HEATHER NEWMAN: Gadgets for disabled folks gain kudos

September 5, 2002
BY HEATHER NEWMAN
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Technology at its best expands the world of things folks can do, be, learn and see. That's especially true for people with physical disabilities, where tech takes up the slack.

New products on the market range from an eye- and forehead-controlled mouse for quadriplegics to an all-terrain, single-passenger golf cart that helps drivers play without leaving their seat.

The companies that produce those gadgets and five others that aid folks with limited mobility will be given awards at the annual Dinner with da Vinci in Dearborn this month. The awards, presented by the Michigan chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Engineering Society, are due to be announced today.

Patricia McDonald, MS chapter president, says the organization wants to reward companies that make products people of all physical abilities can use. "Their innovations have opened up opportunities and worlds for many individuals facing obstacles in their daily living."

Carmakers show interest

Ford Motor Co. sponsors the dinner and the awards. General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG also contributed, which makes it no surprise that two of the awards are going to companies that work in transportation technology.

Delphi Corp. of Troy is recognized for its power liftgate, now offered as an option on the Lincoln Navigator. It's an automatic rear door that can be triggered by an interior switch or a keyless entry fob, and it means folks who need to load or unload wheelchairs or other large items don't have to wrestle with opening a big door.

Solorider Industries Inc. of Englewood, Colo., designed that nifty golf cart. Unlike other single-person carts, which tend to be scooters with a golf cart body grafted on top, the AteeA33 Single-Rider Golf Cart is specifically designed to handle the hills, divots and roughs of a standard golf course.

Once at the tee, the cart's seat swivels, unfolds and lifts to allow the driver to use a near-normal stroke from the back or side of the cart while being fully supported. Golf course owners like it because it's light, about 7 pounds per square inch.

More help for users

In other award categories, Brain Actuated Technologies of Yellow Springs, Ohio, won for its Cyberlink Controller, which allows quadriplegics and others with limited hand mobility to use a mouse, software and video games hands-free. It tracks eye, eyebrow and jaw movements and translates them to moves on screen. Advanced users can control the software by controlling brain waves.

Lift Aid Inc. of Wixom won for the Lift Aid 2000, an easy-to-assemble motorized sling that lifts people around a room, a boon for folks who don't want to call a caregiver to get from a bed to a wheelchair.

Crosstrainers Fitness Forum won for commercial or public facility for its all-abilities health and fitness center in Clinton Township. It's a gym designed to let folks with disabilities, including those using wheelchairs or scooters, work out with other patrons.

Hiawatha Island Software Company Inc. of Concord, N.H., won for its work on software that helps Web designers make their sites work better with programs that assist people with vision impairments, and Uro Solutions Inc. of Orlando won for the UroCycler, a valve that makes catheters in the bladder work more like natural human processes.

Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336, newman@freepress.com or www.freep.com/tech.