A computer mouse for the foot? An electronic system that keeps a wheelchair user from getting into an accident? A mobile math dictionary that uses sign language and "morphemes"?
These futuristic-sounding creations are now closer to reality. With $75,000 in grants this month by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, small businesses are developing these and several other new forms of assistive technology for children and adults with disabilities.
(These grants are separate of the State Grants for Assistive Technology program which is intended to get assistive technology in the hands of individuals.)
The NIDRR, which is under the umbrella of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, awarded the grants specifically to prompt companies to research and develop technology that makes life and learning easier for people with disabilities.
This grant program has two parts. After these initial grants, which are intended for six months of work and are used to decide how realistic these ideas are, there will be a second round of grants worth up to $500,000 for two more years of work to further test and develop them.
"These projects are designed to help people with disabilities maximize their job productivity and economic self-sufficiency," said Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, in a statement. "This is the first step of research and development in several areas that will enhance independent living and employment for individuals with disabilities."
These are some of the projects in the works:
• A remote schedule management and monitoring system to support personal scheduling for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities;
• An interface that would make Facebook accessible for people with intellectual disabilities;
• A computer mouse that could be controlled by foot;
• An automatic accident prevention system for wheelchair users;
• A mobile signing math dictionary that uses morphemes for the deaf and hard of hearing. (Morphemes, I now know, are the smallest meaningful unit in the grammar of a language. So unladylike would have three morphemes: un, lady, and like.);
• New web-accessibility technology that would make the web more user friendly for people with visual impairments.