A Helping Handheld for the Disabled


It's likely Leslie Liszak will someday need to take insulin for her diabetes. But in the meantime, her handheld computer is making it easier to balance her diet and track her blood sugar.

The 51-year-old clinical director of a Dayton (Ohio) drug-treatment program is part of a small but growing segment of Palm users who are harnessing their handhelds to help them deal with illness or disability. Online chat communities are full of such stories -- one woman, for example, says she uses the organizational functions of her Palm to overcome some aspects of her attention-deficit disorder. Another writer tells of people with severe multiple sclerosis using the Palm to stay connected to the world. In another case, a college outreach program is about to expand a small pilot program to help deaf university students around the country keep in contact via their handheld wireless devices.

CALORIE COUNTER. Liszak says she has been using her Handspring Visor Prism to keep track of her diet since last fall, when she heard about the medical uses of handhelds on the PalmGear (www.palmgear.com) site for news about the products, downloads, and online sales. One of the big difficulties in keeping diabetes under control is having an easy and convenient reference source for making the right caloric measurements and keeping track of blood-sugar values. It can require several different notebooks and reference guides to keep everything straight. "I thought it would be useful to get this stuff on a Palm because I carry it with me wherever I go," Liszak says. She has a Gluco Monitor program that gives her a handy place to keep track of her blood-sugar level each day. When she goes to the doctor, she simply turns her Palm over to the physician to review.

Also, a diet log replaces the notebooks diabetics often rely on to track their meals, Liszak says. And she uses a prescription program to keep track of medications and when they need to be refilled.

For the deaf, Jorge Maldonado, an information-technology specialist for the Midwest Center for Postsecondary Outreach (MCPO), is expanding a program that gives deaf college students a network of resources through PalmVII wireless e-mail or any other Palm OS enabled e-mail system. MCPO (www.mcpo.org) helps create university programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

LIVES WORTH LIVING. Students can either e-mail other deaf students directly or look up new students to communicate with in a special database created for the project. Participants also can use their handhelds to communicate in the same room, if signing is difficult or other barriers exist. So far, only about 30 students are taking part in the program but Maldonado says he hopes to expand nationally in the next six months.

Even handwriting-recognition software has disability applications. Jim Mackie, a Palm100 user, writes on the Palm.com Web page that his handheld was able to recognize his writing even after a serious stroke left his hand partially paralyzed. Since Mackie can still write on the Palm, he's able to communicate with people who might not be able to read his handwriting.

And a writer with attention-deficit disorder named Vivian posts in an online forum, her Palm has helped her stay organized. She says keeping things in her handheld's calendar and address book -- and taking notes on the Palm -- has been easier than dealing with paper organizers. "I thank my lucky stars every day that the PalmPilot was invented," she writes. For Vivian and others with disabilities to overcome, it's not just productivity that improves with technology. It's their lives. By Jeff Green


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