Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Canada, researchers develop one-button Skype system to aid disabled people, senior citizens

From The Times Colonist in Canada:

When wheelchair-bound Luke Melchior (pictured) recently considered a surprise party for his wife, his disability made it impossible. He can't dial a telephone number without help or her knowing.

But Melchior, who lives with muscular dystrophy, has big hopes for new system called CanConnect. It's an enhancement, or simplification, of Skype, the faceto-face computer link that allows people to talk live, on screen.

With CanConnect, Melchior can find a contact, dial it and hang up, all with the push of just one button. With that capacity, he can make secret arrangements for something like a surprise party - or simply reach his friends.

"Trust me, anything that can increase my independence will be much welcomed," said Melchior, 38, of Victoria.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark met with Melchior at the University of Victoria Monday and the two conducted a demonstration of the CanConnect system.

Clark was on hand to announce a $3.5-million grant to assist the development of a partnership called Connect for Care. It's dedicated to using the Internet to create tools to build personal support networks among health-care providers, clients, patients and families.

Clark said the new project is a perfect fit with the government's policies dedicated to allowing seniors to "age in place" - in their own homes, where possible, and in their communities.

"It will help senior citizens stay in the communities they have grown to know, where they have raised their children, where they made their lives and in the communities that they have built," said Clark.

The government's grant will help build a partnership among three groups:

- CanAssist, a UVic organization dedicated to creating technological devices to assist people with disabilities.

- Tyze Personal Networks, a technology service that creates personal, private, secure online connections for people vulnerable to isolation, like seniors or people with disabilities or severe illnesses.

- The Plan Institute for Caring Citizenship, a group providing training and assistance related to family leadership and social networks to a wide variety of groups. Its mission is to reduce the isolation of marginalized people.