The Virginia Department of Rehabilitation Services provided equipment and computer time for the training of a person mentioned in an article on computers and the handicapped in Monday's Washington Business section. The name of the agency was wrong in the article.
Tim Forder is a programming assistant for Vitro Laboratories in Silver Spring. He also is legally blind. For five to six hours every workday, he labors by listening to a synthesized voice come through his "Total Talk" computer terminal.
"I can now hear what I cannot see," said Forder. "I have more independence in doing what I have to do."
Ricky Pilgrim, a quadriplegic, is a computer assistant at the National Institutes of Health. He does all of his work by dictating into a "voice-actuated" computer. When he says "Delta. Easy. Alpha. Romeo," he is dictating the word "dear" to his computer.
Kevin Riley is a quadriplegic, too. A program analyst, he blows into a breath-actuated "on" switch to start his computer and begin writing programs for IBM's administrative system, located in Bethesda.
"IBM built a complete work environment for me, which I designed. I can type 22 words per minute with my mouth stick," said Riley, whose was paralyzed as the result of a motorcycle accident.
These three people are examples of how computer technology is revolutionizing employment opportunities for the handicapped. Through a cooperative effort with their employers, Forder, Pilgrim and Riley have created a niche for themselves in the working world.
The Total Talk terminal that Forder uses translates data appearing on its screen into an easily understood synthetic voice with an adjustable rate of speech ranging from 45 to 72 words per minute. It is programmed to speak in the same way a child is taught to read phonetically. The speech is produced by a synthesizer capable of vocalizing 64 different phonetic sounds.
The Total Talk microprocessor converts letters and groups of letters into digital codes corresponding to phonemes. Total Talk uses 44 English pronunciation rules to produce intelligible speech. The computer also has variable pitch, tone and volume controls and an unlimited vocabulary.
"Total Talk allows me to do everything a sighted programmer can do," Forder said. "I can also proofread my own work, correct any spelling errors, edit and write my own reports and keep myself up to date on Vitro's in-house operations."
A Vitro Laboratories procurement officer said the company has no regrets about buying the computer that Forder uses, which can also be used by employes who are not disabled.
"Tim is an example of a person with a disability who has contributed significantly to Vitro Laboratories and will continue to do so," the officer said. "This is why Vitro was pleased to buy him his Total Talk last March. Both Tim and Total Talk have lived up to our expectations."
Cost is a major consideration for companies contemplating buying technology for disabled workers, said Deane Blazie, chief executive and co-founder of Maryland Computer Services Inc., the firm that developed Total Talk. But he pointed out that the company's machines are decreasing in price. In 1980, Total Talk sold for slightly under $10,000. It now sells for $5,000.
"The price of technology will come down as more people come into the job market and more products are purchased for them," said Blazie.
Pilgrim has been working with "speech-recognition systems" from his home for four years. He said his job gives him "a purpose for living."
A high school dropout, Pilgrim said he decided to concentrate on computer technology after he was paralyzed by an accidental gunshot wound.
Some of the rehabilitation counselors Pilgrim approached were skeptical about his ability to become a computer programmer, he said. But he persisted and finally, the Veterans Administration Department of Rehabilitation Services provided equipment and the computer time for training.
Interstate Electronics Corp. in Arlington introduced Pilgrim to the newly developed "voice entry data system." Representatives from Mitre Corp. went to his home on a voluntary basis to provide instruction. Finally, Pilgrim got a job at NIH as a computer programmer in 1978.
There are numerous voice-recognition systems on the market today. Officials of Interstate Electronics said the company sells an average of 100 per month.
Again, cost is a factor. Since most physically disabled people cannot afford such systems, they usually are purchased by businesses, rehabilitation departments or government offices.
"Unfortunately, there is not much money out there now to buy even a small number of them to help disabled people become employed," said Luther Williams of Interstate Electronic. A voice recognition system "is ideal for such applications as office and factory automation, word processing, computer-aided design, telecommunications and many, many more activities.
"Ricky Pilgrim is an example of what voice recognition can do," William said. "He does the work of 1 1/2 people with his system. Millions of people with different disabilities will benefit from both speech input and output systems."
For Pilgrim, speech-recognition technology has worked miracles because without it chances are that he would be unemployed. His coworkers describe him as a diligent employe who does "outstanding work." "He is constantly striving for perfection," said one supervisor.
"Thanks to voice data entry systems, I am able to work," Pilgrim said. "I try so hard to tell other handicapped people about the technology that's available to them. I am a perfect example of what can be accomplished through speech technology . . . "
John Collins III is president of Van Go Corp. in Alexandria. He is confined to a wheelchair and when he wants to write letters or update stock market reports, he uses a suitcase-sized Osborne personal computer.
"My computer has increased my business, improved the professional appearance of my work and raised my productivity," Collins said.