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People with disabilities getting new devices

June 22, 1999

Western Maryland Hospital CenterBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




In 1987, James Barnett suffered a stroke that left him speechless. Last week, he found a voice at his fingertips.

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In the Patient Resource Center at the Western Maryland Hospital Center on June 16, the 47-year-old Walnut Towers resident practiced pecking at the keyboard of the text-based telephone, or TTY.

How has the small communications device changed Barnett's life?

"I can talk to people now," he typed.

Barnett is one of the many people with disabilities in Washington County who will benefit from a variety of life-improving technologies made available by a fledgling partnership between three Hagerstown-based county organizations.

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The hospital center recently joined forces with nonprofits MIHI, Inc.- Many Individuals Helping Individuals- and the Corporation for Assistive Technology (CAT) to form the Western Maryland Assistive Technology Link.

"The Link" will utilize each agency's assets to offer people with disabilities greater independence, said N. Linn Hendershot, public relations director at Western Maryland Hospital Center.

"We wanted to recognize that there are people who have needs for devices that aren't available to them- mostly due to finances," said Bill Beard, executive director of MIHI and CAT.

MIHI's connection to The Link was forged on June 16, Beard said.

County citizens can apply for funds through the organization's new Assistive Technology Revolving Loan Program, he said.

After health professionals evaluate applicant needs during monthly clinics at the hospital center, MIHI will fund appropriate equipment, when feasible, based upon financial need, Beard said.

Next, people who qualify for the program will visit the soon-to-open Assistive Technology Demonstration Center at the hospital center, Hendershot said.

Funded by a $5,000 grant from the Washington County Gaming Commission and stocked by CAT, the high-tech demonstration center will feature a variety of current electronic equipment, he said.

Equipment featured will include computers with infrared keyboards, X10 devices, state-of-the-art wheelchairs and TTYs, Hendershot said.

He said much of the technology isn't brand new and wasn't developed specifically for people with disabilities, but "will allow the disabled to be independent in their own particular settings."

Cheryl Lucado found freedom in the form of a remote control.

Lucado, 40, a Western Maryland Hospital Center patient, said she was paralyzed from the neck down after being struck by a car when she was 24. She breathes with the aid of a ventilator, and can move only the muscles in her face.

Lucado loves to watch soap operas, she said.

The recent provision of a specialized remote control that she operates with her chin allows Lucado to change the television channels and run her VCR without having to ask for help.

Such small victories effect "an absolute dramatic change in attitudes," Hendershot said.

"Think of how frustrating it must be not to be able to do the things most people take for granted," he said. "How angry you would be to always have to ask for help."

Assistive technological devices can help people with severe disabilities "regain their dignity," Hendershot said.

The computerized X10 device, which allows the user to control his or her environment through a number of switches or voice activated commands, will dramatically affect users' quality of life, he said.

Computers can be modified to suit the varying needs of people with disabilities, Hendershot said.

Head bands that house infrared beams can serve as mouse drivers for people with upper limb immobility, and magnified font sizes can aid vision-impaired users, he said.

MIHI will deliver ordered equipment to the demonstration center, where recipients will return to learn how to use their new devices, Hendershot said.

The possibilities are endless, but depend upon funding, he said.

"If we need $15,000 to $20,000 for a piece of equipment, we will try to find the resources," Hendershot said. "Sometimes the impossible takes a little longer."

For further information on The Link, contact either Bill Beard at 301-745-MIHI or Linn Hendershot at 301-791-4400.

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