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Disabled people, computers to click at the main library

Capabilities of two new work stations will be demonstrated today for people with visual, mobility or reading impairments.

By LAURA HEINAUER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Just being able to use a mouse or read a screen is enough for most people to participate in today's computer revolution.

But for people like Ted Henter, who has been legally blind for 22 years, and Wally Dutcher, who has been a quadriplegic for 44 years, getting connected to the rest of the world through computers has been a little more difficult.

That is why both men have spent the better part of their adult lives building devices that help disabled people and why today, the 10th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, they will demonstrate the enhanced capabilities of two new computer work stations at the St. Petersburg Public Library at 4 p.m.

"These advancements take what a library should be, in theory, and makes it accessible for all citizens," Henter said. "I see it as a big step toward integrating the disabled into St. Petersburg society."

The demonstration is titled "Accent on Access" and scheduled to be held in the auditorium of the Main Library, 3645 Ninth Ave. N. It will show off the work stations' enhanced software and hardware for blind or visually impaired individuals, people with mobility impairments, or people with reading disabilities. City officials will also be on hand to acknowledge the contributions of the Committee to Advocate for Persons with Impairments in researching and funding the $21,000 project.

Dutcher, who is also the CAPI chairman and one of the designers for the project, said the library's two new Pentium III computers have adjustable height tables for people in wheelchairs; a Kensington Trackball, which can be used like a mouse by people without much hand mobility; a large keyboard, which includes 1-inch key pads and keyboard overlays to allow people with spastic disabilities to type; and software to help people who have difficulty holding down more than one key at a time to use command functions or type capital letters.

Because they are in a library, the new work stations will not have all of the tools they need to be useful for people who have lost total mobility, Dutcher said. Voice recognition devices and other hardware were either too expensive or not conducive to a library setting, he said.

"There is a certain limit to what you can do in a library," he said. "It's not going to be like what you see on Star Trek, but it's definitely a step in the right direction."

For the visually impaired or blind, both stations have software to modify, enhance or convert information into preferred formats such as braille, audio or large-print displays on a computer screen. They include Jaws software, developed by Henter's company, Henter-Joyce of St. Petersburg, which uses a computer-simulated voice to read what is on the computer screen; a zoom text magnifier, which enlarges the screen for the sight-impaired; and a braille embosser.

With this technology, the St. Petersburg library will follow several community college libraries in Florida, the University of California, and public libraries in Oregon and Pennsylvania, Henter said.

"We're not the first, but we're ahead of the pack," he said. "It's very forward-thinking of them to do this."

At 4:45 p.m., Henter will present the screen reading software, at 5:30 p.m. Dutcher will present the devices for mobility-impaired people, and at 6:15 Chris Gabbord of Magnifying America Inc. will demonstrate the Kurzweil 3000 System for people with reading disabilities.

The funding for the work stations comes from the fines people pay for parking in handicapped-reserved spaces, Dutcher said.

The rules for parking spaces won't apply to the computers, said Library Manager Elaine Birkinshaw. Rather than a $250 fine, those who park themselves in front of a computer for the handicapped will only be asked to move if there is someone with a disability waiting and there is space at another computer.

"They've been here for six weeks, and we haven't had any problems with that so far," she said.

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