The wireless explosion has made cell phones, personal digital assistants, and other devices ubiquitous and has changed the way people communicate and work. It also offers the possibility of changing the lives of disabled people, by helping them overcome or cope with their impairments. The 25 researchers at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Mobile Wireless Technologies for Persons with Disabilities at the Georgia Institute of Technology have made it their mission to realize that possibility. The center is designing wireless aids that target a variety of disabilities, including mobility, vision, and hearing impairments. The researchers use off-the-shelf components to build these systems “so that they’re affordable and available,” says John Peifer, the center’s codirector. The center is also trying to influence wireless-device manufacturers to make their existing products more accessible to people with disabilities and to adopt new applications with the needs of the disabled in mind. “Mobile wireless is going to be a big part of the future. There’s a concern that people with disabilities would be left out,” says Peifer. He and his colleagues showed Technology Review associate editor Corie Lok a few of their prototypes.
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