Technological Advances for the Disabled Benefit Everyone

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Captioned Films for the Deaf became a Federal law in 1958. Television was a more difficult problem. Open captions on television were opposed by a percentage of the hearing population. Therefore, we had to develop a system that, on the same broadcast, could have captions and a broadcast that was free of the captions. We experimented with the broadcast technology and discovered that we could in fact encode the caption in the broadcast signal and with the proper decoding system have a clear non-captioned broadcast and with the decoder have a captioned program. The FCC approved the system and it works today.

Curb cuts benefit everyone.

Curb cuts benefit everyone.

Ironically the side effects of captions have made caption television an interesting product. Bars have used it in crowded environments. Doctors and dentists have used it and captions are widely used in hospital rooms. Like so many devices the captioned TV has been used beyond its original purpose. We see many applications of systems devised for the disabled being used by the wider community. The IQ test was originally developed to identify mentally limited children. The typewriter was developed for cerebral palsied individuals. In fact, Alexander Graham Bell was a teacher of deaf children when he developed the telephone. While he was not specifically developing the telephone to aid deaf people, his concern for deaf education provided the background for the telephone.

Many advances in our society have come from work among the disabled that was designed to enable them to more effectively compete in the world.

Today’s advancements with high technology lead us to believe that cochlear implants and optical implants will lessen the limitation of hearing and sight loses.

We know that the human brain can overcome many obstacles. Digital technologies will open many doors in the future. For example, we have the technology today to translate a severe speech problem into understandable speech. If the speaker has consistent speech even if it is not understandable we can use digital technologies to make it understandable.

Wheelchair curb cuts benefit parents with babies in strollers. I had a DC bicycle delivery boy tell me they were for them.

The larger community also uses things that benefit the disabled. Education for the disabled makes them taxpayers rather than tax users. Good programs for the disabled are wise investments for society.

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