2008 Winner: Societal Impact Award
Developing Technology To Help People Living With Disabilities
“Imagine sitting on your hands and using the computer,” suggests Randy Marsden, president and CEO of Madentec. “How are you going to do it?” You’re not going to do it. And if you have a disability that limits use of your arms, your quality of life would suffer if like most people, you use the computer for work, social interaction and recreation.
Creating Innovative Solutions
That’s where Madentec’s assistive technology can be a lifesaver. For example, TrackerPro is a computer input device that takes the place of a mouse for people with little or no hand movement. Anything that can be done with a regular hand mouse can be done by using TrackPro, by using head motions. And if you have quadriplegia and can’t move your head, Madentec has a solution for that too. The company has developed technology that uses switches activated by blinking, puffing, clicking teeth and other subtle movements to activate the mouse. Christopher Reeve used that technology.
The Power of Technology
Mr. Marsden’s inspiration to start developing assistive technology was a friend who became quadriplegic as a result of an accident as a youth. He built a device that allowed his friend to speak. “He’d been living in a hospital for about 15 years,” Mr. Marsden recalls. “And at least partly because of that technology, he was able to leave the hospital and move home to live with his parents.” And that’s what it’s all about. “The computer is the great equalizer,” Mr. Marsden explains. “If you give someone access to the computer, you give them opportunities for education, recreation, vocation, socialization, which has been taken away by disability.”
Madentec has been in business for about 20 years. During that time the company’s assistive technology has allowed about 15,000 people the world over to regain their quality of life after suffering a disability. Among them are people suffering from paralysis, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and head injury, among others. Some of them are able to go back to work, like one of Madentec’s employees who suffers from cerebral palsy.
“He’s in a wheelchair with his arms in awkward positions,” describes Marsden. “To see him you’d never think he is a high-functioning contributing member of society. The difference is the technology. The computer totally unlocks him, gives him independence and meaning to his life.”
Millions of users have benefitted from Madentec’s onscreen keyboard, distributed by Microsoft and included in every copy of Windows for the past 10 years. Mr. Marsden says the company’s assistive technology saves the social system vast sums of money by giving people with disabilities a tool to help them become independent and productive members of society. This reduces health care and social assistance costs.