Assistive Technology Can Help Manage Cognitive Challenges
By Ellen Kampel & John Williams
On December 24, 1994 when Harold (Harry) Samuelson, 42, was told by a doctor that he had multiple sclerosis, the diagnosis wasn't a surprise. He had been feeling fatigued and was having difficulty maintaining his balance. He had also experienced temporary vision loss and cognitive lapses relating to speech, memory and concentration.
A technology fanatic, he began researching ways to utilize computers and other technology to help him remain organized and stay employed. To remind him to take his medication, he set up a notification program on his computer. Using speech software his computer tells him, "Harry, take your medicine." An example of a program that can remind people with MS to take their medicine is OnTimeRx® Reminder Services.
Samuelson also uses similar technology to remind him to call people, attend meetings and write reports
To improve communication between his family and co-workers, Samuelson is exploring Microsoft's Outlook OfficeCalendar, where he can view, create, and edit appointments and contacts with his wife and children.
Last year, Samuelson installed a global positioning system (GPS) in his car. "Some years ago, I was driving to my parents' house in Wisconsin, and I forgot how to get there. I drove a hundred miles out of my way. I vowed never again," he said. Using MapQuest, he prints off directions when he travels outside of Chicago and Detroit.
As a lawyer, Samuelson rushes to his office after meetings and dictates notes using speech recognition software. Since staying in touch is important to him, he uses voice-activated cell phones and telephones. "It's not the names I can't remember, it's the numbers," he said.
Samuelson is grateful that he has assistive technology. "It keeps me on top of life and helps me maintain a sense of balance."
Other people with MS also use computers to help with memory lapses and difficulties speaking. Sandra Collins, a 23-year-old Northern Virginia college student, says, "sometimes when experiencing speech difficulty I go online and choose what I'm going to order before I go to a restaurant." Also, when she has trouble speaking she schedules dates online to reduce embarrassment.
Collins memorizes something every day to help her improve her memory and then uses a speech program to read back the material she has memorized. She believes this exercise helps her reduce memory lapses.
"Assistive technology, such as text to speech, can really help to compensate when I'm having cognitive challenges," she said.
Ellen Kampel is the public affairs manager for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. John M. Williams has been writing about disability issues since 1978 and coined the phrase "Assistive Technology."