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Improved technology opens door
Advances create more opportunities in the workplace for disabled


A blind person can work a computer by using voice recognition; a quadriplegic can do the same with eye movement.

"There's more technology out there that is making people with disabilities successful employees," said Dana Rosanelli, business-development manager of Virginia Business Leadership Network. The network is part of a national organization led by companies that hire qualified workers with disabilities.

Technological advances can allow more people with disabilities to enter the work force, advocates said.

Take, for example, Eyegaze. The "eyetracking" computer system works through a video camera mounted on a computer and tracks a person's gaze point on the screen or keyboard. A key clicks or an icon opens up when the person's eyes pause on specific objects.

This technology lets someone who is immobile to work from home via a computer.

Andrew Imparato, president of the Washington-based American Association of People with Disabilities, said that in terms of technology, younger people with disabilities have an advantage.

"They have been exposed to cutting-edge technology in school," Imparato said, adding and they are more comfortable using it than older disabled people are.

Despite the technological advances, employment of people with disabilities during the past 20 years has increased little, Imparato said.

"I think that people with disabilities who acquire their disabilities on the job can stay on the job longer [because of technology]," he said.

Even with advances, Fortune 500 companies have not been as open to hiring disabled people as smaller businesses, Imparato said.

Jim Rothrock, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, said technology has made it easier for employers to hire more people with disabilities.

"We have found that we can hook up people from a hospital bed, from home or from any site. [Technology] has opened so many jobs and many more paying jobs than those where people with disabilities have been traditionally pigeonholed."

Financial help is available. The Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority offers the disabled low-interest loans for a wide variety of special-needs equipment.

The authority offers guaranteed loans to families on fixed incomes as well as to working and middle-income families with significant medical and rehabilitative expenses.

Contact Juan Antonio Lizama at (804) 649-6513 or jlizama@timesdispatch.com