Friday, October 16, 2015
In the mid-1980s, a twelve-year old girl developed an invention that greatly helped people who have difficulty communicating. Rachel Zimmerman of Ontario, Canada created a software program using Blissymbols: symbols that enable non-speaking people, such as those with severe physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, to communicate.
The program user communicates by pointing to various symbols on a page or board through the use of a special touch pad. When the user touches the symbols, Zimmerman's "Blissymbol Printer" translates them into a written language. In this way, the user can record his or her thoughts or communicate via e-mail.
Zimmerman's system of communication started out as a project for a school science fair, but it ended up competing at the World Exhibition of Achievement of Young Inventors, winning a silver medal at the Canada-wide contest. The program also won the YTV Television Youth Achievement Award.
Rachel Zimmerman went on to study physics and space studies in college and now works for The Planetary Society in California, where she teaches people about space exploration. She is interested in combining space technology with assistive intelligence. Her goal is to take NASA innovations and tailor them to fit the needs of people with disabilities.