensory Software International, who collaborated with Mada in creating for the newly launched Mada Reader Writer, discussed the evolution of AAC technology from the Vistel Telephone Terminal for Deaf people, IBM talking typewriter and speech synthesiser to the first laptops and tablets and The Grid 2 which does various tasks making it easier for those with cognitive and physical challenges to communicated and Eye Gaze, which works for those who cannot use switches by monitoring eye gaze.
Gesture and bio-feedback systems and direct brain control are some AAC technologies to look forward in the future, mentioned Hawes.
“Technology will continue to advance, witnessing smaller devices such as wearable computers and other less obtrusive hardware. We will look at developing and harnessing them especially for people with severe disabilities,” he added.
Bryan Boyle, Head of Mada Resource Center, said the inexpensive and accessible iPad along with Android tablets have revolutionised communication for all including the disabled. He enumerated the many useful iPad Apps available for the disabled to use such as iConverse, MyTalk, Proloquo2go, iCommunicate, I Can Speak, Tap to Talk and Go Talk Now.
Communication has now become affordable and AAC has become attractive, and people with disability now have more choices as systems available have increased exponentially in recent times.
“We have to exploit what is available in the market. We are in a position to take advantage these to make communication available for those with disability,” he ended.