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17 Nominees Selected As 2010 da Vinci Awards Finalists

An all-accessible county park; a hands-free, voice-controlled computer desktop; a “freedom” kayak; an assistive chair that takes the rider to the driver’s seat and stores itself in the back of the SUV; and a multi-system, tongue-operated control unit for a wide variety of devices are a handful of the 17 innovations selected as 2010 da Vinci Awards finalists.

Benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society’s Michigan Chapter, the da Vinci Awards is a prestigious international forum recognizing the latest developments and research in adaptive and assistive technologies that enable equal access and opportunity for all people, regardless of ability.

Nominations were received this year from across the U.S, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Denmark. U.S. entries from 17 states and the District of Columbia included six from Michigan.

Video submissions for each finalist are featured at www.youtube.com/davinciawards and a special “Leo” award will be presented to the finalist receiving the highest number of “thumbs up” votes.

Finalists and their innovative technologies will be honored September 30 at a special awards event at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., with the 2010 da Vinci Award winners announced live that evening.

The finalists in each of five categories are:

Communication/Educational Aids

  • Sue Center (Santa Cruz, California) — free software — a communication environment specifically designed for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse. Enables a user to independently communicate via email, text message, and the telephone, control music and TV, play games, and much more; thus improving the life of a person who is otherwise very dependent on others.
  • VoicePower Ultimate (Daily City, California) — an application that makes speech recognition significantly more productive for all users, especially those with limited hand function, making the efficient use of speech recognition on the job a reality. VoicePower lets users take hands-free control of their computers with a voice desktop, a voice files and folders application, a voice mouse application, and thousands of productivity commands integrated into a unique speech interface that enables users to be highly effective by letting them ask for and receive help, training and Internet content as they perform their work.
  • ReSound Alera (Denmark) — the smallest receiver-in-the-ear hearing instrument available in the market. Delivers outstanding sound quality, speech understanding and perception to identify where sounds are coming from. Provides a unique combination of functionality and aesthetics for hearing impaired persons.

Environmental Adaptation/Daily Living or Work Aids

  • ZoomText Magnifier/Reader (Manchester Center, Vermont) — a fully integrated magnification and screen reading computer program that enables users with vision impairments to use computers more effectively and efficiently. Available in more than 20 languages and sold in 45 countries.
  • Great Grips Doorknob Twisters (Colorado Springs, Colorado) — soft silicon sleeve that stretches over a wide range of doorknob shapes, bathroom faucets and shower knobs. Provides a cushioned surface that enables people with arthritis or declining hand strength to open doors with their elbows, forearms and a “closed fist.”
  • IntradoTXT29-1-1 (Longmont, Colorado) — A lifesaving technology that allows people to send a short messaging service (SMS) text message directly to 9-1-1 to get help even when verbal communication is not possible. Millions of U.S. residents with speech and hearing impairments rely on text messaging as a primary means of communication.
  • Francis Motz County Park (St. Johns, Michicgan) — A 42-acre regional outdoor recreational area with a user-friendly design that serves all visitors equally and pleasantly without regard to visitors’ physical abilities. Wheelchair accessible picnic tables, food service areas, barbeque grills and barrier-free bathrooms are among the many design elements that make this park safe for all visitors.


  • Compas (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) — measures, documents, and automatically adjusts the alignment of prosthetic limbs, helping ensure amputees have a high quality fit. The Compas saves time during initial alignment, decreases the need for later adjustments, and helps prevent the long- and short-term physical damage associated with a misaligned prosthesis.
  • Tongue Drive System (Atlanta, Georgia) — A wireless and wearable tongue-operated assistive technology for people with severe disabilities. Utilizing a small magnet attached to the tongue, the Tongue Drive System provides end users control functions over a wide variety of devices including computers, wheelchairs, cell phones, home appliances and prosthetics, thereby improving their quality of life.
  • RGO: Reciprocating Gait Orthosis (Chattanooga, Tennessee) — Full leg supports or custom made braces that allow a paralyzed person to stand and walk more normally using reciprocating gait. RGOs allow the patient to stand equal to others and walk with a normal step over step gait increasing a user’s confidence, social acceptance and, more importantly, allowing the wearer to stand and look peers eye to eye.

Transportation and Mobility

  • Toyota Sienna Auto Access Seat (Torrance, California) &mdash The industry’s first factory-installed power, rotating lift-up seat. The seat can move a passenger in and out of the vehicle, providing access to the passenger side of the Toyota Sienna’s second row seat. It pivots and then lowers itself and the passenger out of the vehicle. Toyota is the first OEM to offer this factory-installed mobility feature directly to consumers.
  • Sure Foot, Inc. (Washington, D.C.) — Seven products utilizing the “Sure Foot,” which provides stability acting as a foot and ankle. Products: the Sure Foot, Sure Step canes and the revolutionary Sure Foot Strutters support walker’s weight under their arms without nerve injury, allowing those with severe lower-limb functions, and limited arm use to walk. This technology enables individuals with a wide range of physical and neurological disabilities to "go anywhere it is safe to walk" (MS, CP, Spina-Bifida, Arthritis, Amputees, Rehabilitation, etc.). These products, including Strutters, provide secure support on gravel, grass, beaches, hiking trails and ramps, enabling walking with optimum gait, balance and posture.
  • MV-1 (Miami, Florida) — The only purpose-built vehicle designed from the ground up for wheelchair accessibility. The MV-1 is also the only vehicle in its class with an available Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) engineered and assembled Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling system option, reducing dependence on traditional gasoline while improving fuel efficiency.
  • Freedom Sciences ATRS — Automated Transport and Retrieval System (Green Lane, Pennsylvania) — Designed to provide those with limited mobility an independent means of transportation without structurally modifying a motor vehicle. ATRS enables a wheelchair user to transfer from the wheelchair to the Freedom Seat and then remotely direct the wheelchair to autonomously dock the platform lift at the rear of the vehicle, and vice versa. Provides a lifestyle choice in vehicle purchasing, as ATRS can be used in a wide variety of vehicles, not just vans.

Recreation and Leisure

  • VI FIT (Reno, Nevada) — A research project exploring how video exercise games (exergames) like Wii Fit can be accessible to users with visual impairments as lack of physical activity is a serious health concern for visually impaired individuals. Currently three exergames — VI Tennis, VI Bowling and Pet-n-Punch — have been developed that can be played using a low cost motion-sensing controller capable of providing vibrotactile and audio cues, instead of the traditional visual cues.
  • VMI: Virtual Music Instrument (Toronto, Canada) — Numerous research studies have shown the positive impact music has on creating new opportunities for children with disabilities. VMI is a computer vision-based “augmented environment” that facilitates access to music-making for a wide-range of users. VMI can be used alone, as in music education or music therapy, or in groups, as in classroom settings, summer camps and group therapy. The device has been used in rehabilitation centers in more than eight countries to achieve various therapy goals with diverse clients ranging from young children to the elderly.
  • Freedom Kayak (Harsens Island, Michigan) — Adaptive kayaks with the look, function and performance of just another kayak in the water. Freedom Kayak’s unique design allows an individual, challenged or not, to re-enter/exit one’s kayak independently. Freedom’s design focuses on the individual’s abilities, not their disabilities, and offers the opportunity of independence that may have kept individuals from this sport.

Tickets and additional information about the September 30 da Vinci Awards gala are available here. Proceeds from the da Vinci Awards benefit the National MS Society’s Michigan Chapter. Michigan has one of the highest incident rates of MS in the U.S., with more than 18,000 residents living with MS.

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