When I was given a computer in 1979, I had little need for oneso little, in fact, that I didn't even start to worry about how I might use it until almost a year later. I am quadriplegic, having had polio as a very young child, and don't have the strength or reach to simply sit in front of a keyboard and type. I would need a certain amount of gadgetry to help me use the computer, if I ever progressed to that point. My interest peaked when I learned about "text adventures," a new genre of games available only on computers. Being an avid game player, I couldn't resist. Now I was ready for the computer, but it wasn't quite ready for me.
I could manage to press the keys down (with great difficulty) by using a long knitting needle to extend my reach, but even then, I couldn't quite reach the entire keyboard and I had no way of holding down two keys at once. I needed to make a few phone calls and locate some type of adaptive keyboard before I could set out on my first adventure. What I didn't realize then was that my only adventuring for quite some time was to be my quest for the perfect keyboard, a true adventure, populated by dragons and heroes, filled with romance, and leading ultimately to the Magic Wand.
All I discovered, after months of telephone calls, was that nothing even remotely like a mini-keyboard existed. As for a Shift-lock and Control-lock device so I could hold down two keys at once, the best I came up with was a set of sinkers (weights), properly used as fishing gearand this inelegant solution from a man who had written a highly technical book on the Apple II computer. These little egg-shaped weights with hooks attached sat on the Shift and Control keys, just the right weight to keep the key down when given a light touch and allow the key to come up again with a little tug on the hook. They were difficult to maneuver, continually rolling out of reach, but they did allow me for the first time to use my computer independently.
Two years later I had become a full-fledged computer addictplaying games, programming, reading endless magazines and manuals on the subject. And yet I was still struggling every time I needed to type a question mark, a plus sign, a parentheses. I loved my computer, but I only had the strength to use it for short periods of time. Word processing was out of the question; uppercase letters and punctuation marks were just too difficult. And so I plodded on, having embraced the personal computer agehook, line, and of course, sinker.
Soon after, I learned about modems, which allows one computer to "talk" to another. I was suddenly exploring a vibrant frontier, filled with new acquaintances, new experiences, and new dreams. My very routinized life was now teeming with people: some became friends, a few I dated, one I married. He (Jerry) now becomes the focus of my odyssey, for long before we even thought of marriage, he decided to build me a keyboard.
We "met" over the computerI, in New York, he, in Rhode Island, our calls routed via CompuServe, a computer information service. (CompuServe's CB-emulator was one of the first chat lines, allowing people from all over the country to "talk," that is, type, to each other on their computers.) Computer messages progressed to phone calls and then to weekend trips to New York City.
Just four months after our first date, Jerry, a computer programmer studying robotics engineering, presented me with a hand-built miniature electronic keyboard. This being at heart an adventure tale, all treasures must be enchanted, and so it was that this keyboard worked with the touch of a wand.
We dubbed it the Magic Wand Keyboard.
My knight in shining armor had come to the rescue, armed not with a sword but a circuit board. He had slain the dragon that was keeping me in bondage, asked for my hand in marriage, and was about to accompany me into the land of happily ever after . . . but we both felt that somehow we had abandoned the adventure before it was fully concluded. Certainly there were many others who had been on a similar quest and who were still entrapped in the maze of computer inaccessibility. So Jerry spent over a year redesigning the Magic Wand Keyboard to work on the IBM (mine was an Apple). The basic idea, of course, stayed the same: to build a keyboard that would work exactly like a standard PC keyboard and yet remain simple to use, even if the user could not lift a finger.
Finally, the prototype was ready. For weeks I did little else but test the keyboard: I wrote letters and drew pictures, played chess, pinball, and (of course) adventure games, programmed, and even learned how to fly a plane (using a flight simulator program). The keyboard was perfect. Many more months of work went into designing printed-circuit boards, drawing up blueprints, assembling units, designing and building cases, writing a manual.
We had never intended to start a business, and yet, here we were, In Touch Systems. That was over ten years ago. Today we're still working hard to give others a chance at a happily-ever-after world of equality and opportunity. As we see it, all it takes is effort, determinationand a little Magic.