Stanley M Debono

Mr. Debono is Chief Executive Officer at the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility. He comes from a business background and supplemented his multi-disciplinary skills with a BCom Hons. in Banking and Finance, and an MBA E-Business certification at the University of Malta. As CEO of FITA he collaborates with public and private organisations in order to ensure the effectiveness of ICT products and services, while promoting accessibility for all. He is responsible in helping define FITA's strategy and developing the initiatives necessary for its implementation. Providing valid ICT based solutions in a people focused environment, denotes the highly challenging and dynamic work environment he enjoys.

Dec 202017
 

Merry Christmas bauble in multipe languagesAs the holiday season is upon us, it is time to briefly review the work we carried out in the past year, thanks to our staff and all those who have helped to shape FITA’s initiatives in 2017, including:

  1. Alternative accessible media – One audio and 7 Braille products
  2. ICT Training courses – Digital Photography Course
  3. Consultancy Services – 32 home visits, 78 client meetings and 26 reports
  4. Accessibility Certification – 23 assessments
  5. Accessible software – 2 products
  6. ICT Pool partner project – 20 sessions
  7. Information Sessions  – 27 sessions

Our key focus throughout 2018 shall be the following projects:

  1. Assistive ICT and environment control
  2. Collating and sharing accessibility information via the SPOT project
  3. Continuing to ensure the delivery of accessible ICT services via the implementation of the Web Accessibility Directive
  4. Facilitating research on accessible ICT projects in collaboration with Disability NGOs.

The FITA team are grateful to all those who have made our success possible.
It is in this spirit that we say thank you and wish you all the best for the holidays and New Year.

We look forward to working with you in the coming year.

 

Nov 262017
 
The Hon. Marlene Mizzi MEP addressing audience at the end of the conference

The Hon. Marlene Mizzi MEP addressing the audience

The 3rd of December marks the International Day of Persons with Disability and the start of Disability Week 2017.  To mark this day,  on Friday, 24 November, 2017, the Hon. MEP Marlene Mizzi hosted the public conference Accessibility Without Discrimination at the Phoenicia Hotel, supported by the S&D group in the European Parliament.  The Malta Communications Authority (MCA) and the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) helped organise the conference.

FITA is supportive of the great emphasis on ICT accessibility and the derivative life changing possibilities, covered during this conference.  Persons with disabilities have the same civil, political, social and economic rights like everyone else, but due to the increase use of digital technologies in the public and private administration often they cannot access those rights.  Strong policies incentivising the use of accessible digital technologies so as to provide easier access to services, are key in helping persons with disabilities participate equally in society and in the economy.

The talks and presentations targeted employers and employees alike, as well as persons with disability who are faced with daily accessibility challenges. It brought together a variety of stakeholders, government policymakers and civil society organisations in order to discuss this important issue.

Conference top table with three speakers

Speakers at top table. From left to right, Ms Siobhan Long from Enable Ireland, Mr. Oliver Scicluna from CRPD and Hon Marlene Mizzi, MEP and conference host

The conference raised awareness on the subject of digitalisation of the economy and the society.  The development of eGovernment, a Digital Single Market and smart cities has created millions of opportunities for citizens and businesses, and yet, people with disabilities in Europe are still excluded or prevented from using basic digital products and services due to a lack of accessibility or knowledge requirements.  This exclusion also makes it hard for people with disability to access information and voice their concerns on this subject.

Hon. Anthony Agius Decelis, Parliamentary Secretary for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing, as well as Hon. Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, delivered talks during this event.  Ms Siobahn Long, Manager at Enable Ireland, delivered a presentation about the work being carried out by Enable Ireland.  This is a non-profit state-funded organisation that provides free services to children and adults with disabilities and their families in Ireland.  Ms. Vickie Gauci, an Occupational Therapist by profession, who is reading for a PHD at the University of Leeds, shared parts of her research on on disability activism, assistive technology and universal design.

Ms Aimee Cassar delivering presentation

The employer’s perspective – presentation by Ms Aimee Cassar, from KPMG Crimsonwing (Malta) Ltd.

Ms Aimee Cassar, assistant HR manager at KPMG Crimsonwing (Malta) Ltd. described how the company’s policies reflect a culture that values diversity.  She explained how policies are designed not specifically for a person with disability but for all employees, but made to be inclusive.  Thus addressing parents with children, people who had temporary accidents and needed flexible hours or teleworking arrangements.  This way, it is not a single employee who benefits but many others, especially those with hidden disabilities.  She ended her presentation by outlining that their experience is that this not only benefited the organisation’s culture as a whole, but also clients and their business.

At the end of the conference, Hon. MEP Marlene Mizzi, summarised the key points highlighted through by this event, and emphasised the need for greater collaboration in our efforts to identify important issues and how to address them.  “The rampant, world-wide growth of the digital economy within an increasingly digital society can only be described as breathtaking. It is positive, strong and moving at hurricane speed, and yet it tends to overlook the needs and predicaments of those who are more vulnerable in society, particularly persons with disabilities who must often feel they are caught in a technological cul-de-sac to the detriment of social justice and fair play.  It is our duty to turn this alley into a highway of opportunities for persons with disabilities, giving them the chance not only to catch up but also to play their part in the vast road network of this dynamic digital society.” said Hon. Marlene Mizzi.

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Nov 262017
 

On Wednesday 22nd November 2017, Mr. Tony Sultana, Chairperson of MITA and Mr. Elizabeth Olivier, Chairperson of FITA welcoming Honourable guests to FITA the Hon. Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation and the Hon. Anthony Agius Decelis, Parliamentary Secretary for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing, visited the new FITA offices at Gattard House.

During their visit, they met with participants in one of the Focus Groups that were organised by FITA, in order to consult on one of our ongoing projects, called SPOT.   These include individuals with different abilities and disabilities, each of whom is evaluating different functionality and usability aspects, from their own perspective.  The SPOT platform, is the result of collaboration and joint funding by Vodafone Malta Foundation and FITA.

FITA’s CEO, Mr. Stanley Debono, highlighted the need for Disability NGOs to be more supportive of the activities being organised, both at the planning and delivery stage.  “Ongoing consultation on where resources are to be addressed and a strong cohort of participants, are key to ensure the longterm success in implementing more accessibility across ICT solutions” he said.

During their visit they also met with FITA staff who have recently moved to a new office space at Gattard House.  Following an overview of FITA’s operations, the visit included an overview of the FITA multi-purpose room, which houses the ICT Pool service that FITA delivers, together with the ADVICE disability NGO.  Here Mr. Joseph Cauchi from ADVICE and Mr. Michael Micallef from FITA, carried out demonstrations covering the range of equipment available at FITA

Parliamentary Secretary Silvo Schembri thanked FITA for the work carried out so far in an effort to impliment the SPOT Project and stated that “this Government strongly believes in accessibility and the more time goes by, the more we’re nearing towards achieving this goal.”

Focus Group participants discuss accessibility issues with Hon. Silvio Schembri and Hon. Anthony Agius DecelisHon. guests addressing Focus Group participantsMr. Stanley Debono demonstrating equipment at the FITA ICT PoolHon. Silvio Schembri meets FITA Focus Group participantsMr. Joseph Cauchi demonstrating equipment at the FITA ICT Pool

 

 

 

 

Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis emphasised how together with the ongoing training – inclusivity and accessibility are fundamental to our society.  Anthony Agius Decelis stated “that there are a number of different ongoing projects wherein importance is given to politicians holding discussions with various persons with disabilities, who know, first-hand, what is required in order to aid and assist their needs”.  He stressed the importance that these discussions also involve family members and those who take care of people with special needs.

Ms. Elizabeth Olivieri, Chairperson of FITA, concluded the visit by extending an invitation to all those interested in learning more about the activities being organised by FITA to visit our website at www.fitamalta.eu  or contact FITA on on tel. 25992048 or via email at info@fitamalta.eu

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Nov 182017
 
Accessible Procurement ChartAccessibility is predominantly a service quality issue

Accessibility is not merely a compliance issue. It is not just about conforming with technical guidelines or legal requirements. By focusing on accessibility an organisation can achieve a universally consistent quality of service for its customers. A high level of service quality should be the driving principle and motivation, not compliance.

Step by step guide

The guide, called ‘Buy IT!’, has been produced by the US-based Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT).  This online resource is meant to help US based employers purchase effective accessible technology through their procurement processes.

The introduction to Buy IT! states that whether considering software, hardware or services, a successful accessible ICT purchasing strategy means: “doing vendor research, specifying your requirements, and validating the accessibility of your product choices prior to accepting and implementing them. Most importantly, it means approaching ICT procurement with an eye toward accessibility and usability from the very beginning.”

A detailed step-by-step plan for employers and purchasing staff needs to be set out, explaining how to work towards an accessible procurement programme in three sections: planning, solicitation and ‘post-award’.

  1. Approaching ICT procurement with an eye toward accessibility and usability from the very beginning.
  2. Gain executive support for accessible procurement and what to look for when researching vendors
  3. Write an accessibility-focused procurement solicitation, including requesting accessibility information from vendors and contractors (you may wish to refer to the VPATs mechanism here)
  4. Test and validate vendor’s accessibility claims

The ‘planning’ section explores how employers can gain executive support for accessible procurement and what to look for when researching vendors. ‘Solicitation’ gives a thorough grounding in writing an accessibility-focused procurement solicitation, including requesting accessibility information from vendors and contractors, and ensuring that the solicitation documents are fully accessible. As the guide points out, this last step “is especially useful for attracting vendors that may employ people with disabilities who may not otherwise be able to access your solicitation.”

The final section, ‘post-award’, gives a detailed breakdown of steps to take when employers are ready to make a contract award. The guide emphasises the importance of ‘testing and validation’ here, to avoid potentially difficult scenarios in the next stage of the process: “All too often, customers take vendors at their word when they say a product is accessible, and then accept it without testing the product and validating the claim,” the guide reads.

The key to avoiding this situation is ‘acceptance testing’, claims the guide, which helps determine whether a procured product meets the necessary criteria drawn up in the sales contract. The guide then goes on to outline models to test for ICT accessibility.

You can learn more about the Buy IT! resource for purchasing accessible technology at the PEAT website: http://www.peatworks.org/buy-IT

Source:

e-Access Bulletin

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Nov 112017
 
FITA stand at the 12th Mediterranean Congress of Physical and Rehabilittion Medicine

Pictured from left to right: Mr. Joseph Caruana, Mr. Michael Micallef (seated), Mr. Stanley Debono and Ms. Maria Mercia. The video screen shows a demonstration being delivered by Mr. Joseph Cauchi from ADVICE.

Malta is hosting the 12th Mediterranean Congress of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine between the 9th and the 12th November 2017. Malta has hosted numerous international activities in various spheres in the past but it is the first time that Malta hosted an international Rehabilitation Congress.

By participating at this congress, FITA is aiming to help both the experienced and the younger generations of rehabilitation specialists, trainees and allied health professionals, to better understand the many possibilities available through accessible ICT solutions, for individuals who wish to lead a more independent life.

FITA also helps ensure that the range of solutions sourced and implemented by Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (PRM) specialists, can integrate well within education and work environments.  We do so by providing consultancy and certification services to organisations and ICT developers, who need to implement accessible ICT solutions.

Striking a balance and promoting compatibility between everyday mainstream ICT solutions and the growing range of assistive technology and medical solutions, is key to the person’s empowerment and independence.   These areas are equally important and inter-independent.  Ensuring awareness about accessibility both among service providers and the individuals facing adversities caused by disability, is the most sensible and least costly way of implementing a working solution.

On the FITA stand, besides distributing information literature, we displayed educational and awareness videos from the FITA Youtube channel.  We also gave live demonstrations of the Reader Pen and Connect12 devices.

We also took the opportunity of visiting the stands of other exhibitors, and gathered information about some of the latest technology products.  All this information will be added to the FITA ICT Pool service.  Among these were:

  • Interesting exoskeleton technology to aid mobility and
  • ICT tools that can help people with hearing impairments and the Deaf, to access audio content and/or the information contained with greater ease.

The decision to organise the first Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine congress was taken in Israel.  In 1994, Pr. Haim Ring proposed to the Israeli Association of PRM to organise the first Mediterranean Congress in Herzliya of Israel, under his presidency.

The suggestion was approved, and in May 1996 the First Mediterranean Congress of PRM took place in Israel.  For the logo, the map of the Mediterranean Basin was adopted, with a dove of peace flying above and the motto of “Rehabilitation without frontiers” underneath. About 500 people participated from 42 countries from all continents, including participants from 11 countries spanning the Mediterranean basin.

Doctor Stephen Zammit

Dr. Stephen Zammit
President – Malta Physical &
Rehabilitation Medicine Assocation

As outlined on the event’s website at http://prmcongress2017malta.org/, the hosting of this Congress is the fruit of the efforts that the Physical & Rehabilitation Medicine Assocation has made, with the view that hosting such a Congress in Malta, will continue to bring Rehabilitation Medicine further into the limelight.  The Mediterranean Forum of PRM motto of “Rehabilitation without frontiers” is more than ever evident today, with an intense feeling that we must bring all the diversity in the region much closer together than before.

The association also expressed their appreciation for the presence of many Mediterranean countries and those bordering, with special emphasis on those not regularly present in such congresses.  The latter’s presence can be not only a point of a greater launch of collaboration of Rehabilitation services between us all in the Mediterranean region irrespective of our different cultures, but also a wonderful occasion of meeting and exchanging our knowledge and experiences.

PRM also known as physiatry or rehabilitation medicine, aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.  A physician having completed training in this field is referred to as a physiatrist. Unlike other medical specialties that focus on a medical “cure,” the goals of the physiatrist are to maximize patients’ independence in activities of daily living and improve quality of life.

Doctor Gulseren Akyuz

Prof Gulseren Akyuz
President – Mediterranean Forum of Physical & Rehabilitation Medicine

PRM physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions associated with disabilities.  These might include: cognitive problems, orthopedic anomalies, mobility concerns, bowel and bladder issues, gait disorders, feeding and swallowing problems, communication difficulties, pain, and muscle stiffness or hypotonia.  They work collaboratively with neurologists, orthopedists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, and primary care physicians to look at the “big picture” of improving function, and often create a medical plan for patients requiring this level of support.

PRM is rapidly becoming a dynamic area in the field of Medicine with frequent innovative programmes and ever increasing research. Such innovations in mobility support , augmentative speech, communication tools and environment control, are leading to a rapid improvement in the daily life of those facing what used to be totally disabling conditions.

We wish to thank the FITA team and volunteers who helped us set up the stand and make this experience a success.

 

Main hall at the Westin Dragonara Hotel showing event participants and speakers

H.E. The President of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, addressing the event participants on the first day of the Congress

Source:

Vitalis Global Healthcare
Association of Podiatrists of Malta

 

Nov 072017
 

Be My Eyes coverWhat has proven to be a very successful app, called Be My Eyes, is now also available on Android.  The Be My Eyes app, pairs sighted volunteers with individuals with visual impairments who would appreciate a bit of remote assistance. The app is free both to download and to use.

As with the popular iOS version, with the Android version you can establish a Be My Eyes account using your Facebook ID or create an account using your email address. You are then asked if you wish to offer assistance or request assistance. Invoke the “Connect to first available helper” button to be connected with a sighted volunteer for a real time video session via the Tokbox video platform.

It’s a one-way connection: they can see what you show them; you cannot see them.

The app was rebuilt from the ground up for Android. Android users will reap the benefits of a number of improvements the developer has made since the original Be My Eyes release in early 2015. “We’ve improved our connection algorithms to bring down the wait time significantly,” says Be My Eyes Community Director, Alexander Hauerslev Jensen. “These days we’ve achieved an average wait time of just 30 seconds, and in the US the wait can often be as brief as 9 seconds.”

Since the beginning the Be My Eyes app has offered the ability to “Share your Be My Eyes experience” at the conclusion of each session. With the latest iOS and Android versions you can now offer more detailed information, beginning with whether the experience was positive or negative. “This is a first step toward developing and implementing our most frequent request: the ability to ‘favorite’ specific helpers because you made a good personal connection or they have a degree of expertise in computers, cooking, or some other subject for which you make frequent session requests,” says Hauerslev Jensen.

Hauerslev Jensen also states the team hopes eventually to include a kind of subject guide. “Perhaps you need help matching an outfit and would like to connect with someone who knows at least a little about fashion, or your computer isn’t talking and you need help reenabling your screen reader. We can offer our sighted assistants a list of interests to check off, and between that and the user feedback we receive we can do an increasingly accurate job matching calls.”

In total, as of November 2017, there are 571,000 volunteers and 41,000 registered assistant seekers.  This leads to a unique problem that has plagued Be My Eyes from the outset. “We have too many volunteers who have never had the opportunity to answer a call,” says Hauerslev Jensen, who cites an email he received that said: “I live in France and downloaded the app a long time ago. And for the first time tonight I had a call from a young man who needed my eyes to choose the color of a capsule of coffee. I am very glad I could help this person and wish I will get more calls in the future.”

For others it’s a labor of love. Shawn is 35 years old, comes from Washington, and started volunteering with Be My Eyes two years ago: “I wish I would get more calls, because I really love helping people out this way. I had an aunt who lost her vision due to macular degeneration as a result of diabetes. She was always game to try new assistive technologies. She passed away before I discovered Be My Eyes, but she loved her iPhone and would have loved your app. Every time I help somebody I think of how happy she would have been to have a tool like this. I’ve helped people sort greetings cards and clothes and read the label on a bottle of wine. And every time it made my day.”

For more details on the Be My Eyes service and how it works, you may wish to visit the website at BeMyEyes.com

Be My Eyes can be downloaded from the iOS App Store, or, now, from Google Play for devices running Android version 4.4 or later. The interfaces are virtually identical.

Source:

AccessWorld Magazine

Nov 062017
 

People working at web accessibility ideasOnce upon a time, web design was a simple business. All you had to do was ensure that the design looked good in Internet Explorer or Netscape, and your job was pretty much done. Very arrogantly and mistakenly – by today’s standards – some designers even took it upon themselves to mandate which browser the user should or should not be using.

With most of their background based around the paper based publishing world, for many designers at the time, the visual design of screen based media, was not only a primary concern, but the only concern.

That approach created a terrible legacy which is still sometimes experienced today, where the site content is often given secondary importance to eye candy and window dressing.

Things have moved on, and changed considerably. Users have a multitude of different devices and browsers to choose from, so there is a real challenge to create a design that will work consistently on any device and browser combination. The challenge involved in meeting the task of ensuring total browser compatibility, unfortunately often leads to designers forgetting to ensure overall user compatibility. In other words, where accessibility should be given utmost importance, it is often forgotten entirely or merely added in as an afterthought.

The below quick list, is conveniently split by the intended user group within an ICT project.  It should be read and used from the top down whenever working on a project, and from the bottom up once the project is launched, for the remainder of the deliverable’s life cycle, on a weekly basis.

Project Manager and Strategy
  1. Set realistic goals
    Set realistic goals and outcomes.  Do not start discounting accessibility requirement upon learning about them.  Even if something is not possible to get 100%, thinking about how to fix it or work out alternatives, will yield better results.  It will also make the end users’ life easier, as long as the online resource remains available; well beyond the time you are done working on the project. lifetime of the project.   If you wish to have things done right within time and budget, give ICT accessibility due consideration from day one.
  2. Make accessibility part of your strategy, not just a project outcome
    Website accessibility should be embedded into your overall strategy, and define what you want that strategic approach to achieve from accessibility. Most definitely it must not just be tacked on as a project requirement or outcome – it should help inform the project and be part of how you approach work.
  3.  Define your risks
    Assess your risks, and what are the outcomes from not pursuing best practice in terms of your project risk assessments.
Developers
  1. Execute semantic markup.
    Your CMS / code should execute semantic markup from your templates.  This helps bring out the meaning, of the information in webpages and web applications rather than merely to alter its presentation or look.
  2. Don’t hardcode styles/html that is hard to maintain
    This is self-explanatory, but hardcoded styles quickly start overriding themselves and are difficult to maintain. Perform styling in CSS and JS, not inline and within the text.
  3. Use tables correctly
    Tables are for tabular data not design layout.
UI / UX Designers
  1. Be mindful of different devices present and future (stick to industry standards including accessibility)
    No matter what the site’s purpose is, don’t forget it may be used across a plethora of devices, from phones to wide-screen monitors, and tablets to gaming consoles. Pay particular attention to forms, menus and do not disable pinch and zoom, and other accessibility features, even in responsive sites.
  2. Contrast
    Ensure there is enough contrast to read or see the message you want to bring across.  Avoid having text overlap complex photo images.
  3. Don’t forget assistive technologies
    It’s an easy step to skip, but do try and test your designs by using assistive technologies.  Do not try to duplicate existing assistive technology solutions, but ensure compatibility and work with these tools, not against them.
Content Writers
  1. Structure your content.
    Before importing your content from word into the web CMS, best to mark it up and structure it with headings, paragraphs and lists.
  2. Stop putting text in images
    It may look pretty, but try and separate text from images.
  3. Be succinct, and explain technical terms and acronyms.
    Stick to a point, and when you need to use more technical phrasing, make sure everyone understands and explain it yourself in simpler terms.

 

Source

Morgan Strong blog
Web Designer Depot

 

Related resources

 

Nov 052017
 
Portrait of Mr. Bjorn Formosa

Mr. Bjorn Formosa – Photo by Matthew Mirabelli

At the age of 28, after he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in August 2014, Mr. Bjorn Formosa decided not to let this difficulty take over, but focused his efforts and those of many around him, to realise a dream, which he managed to turn into reality.   Mr Formosa, has become a bona fide household name across the Maltese islands. Mention it anywhere – on Facebook, in the workplace or around a dinner table – and people know who he is.  This is mainly because out of true altruism, as he proudly stated, he did this to help others with the similar degenerative diseases, to lead an easier life.

As covered by a Times of Malta article he married Ms. Maria Muscat, now Mrs. Formosa in late 2016.  They donated their wedding gifts to the cause.  Married life is not much different from when they were engaged… although they now fight more, Ms Formosa joked.  As her husband’s health deteriorated over the past months, the two have been inseparable, spending the whole day, seven days a week, together.

It has been calculated that every person diagnosed with ALS costs the foundation €40,000, with around 10 people being diagnosed every year, Mr Formosa said.  There are between 30 and 40 people with ALS in Malta, and 20 of them seek the foundation’s support.  Dar Bjorn officially opened its doors on 20th October 2017.  The Qormi home is the first to offer assistive ICT support and services to patients with ALS, multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.

Her Exclellency the President of Malta Ms. Marie Louise Coleiro Preca presenting award to Mr Bjorn Formosa

Presentation of Premju  Ġieħ ir-Republika by Her Excellency the President of Malta Ms. Marie Louise Coleiro Preca to Mr Bjorn Formosa – DOI

“You learn loads of things in this situation,” Mr. Formosa says. “You teach yourself to be more efficient, not to waste time but make the most of it. When you have limited time, this is even more important. It is essential to always have objectives to go after, to use your time in the most productive and sensible manner; to know that something small can result in something huge. It’s about really doing something with your life.”  The 32-year-old IT guru hit the headlines as he made his daily struggles public in an bid to raise awareness about the disease, setting up the ALS Malta Foundation and donating €100,000 to fund research into the disease.

In March 2017, over €900,000 was collected through a fundraising telethon, with the money going towards refurbishing the home and equipping it with the necessary technology.  During the telethon, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who inaugurated Dar Bjorn, announced the government would be covering the annual running costs.

ALS (also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease) is one of many known diseases that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.  The number of similar deceases is not a small one, and taken together, neither is the number of individuals affected.  Whichever the neuro-muscular decease involved, the affected individuals face and share many of the symptoms and dilapidating effects, on their motor abilities and level of independence.  This is why practical solutions, most of which relying on ICT, should be made available as the person’s physical condition worsens.

As most of these diseases have paralysing effects on patients, homes for those with ALS, Muscular Sclerosis and Muscular Dystophy, must be specially equipped and designed in a way that allows residents to control every aspect of their daily lives.  In extreme cases, over time, when even speech is impaired, this requires using just one’s eyes.  This means that anything from, communication tools, to lifts, doors and televisions, must be adapted to allow the user’s ability to control them.

In the first stages of ALS, patients begin to lose control of their muscle movements as their motor neurons stop working as they should.  In later stages of the disease, voluntary muscle action is affected and patients may become totally paralyzed.  ALS is a devastating disease that robs patients of their ability to experience life to the fullest.

Facade of Dar Bjorn

Dar Bjorn opened in Triq il-Kbira, Qormi on 20th October 2017 – DOI

Inauguration ceremony of Dar Bjorn

Hon. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat inagurating Dar Bjorn – DOI

While no known medication or technology can heal motor neurons, allowing patients to do all the things they used to do, assistive technologies like Tobii, Eyegaze Edge and others can help them recapture important parts of everyday life.

Because every person with neuro-muscular deceases is a little different, it’s hard to say exactly when each patient will need each assistive device.  However installing a wheelchair ramp and purchasing an SGD (Speech Generating Device) device before either is necessary can save trouble later on.

This is because getting used to this equipment and incorporating it into one’s daily routine can be challenging, both in terms of accepting them and also because of the learning curve involved.  One should always give the persons involved and their close family, time to adjust to these additions to their home and daily life.

Examples of related assistive technology tools

  • Exoskleteons can help support or reinforce human limbs

    Volunteers in Tokyo show off suits with thought sensors which activate attached robotic legs to help disabled wearers walk.

    Augmentative communication (SGD) tools which allow users to control computers by looking at the screen of their device.  At present, the most common solutions are eye tracking technologies, which combined with a grid system or probabilistic pattern, match the user’s eye movement to mouse pointer control or option selection.  This then creates text/commands that can be spoken aloud or otherwise digitally transmitted by the user, to other people or devices.

  • Environmental control via computer to hardware interfaces, radio based or otherwise, which trigger the movement of curtains, temperature control, motorised beds/wheelchairs and communication systems.
  • Computer enabled, remote CCTV security and aperture control triggers.
  • When the decease begins to affect the muscles that control breathing, respiratory assistance will become necessary.
  • Among the future technology projects – thought controlled human exoskeletons as alternatives to wheelchairs
Source

Times of Malta

Related resources

Nov 052017
 

MEUSEC and Local NGOs work on EU funded project - Inclusion through technologyA three-year project funded by the European Union – ‘Enhancing Social and Economic Inclusion through Independent Living’ – is under way after MEUSAC assisted the Malta Federation of Organisations Persons with Disability to garner the funds.

The project, which started last month, involves five participating countries and is set to end in August 2020. The objective of the project is to create a set of modules which will assist persons with intellectual challenges to engage in independent living. The modules will focus on improving communication, literacy and numeracy skills.

The project involves research, the development of modules, pilot activities and a multiplier event which takes place in a partner country. Enhancing the target group’s communication skills and other abilities will help provide the group with necessary tools for integration. As part of the project, a two-day conference was held between 19 and 20 October, 2017. Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds and Social Dialogue Aaron Farrugia met with the project’s participants from Malta, Belgium, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Greece and Belgium.

Dr Farrugia thanked MEUSAC for its sterling work in supporting NGOs, government entities and local councils in the EU funding application process and providing the organisations with the ideal funding stream to sustain the projects they would want to implement. The NGOs discussed with Dr Farrugia the nature of their work in their country of origin, which mainly involves supporting persons with a disability and persons diagnosed with Autism. During the meeting, an NGO representative from Northern Ireland lamented the fact that there was a need for more funds in this area as 1 in 40 children were being diagnosed with autism in her home country.

Dr Massimo Ellul, a representative of the local NGO, said that Malta was the only country in the EU where the national disability organisation works on a voluntary basis, which, he said, made things harder for the NGO to cope with all the activities that take place to help better the lives of persons with a disability. Dr Ellul thanked MEUSAC for supporting the organisation in the application process and said that it was also thanks to the government agency that such projects can be implemented.

Source:

MESUEC

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