Windows 98 Helps People with Disabilities Expand Options for Work, Entertainment and Communication

Windows 98 Helps People with Disabilities Expand Options for Work, Entertainment and Communication

Redmond, Wash., June 29, 1998 — For most PC users, Microsoft’s Windows 98 is a valuable improvement over Windows 95 — faster, more reliable, easier to use, and enhanced with many new entertainment and hardware capabilities – but for people with disabilities, Windows 98 is a godsend.

Windows 98 not only retains the accessibility features of Windows 95, it also includes many new features to help people with disabilities take full advantage of the power of personal computing to expand their options for work, entertainment and communication. Chief among those features is the Accessibility Wizard, which now makes it very easy for people to configure their computer in the ways that work best for their particular disability. Combined with the far easier installation, use and maintenance of Windows 98, these new accessibility features offer greater flexibility and new opportunities to people with disabilities.

One person who knows firsthand the power of the Windows experience for people with disabilities is former Chicago police officer Jim Mullen, who was nearly killed by a gunshot wound he received in the line of duty in October 1996. The bullet lodged in his spine and left him a quadriplegic.

During his extended recovery and rehabilitation, Mullen received help from two unexpected allies: John Chmela, a software programmer who heard about Mullen through the media and decided to get involved; and Chmela’s close friend Mark Parente, who had suffered a spinal-cord injury a year earlier and faced many of the same adjustments Mullen was confronting.

Chmela started by giving the former police officer a computer system loaded with Dragon Dictate voice-recognition software, a program that allows computer commands to be spoken rather than being entered manually with a mouse or keyboard. Next, Chmela and Parente went to work creating a Web site that gave the Mullen family some relief from the generous but overwhelming concern expressed by the media and the public.

Today, Mullen is a nationally recognized advocate for computer technology as an aid to people with disabilities. Earlier this year, Mullen, Chmela and Parente co-founded the Jim Mullen Foundation, a non-profit organization that solicits unwanted or surplus computers from corporations and individuals, equips them for e-mail and Internet access, and gives them free to people with disabilities. The foundation donated its first fully equipped recycled computer earlier this year and now distributes a few machines each week.

“I want to help others get beyond their injuries and use computers to their advantage,” Mullen said. “I want to show there are no limitations or barriers or discrimination in cyberspace.” Mullen had used Microsoft Windows 95 ever since his accident, but he recently switched to Windows 98. Parente and Chmela helped him install the new operating system.

“The Setup screen took us right into the [Accessibility] Wizard,” Parente said. “The Wizard asks you one question after another about the nature of your accessibility, your handicap, or your disability. You just answer the questions and Windows 98 configures itself in the best possible way for your particular disability.”

Mullen said he particularly appreciates the new features that allow magnification of on-screen text.

“Those tools are especially useful when I’m lying in bed or a little farther away from the monitor than usual,” he said.

Because disabled people often rely heavily on their computers for a wide range of functions, successful integration of components is vitally important. Parente noted that he has encountered a lot of trouble in the past trying to add certain hardware devices that seemed to challenge the operating system. With Windows 98, it was easy.

“There was nothing to do. We just installed the software,” said Parente. “It recognized all of our input devices, including some new ones. It even installed the drivers. It took absolutely no effort on my part.”

Microsoft is committed to making personal computing accessible to everyone – including people with all types of disabilities. Microsoft is working on many technology improvements that are expected to benefit the disabled: cursors that can be controlled with eye movement; natural-language processes that will enable computers to comprehend and respond to commands based on everyday language; Braille and other enhancements that will allow blind people to use the Internet freely; and computers that will learn users’ habits, assess their moods and respond by offering shortcuts and helpful suggestions.

As Jim Mullen says, “When you are on the Web or getting e-mail, you do not have a disability. You can do anything that anybody else can do.”

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