Frank uses a Touch Talker to communicate. The box, the size of a lap-top computer, provides the words he can no longer speak himself and reopens the door to verbal communication. He no longer has to point at pictures in a book. He can even use the telephone.
Technology is improving the lives of thousands of Utahns with disabilities. And the Easter Seal Society of Utah can play an important role in making technology available, according to Steven McVey, director of the society's Assistive Technology Programs.Three programs operate under a single umbrella, the Utah Technology Assistance Helps (UTAH) program. All three UTAH programs provide techology-related services to people with disabilities, McVey said.
"We loan out equipment temporarily while people who have disabilities are trying to acquire their own or have it repaired," he said. "They can borrow items for up to six months - and another six months if they're really trying to get their own."
Devices like wheelchairs and other implements that simplify life for people with disabilities are also loaned out through the independent living centers in Price, Salt Lake City and Logan by the society.
Project Tech helps disabled people assess what types of technology are available and how to get it. For instance, someone who becomes blind in an accident may still be able to perform his computer job, with some training and special equipment. Clients pay for the equipment, although some help is available through a fund from donations. That fund is "pretty depleted," he said.
"We deal with things like the Touch Talker, worksite modification and home modification," McVey said. "There's a lot that can be done. The Easter Seal Society of Utah works closely with IBM to help people get computers. Through the society, certain IBM computers are available to people with disabilities at substantial discounts."
Computers offer three special, adaptive devices that help people with disabilities. The Speech Viewer is a software program so that people with speech problems or those with hearing impairments can see their speech patterns and work on correcting problems. Screen Reader reads whatever's on the screen aloud for people with vision limitations. Phone Communicator turns a computer into a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD), so that anyone using a touch-tone telephone can communicate with someone who is deaf by telephone.
"UTAH's very new although we had some of the services. It was just kind of piecemeal and we've expanded a lot," McVey said. "We're now serving quite a few people and we've been swamped with requests. We try to process applications as fast as we can.
"We do what we can to help people out. And if they can't afford it and we have the funds available and can do it, we do."
For more information on UTAH, call Easter Seal Society of Utah at 531-0522. The TDD number for hearing-impaired people is 531-9372.