Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Trip

Yesterday I brought some people to tag along on a field trip organized by a grad student who is starting a student group to develop low-cost assistive technologies for the disabled. The plan is to have clever people at MIT come up with interesting ways to have the disabled use iPod Touches or Android phones or tablet computers to control their environment.

So yesterday we went to visit the Leonard Florence Center, a nursing home that is home both to the elderly as well as to people with ALS, MS, etc. We went on a tour led by a guy with ALS who can only control his head and who relies on the Dasher software to communicate and other software to navigate his wheelchair.

In the earlier stages of his disease, he played an instrumental role in developing the assistive technology at the center. They have a server that controls all the doors, window shades, elevators, temperature control, etc., and the residents have web-based clients on mobile devices that allow them to control their environment even if they lack dexterity.

Whenever I think of ALS, I think of some completely non-PC quips that we make in my immediate family about my childhood dentist who has (had? not sure if he's still alive) ALS. One is about the quality of our dental work. And the other is about amalgam fillings -- if mercury were really so bad for you, wouldn't dentists be having neurological problems?