All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2004

Disabled people try new devices

Showing how technology can end dependence

April 1, 2004
Melissa Kaplan
The Boston Globe

When Gigi Ranno was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989, she thought her mountaineering days were over.

"I used to hike when I was able-bodied and young, and didn't think I'd be able to go hiking anymore," Ranno said.

Technology has come to her assistance in the form of Terra Trek, a wheelchair designed for mountain trails.

Ranno, 39, who works for the the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, helped demonstrate the sporty chair in a session at Y-Tech Assistive Technology Day on Sunday at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton.

Collegiate inventors and company representatives showcased devices that ranged from low-tech to high-tech all intended to help disabled people enjoy the arts, leisure activities, and sports.

The event was organized by Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Yesodot (Hebrew for foundation), a subsidiary support group for disabled people and their families.

"There's more to life than school and work," said organizer Sue Wolf-Fordham, whose 16-year-old daughter Lisa enjoys adaptive skiing and cheerleading with the group.

In a session titled "Go Take A Hike!", Ranno helped Venture Into Well-Being representative Brenda Kennedy showcase the Terra Trek chair, whose fat front wheels and specialized shock absorbers have helped disabled users scale Mount Greylock in the Berkshires.

A pair of detachable 4-foot poles converts the chair into something like a rickshaw, so that friends can help out on particularly steep trails.

"This was terrific because I got to go to places on trails that normally I would not be able to go, even if I used a walker," said Ranno, who has been on six hikes since she began using the chair in June 2002.

UMass-Lowell electrical engineering senior John Wong demonstrated a device that he and his UMass-Lowell teammates created that enables visually impaired people to find their way around a home.

The user wears a small receiver that picks up signals from a transmitter suspended from the ceiling.

Still in its prototype stage and built on a limited budget VoiceNav only works if the user walks straight.

"It's going to be very hard if you walk funny, but we're hoping to make it more mature," said Wong.

Among other inventions present were the popular Jordy glasses, which enhance eyesight for the legally blind.

Akin to a pair of very strong binoculars, the computerized goggles can make 20/400 vision near normal at 20/40.

Molly Campbell of Perkins School for the Blind Assistive Device Center showed ways to make ordinary objects, such as scissors, crayons, and games, accessible to the visually impaired.

"It's amazing what we can do with duct tape and foam," Ranno said.

Copyright © 2004, Globe Newspaper Company