November 23, 2004 11:13 AM PST

Targeting disabilities with tech

SINGAPORE--In the middle of the minister's speech, David Kinnear began to cry.

It was a broken, tortured call, sometimes rising into a wail of anguish.

"You are disabled through limitations that nature has imposed on you," Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's acting minister for community development, youth and sports, continued softly. "It's not something that you chose or something that you deserve. But you have a heart and mind and hope."

Kinnear is paralyzed from the neck down. He is confined to his wheelchair, unable to move his arms and his legs, following a massive stroke in January. Food is fed to him through a tube to his stomach, and he communicates using eye movements. When he wants to say "yes," he looks upward.

For a moment after the official event, Dr. Balakrishnan, a medical doctor by training, reprised his role as physician. He examined Kinnear's condition and spoke words of encouragement.

"Don't give up, David," he said quietly, with a tinge of sternness. "There's still a lot that can be done."

For the minister, one answer is technology.

Beyond the photo opportunities and the cameos, Samsung's DigitAll Hope 2004 awards announcement on Monday drove its point across. Showcasing the best efforts around the region at using technology to benefit the underprivileged and disabled, the event and its sobering undertones underscored the minister's message to the disabled community: "Technology allows us to break past the barriers that nature has imposed on us."

Several organizations were rewarded with grants as part of Samsung's community initiatives in the region. In Malaysia, the Lions Club of CyberCare, a voluntary organization, is building IT infrastructure for youths in orphanages. In Indonesia, the Yayasan Mitra Netra, a nonprofit body, is working to improve Internet accessibility for the visually handicapped. The University of Education in Vietnam is compiling a dictionary of signs and putting it on the Web.

In Singapore, The Society for the Physically Disabled and the Institute for Infocomm Research are embarking on a cutting-edge project to allow users to communicate via brain waves. The move will benefit those who have lost the use of limbs, such as patients who suffer from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and tetraplegia.

Kinnear will be one of the participants in the project.

 

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