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Increased access and use of disability related information for consumers.

Information is an indispensable resource to carry out day to day living by anybody including the people with a disability. As a matter of fact, information utilization enhances independence from a disability. Modern communications technology has provided us with the means to store, retrieve, and transfer large amounts of information. As this technology develops, the cost of acquiring and operating a telecommunications system steadily decreases. This decrease in cost also means that home systems that can access these telecommunication systems become more affordable. With a home computer system and a modem, a person who is concerned can access information on various aspects of most disabilities. People with disabilities who can access such information have the power to make more informed choices about the direction of their lives.

Information/knowledge is power. The ability to obtain and use information about any subject gives a person the opportunity to choose a path from many alternatives instead of being limited to a few perhaps unwanted or unfeasible choices.

Modern information/communication technology has given us a means of rapidly storing, transferring, and retrieving information of any type. This ability has long been used by government agencies, large corporations, and by educational institutions. Until recent years, the expense of equipment that was capable of storing, transferring, and retrieving a large amount of information was prohibitive to any but large organizations. The introduction of microcomputers with substantial storage capabilities, however, has made the acquisition of this technology easier.

At the present time, there are many small systems consisting of a microcomputer connected to a hard-disk drive that can store and access a large amount of data. These low cost systems are capable of serving as a host for information transfer. A host is a computer that serves other computers. These host systems contain telecommunications equipment that allow others using microcomputers with modems to be connected to the host via a telephone line. These remote systems can store and/or retrieve information on the host system. A modem is a device that changes digital information (a discontinuous signal whose various states are identified with discrete levels or values; I signifying the signal is on and 0 signifying the signal is off) sent from a computer to analog information (a signal that varies in a continuous manner) that can be transmitted over a telephone line. The modem can also reverse the process. Once the analog information arrives at its destination, another modem changes the analog information back to digital information that can be processed at the receiving computer Friend, 1986). The expense of operating one of these host systems has plummeted in the last few years. It is this reduction in expense that has allowed many people to purchase the necessary equipment to operate a small computer based information system commonly referred to as a "bulletin board."

Information concerning any type of subject may be placed on an electronic bulletin board system (BBS). An electronic bulletin board system is a mechanism that allows people to post information, read information posted by others, and pose questions. To post a message or ask a question, the user types (keys-in) the information after logging-on to the BBS with his or her personal computer system and modem. To read messages and questions that have been posted by others, the user views the information on the computer monitor. Some BBSs are concerned with topics such as music, flying saucers, law, or shopping. There are also several special-interest groups on the major online computer services and many of BBSs dedicated to information concerning people with disabilities. This situation can be of tremendous benefit to people with disabilities. Michael Banks (author of the Modem Reference) seems to have summed these ideas very well.

"Many handicapped people are largely home bound, and real time conference (direct person to person communications), bulletin boards, and E-mail give them the opportunity to communicate with others, usually on an equal footing. Online shopping, banking, and reference services can be invaluable to someone who cannot easily travel, too. Ditto for online education. Unconventional online service applications for the handicapped are limited only by individual imagination. For example, computerists use speech synthesizers that read E-mail, real time conference comments, and other text aloud; and visually handicapped individuals use special giant display systems to enable them to read material that they could never access in print. (Banks, 1988, p. 435)

Thus, the means for people with disabilities to access information, communicate with others, and take care of daily business such as banking has been established. To have a clearer picture of the availability of this information, we should examine some of the sources of this information.

One of the major centers for disability related information is the Handicap Digest. This is an electronic newsletter distributed through BITNET by Bill McGarry. (BITNET is a network linking the mainframe computers of many of the world's university computer systems.) The following was taken from Handicap Digest #1. It expresses Bill McGarty's intent for the Digest:

"The purpose of this mailing list is to provide a forum for the discussion of issues related to the handicapped. Hopefully, it will also prove to be a source of information for anything that may aid the handicapped, whether computer related or not. There is no restriction on the topics that are to be discussed other than that they should relate to the handicapped The proposed purpose of mail.handicap will be to share information of any form relating to physically/mentally handicapped people, whatever the age and whatever the handicap. Some of the general topics that have seemed to be of interest in the past are: new technology available (in all fields whether computer related or not); medical issues; legal aspects; employment issues; education; handicapped in the society." (McGarry, 1986)

An Overview of Handicap Digest items

The Handicap Digest was first distributed via BITNET on June 6, 1986. Between then and the writing of this article, 906 issues have been distributed. The topics of information that have been distributed have surpassed the proposed listing. However, the subject matter concerning disabilities is constantly growing.

There are many sources of the articles that Bill McGarry edits and distributes. Many articles are submitted by people via bulletin boards such as the Handicapped Educational Exchange (HEX) BBS, in Silver Spring, MD, the St. Joseph's Hospital & Medical Center BBS in Phoenix, A7-, the Dynamic Duo BBS in Springfield, VA, and the Dark Cavern in Lawton, OK. Other people choose to submit articles via the FIDO, BITNET, and Usenet networks. FIDO is a world-wide network of personal computer users.

Articies that have been posted in the Handicap Digest cover a large range of subjects. These articles tended to fall in six major categories. The most diverse category is what we classified as the General Information category. Typical articles ranged from information about the best method of stopping the squeaking of Saf T Tips on crutches to information about a 30% to 50% discount on IBM computers through Easter Seals in Chicago. Information about the publication of A Pocket Guide to Federal Help for the Disabled Person by the Consumer information Center of the General Services Administration and information such as the publication of Sibs, a magazine devoted to the siblings of people with disabilities was also posted.

The Hearing Disabilities category contained such articles as: information on the design of devices allowing a person who is deaf to answer an intercom system used in large apartment complexes to screen visitors. Several articles about TTDs and TTYs (teletype or teleprinter devices usually consisting of a low speed printer, a keyboard for input, and a serial communications interface) were also posted Friend, 1986). There was also a discussion concerning the perceived preference of people with hearing disabilities to use TTDs and TTYs as opposed to computers as a means of communication. One posted opinion cited the difference in cost between a TTD or TTY and an equivalent computer system.

The third major category of information was concerned with Visual Disabilities. One article was a notification of the publication of the Revised Second Beginners Guide to Computers for the Blind and Visually Impaired by the National Braille Press. Another article was from a user who was blind and using an Apple 2C with a Cricket speech device. He asked others using similar systems to contact him. Other articles were concerned with requests for any available information on computer related devices for people with visual disabilities. A thorough description of Enable Reader (a program that converts text on a monitor screen to speech output on IBM systems) was also posted. A fourth interesting category of articles was the Forum section. This section presented an extended discussion of information that was previously posted. Opinions and questions about the posted information tend to stimulate further responses from other users. A petition was posted to the FCC to open certain frequencies in the Citizen Band for the use of individuals with disabilities for communication in case of emergencies, accidents, or vehicular breakdown. There was also a discussion of chronic illness. Questions included, "What constitutes a disability? Is a person who has had an organ transplant considered disabled by government agencies?" Several months of discussion were stimulated from an inquiry about the special needs of a person with hearing disabilities who was being considered as a future roommate.

Another category of articles concerned Handicapped Parking. This was a very popular topic of discussion. The focus of these articles was the widespread abuse of parking slots specifically designated for Handicapped Parking. There have been many proposed solutions employed in several states. However, none have yet been satisfactorily effective.

Employment of people with disabilities was another major topic. The primary focus of these articles was that employers need to be educated as to the advantages of hiring those with disabilities. Articles noted productivity as well as reliability.

There were also many articles requesting information concerning specific disabilities. information concerning Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, Cystic Fibrosis, Fragile X Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Polio, and several others was requested.

There were many other subjects encountered in this review. Information about adaptive aids (other than computer oriented aids), wheelchairs and vans for sale, new BBSs for use by the disabled community, learning disabilities, etc., were posted. (McGarry, 1988)

As noted earlier, the Handicap Digest was only distributed on BITNET. However, in the last year there have been other means of accessing the Digest established.

"There is now a Usenet newsgroup (The Handicap News misc. handicap) where the individual articles from the Digest are distributed to over 5,000 computers throughout the world. The articles are also gatewayed to the Fidonet ABLED conference where over 400 computer bulletin boards allow anyone with a modem to reach out to other handicapped/disabled people in many, many countries." (McGarry, 1989)

Bill McGarry has constructed a large knowledge base of disability-related information, and has established the means to distribute this information to a consumer level. There are many BBSs that are easily accessible to the average consumer that distribute information from the Handicap Digest. There are also other BBSs that are easily accessed that focus on disability related information.

Accessing Disability Related information

By using a home computer, a modem and a telephone line to access these BBSs, anyone can obtain information on various aspects of most disabilities. If a person has access to a current account on a university computer system that is connected to BITNET, he/she can access the Handicap Digest directly. At the cursor on VAX systems, type:


At the IBM systems (VM/CMS) cursor type:


Although many readers will not have access to BITNET, it is possible to access many of the BBSs directly from a person's home computer system. A short list of BBSs that are concerned with disability related information is presented in Table I (Bulletin Boards). These boards were in operation as of 4/25/89. These BBSs can be accessed by using a home computer system with a modem connected to a phone line.

Disability related information can also be accessed on several of the major commercial networks. CompuServe's Disability Forum, Q-Link's disabilities Club, and DELPHI's Hearing Impaired Forum provide this service. Each of these services requires a subscription fee. As a note of caution, if the bulletin board or the commercial network is not located within the person's local telephone exchange, a person could be charged with a large long distance telephone bill. This is the major advantage to BITNET users as there are no charges for the transfer of messages or files to other BITNET users.

The methods used to access these BBSs with a home computer system and a modem may at first seem complicated. If these steps are followed, a person should have minimum problems in accessing these BBSs.

There are two types of modems that are usually used with a microcomputer system: direct-connect and acoustic modems. The direct connect modems are of two types: Auto-Dial and Manual-Dial. The method varies with the type of modem that a person owns. Step 1: For Auto-Dial and Direct Connect Manual-Dial Modems

Connect the modems to the telephone system. For the AutoDial modem, place the square (RJ-11) telephone plug on the wire usually labeled LINE" into a modular wall receptacle. For the direct connect Manual-Dial modem a slightly different connection is needed. The simplest method is to purchase a small duplex jack (having two RJ-11 receptacles). Plug this jack into the modular wall receptacle. Next, plug the RJ-11 telephone plug connected to the modem into one of the two receptacles and the RJ-11 plug on the wire from the telephone in the other receptacle. Step 2: Connect the modem to the computer

All three types of modems are connected directly to a port on the back panel of the computer. This port is called an RS-232 port. It consists of a female connector with 25 holes. This is the standard port on many computers. However, some computer systems such as the Commodore C-64 uses a port having 24 flat contacts instead of the RS-232 connector.

The following example describes the method of logging on to Project Enable, a BBS that is operated by the West Virginia Rehabilitation Research and Training Center. The communications software KERMIT for the IBM systems will be used in this example. Step 3: Load and run the communications software

Place the KERMIT diskette into the A drive. At A:> prompt type KERMIT. Step 4: Examine the communications parameters

Within many programs, a menu with various options will be displayed. Choose the option that is similar to "SET PARAMETERS". After KERMIT has been run, an MS-KERMIT will be displayed. At this prompt, type STATUS. A listing of all communications parameters will be displayed. Only five of the basic parameters will need to be examined in the beginning.

The first parameter that needs to be set is the transmission rate or baud. Project Enable will recognize 2400, 1200, and 300baud. However, the transmission speed of the home system will be limited by the transmission speed of the modem (i.e., 2400 baud modems will usually operate at all three speeds; 1200 baud modems will usually work at 1200 and 300 baud; 300 baud modems will only operate at 300 baud). Determine the maximum baud of the modem and set the transmission rate of the software accordingly. At the MS-KERMIT prompt, type SET SPEED 300 for 300 baud operation etc. To access Project Enable, the WORD-SIZE parameter should be set to 8. The STOPBITS should be set to 1. The PARITY should be set to NONE. And the DUPLEX should be set to HALF-DUPLEX. The commands for setting these parameters are similar to setting the baud. At the MS-KERMIT prompt type: SET WORD-SIZE 8; SET STOP-BIT 1; SET PARITY NONE; SET LOCAL-ECHO OFF. These are common parameter settings. Many times only the baud rate will need to be adjusted. Depending on the version of KERMIT, some parameters may not be listed. Project Enable is quite flexible. It can probably adjust to your communication parameters. Step 5: Making the Connection The Direct-Dial modem. Enter the terminal mode of the software. In many software packages, entering the terminal mode will be an option on a function menu. At the MS-KERMIT prompt type c (for connect). This will display a prompt similar to [is greater than]. At this prompt, type ATDT 1,304,7667842. The AT must be in capital letters. The AT signals "attention" to the modem. The DT instructs the modem to use a dial tone. In areas using pulse tone dialing, substitute PT for DT. The remainder is the long distance telephone number for Project Enable. The Manual-Dial direct connect modem. A small switch labeled Data/Voice should be found on the side of the modem. place this switch in the Voice position. Enter the terminal in the same manner as described earlier in the Direct-Dial instructions. Dial on the telephone 1,304,7667842. When Project Enable's modem answers, a high pitched tone will be easily heard through the telephone's receiver. Place the Data/Voice switch in the Data position and press the ENTER or RETURN key. The Manual-Dial Acoustic modem. Enter the terminal mode. Dial the telephone number as in the direct connect Manual-Dial instructions. When Project Enable's modem answers, a high pitched sound will be easily heard through the telephone's receiver. Place the receiver (noting the proper positioning) in the modem's cups. Press the ENTER or RETURN key. At this point, project Enable will prompt the user for his/her last and first name. If the user's name is not found on the user list, a registration procedure will occur. Once the registration procedure is completed, a list of bulletins will be displayed. The first 12 bulletins describe the operation of Project Enable. To read a bulletin, choose the appropriate number and press the ENTER or RETURN key. After reading the bulletins, a menu will appear. To choose an option, press the appropriate letter, and press the ENTER or RETURN key. To terminate the session, press G (for GOODBYE). At this point, the terminal prompt will be displayed usually accompanied with a NO CARRIER message. With most systems, the communications software can be exited by turning off the system. With KERMIT, it is better to press CTRL-C (the left bracket key is an escape key). The MS-KERMIT[is greater than] prompt will then be displayed. At this prompt, type EXIT. This will return the user to the operating system's prompt. (i.e., A:[is greater than] for the A drive of an IBM system). For a more detailed description of the operation of the user's communication software and modem, step-by-step instructions are usually included with the communications software and modem packages (Banks, 1988; A Guide for Using Project Enable). An Affordable System for Consumer

Access Just as the cost of operating BBSs and accessible databases has decreased, prices of equipment that will allow the consumer to tap these resources has steadily decreased. Almost any microcomputer can be used to access these BBSs. Software that will allow a person to access these BBSs is available for Apple, IBM, Zenith, Compaq, Kaypro, and other microcomputers. The expense of some of the more exotic computers would be prohibitive for many people. Many of the less expensive microcomputer systems, however, are just as good for accessing this information. There are many computer systems costing less than $1000. Vulcan's Computer Buyer's Guide (November, 1989) published a survey of these systems entitled "Comparing Apples to Oranges - PCs Under $1500." In this listing, 33 computer systems were listed under $1000. The following is a sample listing of these computer systems (i.e., consisting of a central processor, disk drive(s) and monitor) and their respective prices: Aborn Computer Turbo, $419.00; Commodore PCIO, $599.95; Epson Equity 1 Plus, $719.00; Excel 88-12 Model 1, $946.00; Hyundai 16-TE, $825.00; Leading Edge D, $599.00; Packard-Bell PB-VVX88 Turbo, $858.00; Pro-Series, $749.00; Toshiba 1000 Turbo XT Model 2, $649.00; Video Technology Laser $599.95.

A review of several computer magazines such as BYTE, Computer Shopper, Computer Gazette, Run, etc., produced the most affordable prices for some other well known computer systems. An IBM PS/2 MOD 25 MONO system was priced at $995.00. A Commodore C-64/Excelerator plus Disk Drive (without a monitor) computer system was listed at $249.00. These prices, however, do not reflect the additional cost of a modem. There are many modems that can be added to the above computer systems to complete a communications package. Several modems are in an affordable range of $59-79. These include the Avatex 1200 external modem, the Cardinal 1200 external modem, the Smalltalk 1200 external modem, and the Everex 1200 external modem. The most affordable internal modem was the Smalltalk 1200 at $44. The most affordable modem listed for the Commodore system was the Commodore 1660, a 300 baud modem, at $19.95.

At the time of the writing of this article (October, 1989), the most affordable, and currently commercially available small communications system that can be used to access any of the above mentioned information sources (mainframe computer networks as well as bulletin boards) is the Commodore C-64C/Excelerator Plus Disk Drive and the Commodore 1660 modem. The total price for this system is $268.95.

This system consists of a Commodore C-64C computer (as the central processing unit, CPU), an Excelerator Plus Disk Drive (a device used to store and retrieve information), a small black and white television to act as a monitor, a Commodore 1660 (an inexpensive modem for the Commodore 64), a free terminal program (software necessary to link the computer and the modem for telecommunications), and an available telephone line. It is not the authors' purpose to stir controversy among the various manufacturers as to the best system" for such information access. We have found, through extensive testing, that this system functions satisfactorily in accessing all of the above cited sources of disability related information.

The above listing reflects prices on "new" equipment. As computer systems become more complex, and prices come down, older computers/systems become more common articles at various yard sales and flea markets. It is entirely possible to purchase a Commodore VIC 20 (CPU) for $5 to $35, a Cassette tape drive for $25 (a storage/retrieval device), a Hess Modem I for $15, and get a free terminal program. For under $100, a person might buy a workable system. As is the case of many things that are no longer in production, replacement parts and useable software can be hard to find.

In addition to the above hardware, each system must also use a program known as a terminal program to link the computer with the modem. There are many Public Domain terminal programs that can be obtained for a minimal fee (e.g. $5). One of the most common terminal programs is the Kermit program. There are versions of this program for virtually every computer. The primary feature of this program is that in addition to being able to communicate between computers, this program allows the transfer of files between computers. This is especially handy when working with a mainframe computer. These programs can be obtained from any computer "user" group.

Availability of Funding

Through the use of modem microcomputer systems, accessing disability related information is a reality for people who are concerned with disabilities. The technology to accomplish this task is easily obtained, inexpensive, and easy to operate. Providing the funding for the purchase of a microcomputer system for telecommunications for an individual with a disability, if justified within the individual's rehabilitation plan, by state vocational rehabilitation agencies is mandated in the Rehabilitation Act, 1986 Amendments.

SEC. 103. SCOPE OF VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION SERVICES states, " Vocational services provided under this Act are any goods or services necessary to render an individual with handicaps employable, including, but not limited to the following: telecommunications, sensory, and other technological aids and devices; rehabilitation services; and the use of existing telecommunications systems (including telephone, television, satellite, radio, and other similar systems) which has the potential for substantially improving the service delivery methods, and the development of programming to meet the particular needs of individuals with handicaps ... (Rehabilitation Act, 1986 Amendments). "


The technical means to transfer information has been successfully developed. The cost of using this technology is steadily decreasing. Due to this decrease in cost, hundreds of BBSs have been established, many of which receive and distribute disability related information. information that has been stored in databases on these BBSs can be easily accessed from a home computer system. It is also possible to store information or pose questions on these BBSs from a home system. As others, using other microcomputer systems, read, store information, or pose questions, the rich potential for dialog and information exchange becomes reality. In this manner, it is possible to "network" a large amount of information among a large group of people. These BBSs can be easily accessed from a home computer system. There is a large range of cost for a home system that can be used to access this information. The choices depend on needs, wants, and pocketbook. The least expensive is the Commodore 64 system. For those people with disabilities, it is possible that a microcomputer system could be justified within the services provided by a state vocational rehabilitation service as part of the client's rehabilitation plan. The information age can be of particular benefit to persons with disabilities. The present article has described the doorway through which information can be exchanged.


This article was supported, in part, by the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research through the West Virginia Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (West Virginia University and West Virginia Division of Vocational Rehabilitation). Appreciation is expressed to Dr. Richard T. Walls for his help on several aspects of this article. A special thanks to William Reed of WVNET for his technical assistance.

References A Guide to Project Enable. West Virginia Rehabilitation and Training Center (1989). Banks, M. (1988). The modem reference. New York: Brady. Comparing apples to oranges - PCs under $1500. (1989, November). Vulcan's Computer Buyer's Guide. p. 61. Del Grosso, E. (1989, Summer) Medical, fire/ems, science, alcohol, AIDS & disability related BBSs. Computer Use in Social Services Network, 9, 20. Friend, G. (1986). Understanding data communications. Indianapolis: Howard W. Sams & Company. McGarry, W. (Ed.) (1986). Handicap Digest [Machine-readable datafile]. Sheldon, Connecticut: Bunker Ramo (Producer).

LISTSERV@NDSUVMI Server at North Dakota State University

(Distributor). McGarry, W. (Ed.) (1988). Handicap Digest [Machine-readable

datafile]. Sheldon, Connecticut: Bunker Ramo (Producer).

LISTSERV@NDSUVMI Server at North Dakota State University

(Distributor). McGarry, W. (Ed.) (1989). Handicap Digest [Machine-readable

datafile]. Sheldon, Connecticut: Bunker Ramo (Producer).

LISTSERV@NDSUVMI Server at North Dakota State University

(Distributor). Rehabilitation Act, 1986 Amendments. SEC. 103. Received: August 1988 Revised: December 1989 Accepted: January 1990 STEVEN FULLMER, West Virginia Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, West Virginia University, 806 Allen Hall, P.O. Box 6122, Morgantown, West Virginia 26506-6122. TABULAR DATA OMITTED
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Rehabilitation Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Majumder, Ranjit K.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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