Many technologies originally developed to help people with disabilities led to the development of many of today’s information products. For example:



The first typewriter was built by Pellegrino Turri in 1808 to enable a friend of his who was blind, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzono, to write legibly.


Herman Hollerith, a young student, with what is now recognized as having had learning disabilities, jumps from a second story window to avoid a spelling lesson. Seventeen years later Hollerith developed a system to "overcome the challenge of processing data manually." He incorporated ideas from Jacquard's loom and Babbage's Analytical Engine and patented an electromechanical information machine that used punched cards. It won the 1890 U.S. Census competition, with the result that electricity was used for the first time in a major data-processing project. He invention ultimately became known as the computer.


Throughout his life, Alexander Graham Bell had been interested in the education of people who were deaf. This interest lead him to invent the microphone and, in 1876, his "electrical speech machine," which we now call a telephone. Alexander Graham Bell's telephone receives U.S. Patent 174,465, the most lucrative patent ever granted.


Books for the Blind developed "specialized playback machines" to give patrons access to books. We now call these devices tape recorders.


World War II Teletype machines began to be used by people who are deaf and those they wished to communicate with the deaf to communicate over the telephone. When calling someone it was routine for the caller to identify who you were along with their telephone number before the person receiving the call answered. This was the beginning of what we now know as caller ID.


Vinton Cerf developed the host level protocols for the ARPANET. ARPANET was the first large scale packet network. Cerf, hard-of-hearing since birth, married a profoundly deaf lady by the name of Sigrid. Cerf communicated with his wife using a teletypewriter for text messaging over ARPANET. Had it not been for Cerf developing a way to communicate with Sigrid, e-mail may not have been part of the initial release of ARPANET, the precursor to Internet. On another note, Cerf’s work led to the term, "Cerfing the net."


Kurzweil Computer Products made an agreement with the American Foundation for the Blind. As a result they developed the Kurzweil Reading Machine, a flat-bed scanner which reads aloud any printed text that is presented to it. Based on Omnifont-Character-Recognition (OCR) technology, it was intended to be a sensory aid for the blind Kurzweil's scanner gave him the equivalent of a 10 year competitive advantage in this field.


Dragon Systems develops and markets a speech recognition product designed to enable people without the use of their hands to access to computers though the use of their voice.


Both a European and an American consortium, devoted to providing next-generation "Talking Books for the Blind," developed the first Digital Talking Books (DTB). This technology will ultimately replace audio cassette tapes. It will also enable companies to store massive amounts of audio information, searchable by word, in data warehouses.


The first talking pager was developed by Desktop Paging Software. The system, called Neuropage, delivered messages in voice to meet the specific needs of persons who are blind and visually- impaired where text formats would not be appropriate.


HITEC developed the talking caller ID, a new I.D. box that speaks the date, time and number of the calling party. The system was designed to meet the needs of the blind and visually-impaired.


A company by the name of Productivity Works, develops PW Webspeak, a non-visual web browser. It revolutionizes the way people who are blind access and use the Internet. This product is now being used to access the web, using a standard telephone. This is a perfect port-of-entry for business people on the go.