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Technology helps disabled kids find their voice

d set them loose to build an invention to help such a child," says the Penn State researcher. The feedback tells researchers the kind of features children value.

"The real key is having fun. And the kids talk about that as they build their inventions. They say things like 'it has to have smile power', they like a lot of bright colors, and want to laugh, and make burping sounds," she notes. As an example of such technology, Light shows a colorful toy-like laptop computer fitted with a touch-sensitive screen, using a Visual Screen Display, embedded with "hot spots" that the children can press to produce sounds of laughter and words, and to learn language.

Since very young children are not readers, the idea is to take a child's experiences and represent it interactively through digital photos of the child, the family, or storybook cartoons, she says.

The technology is already proving its mettle. Some two and three-year olds are showing signs of becoming early readers. And early trials with 15 and 25-month old children show an improvement of about 20 to 50 times in communication skills, as well as a significant increase in vocabulary.

These are probably the youngest children in the world using such technology, according to Light, and she adds that future trials will involve infants with disabilities as young as 8 months old.

"Our goal ultimately is to put the system in front of the child and from the first moment, the child is able to intuitively use it," says the Penn State researcher.


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Contact: Amitabha Avasthi
axa47@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
20-Feb-2006


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