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Ore. Profs Develop Email For Those With Cognitive Disabilities

Two professors at the University
of Oregon have launched a
simplified e-mail program aimed at people with cognitive disabilities.

The program, dubbed CogLink by its creators, has no Inbox or
Outbox, no list of messages sent and received, and no icons to show what’s been
replied to or forward.

Instead, there’s just a simple list of e-mail buddies, to
show whether you’ve e-mailed someone on your list and if they’ve written back

The software is the brainchild of UO computer science
professor Stephen Fickas and McKay Moore Sohlberg.

The program works by setting up a buddy system. Users give
the tech support staff a list of the people they want to have contact with, and
only e-mails from those people get through, protecting them from spam and

CogLink also keeps the confusion of e-mail to a minimum by
reducing the choices users have to make. For example, no “Send”
button appears on the screen until an e-mail has actually been composed.

Fickas said the market is full of high-tech gadgets created
for people with disabilities, but that they don’t always help.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that people abandon
this stuff at a pretty high rate. It just doesn’t end up getting used. Everyone
gets excited, but then it gets put in the closet,” he said.

With input from users who had suffered from traumatic brain
injuries, the academics created a pilot project that attracted a U.S.
Department of Education grant. Once they’d finessed the software, they followed
the people using the program for several months and confirmed that they
continued using it and improving their skills.

CogLink has also proved a boon to older people who don’t
have brain injuries but aren’t familiar with more complex computer programs.
The program has a monthly subscription fee of $10 that provides users with
technical support that includes adding or subtracting people from their buddy

Sohlberg and Fickas aren’t stopping with this success.
They’re working on a new project, TeenLink, that will bring the e-mail to youth
with special needs. They’ll create programs that can be tailored to help, say,
autistic youth, improve their communications skills.

“Now we’re really interested in learning whether you
can use it like a training program,” Sohlberg said.

Information from: The Register-Guard,

– Associated Press

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