Six years ago, Yossi Blum bought the Israeli rights to Sensory Software, a UK-based computer communication system used by disabled people with severe speech problems. Initially, he did it for his now 19-year-old son, who suffers from a form of autism that restricts his ability to communicate verbally. But after the success he had with the system, he now enthusiastically promotes it as a way to help others with autism.
“If he didn’t have this program, I can’t even imagine what his life would have been like,” said Blum, who calls his Hebrew-language program D-bur (a play on words for “speech”). “Now, all he has to do is press buttons and he’s speaking to me.”
D-bur was one of many technologies and products on display at Ezertech, a Tel Aviv exhibition last week geared towards providing solutions for individuals suffering from a disability. Among the products on offer were innovative wheelchairs, communications systems for the elderly and the disabled, and devices to enhance the mobility and freedom of movement of the physically disabled.
Using his Sensory Software license, Blum, who has a PhD in Operations Research, created a software called “alternative augmentative communication.” It allows those who are verbally impaired to use a device similar to an iPad to express their thoughts. With touch-screen capability, users can point to hundreds of pictures — such as food, television, music, and many more — to tell those around them what they want to do. Higher-functioning individuals can also use the device to write email messages and even communicate on social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Although Blum says it’s a great device, D-bur — along with many other products that could make life easier for the disabled — has a problem: It’s expensive. Although there are government programs to subsidize products to help the disabled, D-bur, which costs between NIS 3,000 and NIS 7,000 (depending on the features included) is not eligible for these subsidies.
Which is a shame, commented Blum, adding that “there are so many families that really need this and they just can’t afford it.”
Other products on display — some of which, likewise, are not eligible for funding assistance — included innovative motor wheelchairs, such as the Suprema from Israel’s Kal-Al Tech. The chair can rise up to 3 meters (almost 10 feet), enabling a user to have full mobility in the home. The chair “gives people the freedom of adapting yourself to your home,” said Kal-Al’s general manager, Sharon Halili. “It also gives someone the chance to meet their friend at eye level, which can have a significant physiological impact.”
Also on display at the event were many power wheelchairs designed for use outside the house, which can range in price from 60,000 to 160,000 shekels each. Depending on the individual case, the Israeli government can help with up to 85 percent of the cost, according to Roy Efrath, vice president of marketing and sales at the Israel Quality of Life Center, a nursing and home-care products company that imports disability aids into Israel.
Efrath said he feels Israel is not providing enough funding to the disabled when compared with other places in Europe, such as Scandinavia. “Those countries will pay twice as much for certain products because they put an emphasis on better quality,” explains Efrath, who has worked at the company for over 20 years. “In the past six years we’ve improved, but we still have a long way to go.”