Accessible Computing: The worldwide imperative and a challenge to do more

image Next week I travel to Mexico City, Mexico, where I will deliver a keynote address at a conference called Oritel.  Oritel is just one of a series of conferences and events sponsored throughout the year by an organization known as Teleton.  Teleton was started in 1978 by a popular Chilean television personality, Don Francisco.  It was his desire to raise funds to help rehabilitate children and young persons who are born with disabilities.  Since then, the Teleton organization has grown substantially and today it is dedicated to helping people with disabilities across all of Latin America.

The Oritel conference, August 14th to 16th, brings together more than 2500 medical professionals to learn how technology can be applied to improve the lives of people with disabilities.  Participants will include physicians, occupational medicine specialists, physical therapists, speech therapists, and psychologists.  My keynote will focus on innovative "assistive" technology solutions that can help make computing more accessible to everyone.

image In every developed and developing nation, there is a growing need to make computing more accessible.  With nearly 75 percent of US workers now classified as "knowledge workers", the  computer has become an essential tool in the workplace.  As we age, our ability to use a computer is often compromised by poor vision, hearing, cognition, or various skeletal or neuromuscular disorders.  In fact, by the time we reach our mid-forties more than 60 percent of us may be challenged by an impairment of one kind or another making use of a computer more difficult.  Add to this the number of people who are born with disabilities that limit computer use, and you can see why assistive technology is so important if we are to keep people productive and fully capable of doing meaningful work throughout their lifetime.

My Oritel keynote will focus on both assistive technology that is built into computer operating systems such as Windows Vista, as well as customized software and hardware solutions that can help people with more severe impairments.  Many people are surprised to learn of the assistive technology tools available in Windows Vista.  Those tools can be found in the Ease of Access center that appears on the start-up screen or in the control panel of Windows.  Around the time of the launch of Windows Vista I profiled some of these features including Narrator and Windows Speech Recognition in a special two part video for my House Calls series.  Just click on bold links to see either of those programs.

image At the Oritel conference, I will also be showing a heart warming video from one of our partners, Tobii.  Tobii was the recipient of an Ingenuity Point Contest award in 2007.  They offer an amazing eye-tracking solution for patients with cerebral palsy or other neuromuscular disorders that prevent  computer screen navigation or data entry with a traditional keyboard and mouse.  You can see how this technology dramatically changes lives by watching the video below.

I hope to see some of you next week at Oritel!

Bill Crounse, MD   Senior Director,Worldwide Health    Microsoft Corporation

Technorati tags: accessible computing, assistive technology, Windows Vista, Oritel, Teleton, Latin America, Mexico, disabilities, Tobii, speech recognition, Microsoft, enable