May 7, 2002
By Ruma Banerji
It started in 1992.
First, the multiple sclerosis sapped the strength in Shirley Patton's legs until she couldn't use them at all. Over the next 10 years, she lost the use of her arms.
But through the course of the disease, the hardest loss to bear was her loss of control and self-sufficiency.
"I don't like to rely on people and ask them to do things for me that I used to do myself," said Patton, 55, a resident of the King's Daughters & Sons Home, which cares for the elderly and disabled.
Seven years ago, that urge for self-reliance prompted Patton to try a device named EDGAR to help her perform the most basic household tasks.
Southwest Tennessee Community College professor Max Cutler designed EDGAR as an affordable alternative to pricey, more sophisticated remote-control systems available to the disabled.
What Patton uses is an early prototype of EDGAR, but Cutler and the Memphis Center for Independent Living are working together to mass-produce a version to distribute all around the Memphis area to individuals with significant disabilities, those that severely impair their movement or ability to work.
The center is using a $26,500 grant from the Plough Foundation to build at least 20 devices to distribute for free. The center is taking applications for the devices, and priority is being given to disabled individuals in nursing homes.
"I'm on the technical side of things, in charge of wiring EDGAR, and the center is trying to find the people who can use it," Cutler said. "I hope we can continue to get grants and funding so we can keep giving these out."
Like other remote-control systems, EDGAR - Environmental Device Giving Assistance Remotely - allows people who have limited mobility and use of their arms and legs to turn on and off common household appliances like lights, fans and televisions.
But EDGAR uses a simple computer program so it can be operated with a straw-like device using a code of sips and puffs or a simple push-button, instead of a more expensive and complicated voice-operated system.
The simpler system also makes it more affordable for the disabled, who are already struggling with a tight budget, said Deborah Cunningham, executive director of the center.
"The price tag on most remote systems is exorbitant, roughly $2,400, and difficult for our constituents to afford," Cunningham said. "(Cutler) has developed a version that costs less than $1,000."
Patton said she'd be hard pressed to place a value on how beneficial EDGAR has been in her life.
"It is literally my right hand," she said. "Now, I don't have to press the call button and wait for someone to come to my room and turn off the fan or change the channel on my TV. I can do it. It just makes you feel like you're more of a part of normal society again."
For those interested in applying for EDGAR, call 726-6404 and ask for
Sandi Klink or Suzanne Colsey.
Copyright 2002 - The Commercial Appeal