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Collection: Laptops

Purple arrow (1137 bytes)Portable Computers Adapted for Power Wheelchair Use


Access issues. Many users requiring adaptive inputs or assistive devices have been limited in their ability to access laptop computers because they may require an adapted keyboard, a speech recognition system, or environmental controls. Standard laptops typically have not been able accommodate the need these devices present for additional ports and enhanced memory. Also, the number of devices and the logistical issues of integrating, mounting and powering them have made it cumbersome. Yet it is clearly advantageous and even imperative that individuals using wheelchairs are able to have their tools for writing, speaking, and manipulating the environment "travel" with them.

"Card" technology. There are different technologies becoming available which eliminate many of these obstacles. For example, adaptive technology is becoming increasingly available in card form, whereby a card can be inserted inside the central processing unit (CPU) of the desktop computer as a substitute for an external device. This simplifies things considerably: there are fewer items to be attached, maintained and powered - and no maze of cords and wires. While modifications such as inserting device cards cannot be made to the standard laptop, portable computers adapted for use with the power wheelchair are designed to accept these cards.

Display options. Portable adapted computer systems also take advantage of flat panel display technology to simplify computer access for individuals with disabilities. The flat panel display is a highly visible VGA or CGA screen which is also extremely compact and lightweight. Its versatility provides new display options, as evidenced in most recent laptop technology.

Versatile and powerful. When combined with these special adaptations, portable computers can have the usefulness of a dedicated system, the portability of a state-of-the-art laptop, and the versatility of a customizable desktop. When such a computer system is combined, for example, with a voice synthesizer and augmentative communication software, the computer becomes a powerful and portable augmentative communication system.

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Description: Synergy PC Synergy PC is an example of a specially engineered portable computer system which combines laptop and desktop features to address the multiple needs of individuals with disabilities who use power wheelchairs. With Synergy PC (IBM-based), the body (CPU) of the computer and the monitor have been "packaged" in separate, compact units. The CPU is housed in a rugged and weather resistant metal case that attaches to the back of the wheelchair and is powered by the wheelchair battery. The screen, an adapted flat panel display with a small, laptop-like VGA or CGA screen, can be mounted on the wheelchair.

Positioning and access. Typically individuals with disabilities who use wheelchairs encounter difficulties using standard laptops. For instance, positioning the laptop can be problematic. Since the compact Synergy flat panel display is functionally independent of the CPU, it can be mounted on the wheelchair and optimally positioned to meet the user's needs. It can also swing out of the way for transfer in and out of the chair. Both the flat panel display and the CPU can be configured to meet the multiple needs of individuals with disabilities. The flat panel display provides numerous ports which can accommodate varied adaptive access devices. The CPU also has numerous ports and can accommodate cards, thereby eliminating the need to mount and power many external devices such as a speech synthesizer.

Power, memory and adaptive devices. The draw of power from the battery of the power wheelchair battery to run the computer is minimal. Since the CPU accepts standard IBM parts, it is possible to install as fast a processor as needed and unlimited amounts of memory. Many users are unable to use a standard keyboard, but instead require adaptive input devices such as a switch, trackball, adapted keyboard, Dragon Dictate, etc. The standard laptop cannot accommodate the need these devices present for additional ports and enhanced memory, whereas this portable system provides the option of disconnecting the keyboard and/or connecting as many devices as needed to serial, parallel and other ports. Also, much of the latest technology, such as speech output, speech recognition, environmental control, etc., is now available in card form. Instead of having to mount and power additional peripheral devices, numerous cards can be inserted into the computer case - something not possible with the laptop computer.

Software. Since Synergy PC is standard and modular in design and the equivalent of a full-size desktop computer, the user can access all standard PC software and hardware. Word processing can be achieved via scanning and switch access, head movement, eye control, touch sensitive alternate keyboards, speech commands - in essence, by whatever technology is developed. High quality synthesized speech can be built in, as well as environmental controls. Thus, within an integrated, portable system, users can independently "write," "speak," and control their environment with their choice of peripheral devices and can customize the system to meet their specific needs. For more information:

Address: Synergy, 68 Hale Road, East Walpole, MA 02032
Phone: (508) 668-7424
Fax: (508) 668-4134

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Description: MacSynergy MacSynergy is a Macintosh version of Synergy PC. The computer is a single unit: the CPU is built-in under the display, and there is no keyboard. The LCD display, which can be passive or active matrix with the option for color, can be mounted to the wheelchair.

Power and memory. MacSynergy is powered by the wheelchair battery. Unlike DOS-PC technology, for which "off-the-shelf" parts and clones are available, Macintosh technology is proprietary. As a consequence, there is less capability than with DOS to make modifications and adaptations such as providing extra ports for external devices. Memory can be expanded to the equivalent...

Access and software

MacSynergy can be used with a variety of adaptive inputs and software, including: built-in touch sensitive screen, single switch, multiple switch, joystick (with mouse emulator), mouse, trackball, head pointing devices, mini keyboard, and expanded keyboard. MacSynergy also can be used with a variety of software for augmentative communication, including: Speaking Dynamically for picture-based augmentative communication; Telephathic, a word prediction program; ScreenDoors, which provides on-screen keyboards for use with "pointing devices" such as a mouse, trackball, or HeadMaster; RevolvingDoors, a scanning program for switch input; and Ke:nx for multiple adaptive access. It provides high quality male and female voice using built-in MacinTalk Pro speech. For more information:

Address: Synergy, 68 Hale Road, East Walpole, MA 02032
Phone: (508) 668-7424
Fax: (508) 668-4134

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.