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Published in Print: February 27, 1991, as Johns Hopkins Launches Search for New Technologies for Special

Johns Hopkins Launches Search for New Technologies for Special Ed.

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A similar search 10 years ago received more than 8,000 entries and yielded inventions that have become standard equipment for the nation's 20 million disabled citizens.

Because of advances in computer technologies and a specific emphasis on special education, those involved in the project say, handicapped students could be the big winners of this year's search.

"Ten years ago, not much was being done in special education," said William Buchanan, project engineer for this year's search and a veteran of the 1981 contest. "Today, I think products related to education could be the main category or certainly will be the most notable entries."

Expectations are high because personal-computer ownership has jumped from about 200,000 in 1981 to 20 million, noted Paul Hazan, the project's director. Many of those new owners will be intrigued, he said, by the challenge and by the $10,000 grand prize and hundreds of other cash and computer-product prizes.

"You don't have to be a specialist or hacker" to enter, he said. "You just have to be a PC user."

The ranks of today's computer users include tens of thousands of special-education teachers and millions of students, Mr. Hazan added.

Mr. Hazan cited as an example of a possible contest entry a "talking mouse" that would tell blind PC operators what it was doing as it moved across a computer screen. All the components for such an invention already exist, he noted, and need only to be put together.

A similar invention from the first search, the Adaptive Firmware Card, allows handicapped users to communicate by scanning a matrix of words and pictures on an Apple computer. Since its unveiling, the device has been adapted to fit other brands and has become widely used, according to Elizabeth Lahm, product-development and -dissemination coordinator for the Council for Exceptional Children.

Most of the products that emerged a decade ago were hardware not specifically designed for education, Ms. Lahm said. But she added that such inventions--for example, an eye-tracking system that allows communication through eye movement and a head control for wheelchairs--have "made education possible" for many children.

The next step is to improve the tools available to educators, and the Johns Hopkins search is a prime vehicle to do that, she said.

Other organizations, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and various student groups, have held similar contests since the 1981 drive. But, Ms. Lahm said, none has received as much attention or been so pivotal in priming research and development as Johns Hopkins's.

The search will be funded by the university, the National Science Foundation, and MCI Communications Corporation. All entries are due by Aug. 23.

For more information, write Computing to Assist Persons with Disabilities, Johns Hopkins National Search, P.O. Box 1200, Laurel, Md. 20723.

Vol. 10, Issue 23, Page 5

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