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Continued: Disabled workforce grows as high-tech breakthroughs open doors

  • Article by: MARTHA MENDOZA , AP National Writer
  • Last update: June 23, 2013 - 3:50 PM

This is Bella's system, which includes features such as lights that flash when someone calls him.

Bella, who was born deaf and whose mother and father are both deaf, remembers as a child his parents having to go to a neighbor's house with a note to accomplish tasks such as making a doctor's appointment. Today, he talks defensive strategy, makes restaurant reservations and has telemeetings through his television.

"For many deaf people, using the phone is new for them, but now, in 2013, the job opportunities are endless," Bella said.

He can also communicate with his family — his wife and two of his three children are deaf — using their smartphones. Instead of talking to each other, they sign to each other via video.

Such advances have forever changed the lives of people like Bella and Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers University defensive tackle who suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury in a game versus Army in October 2010.

LeGrand remembers clearly the first time an aide clamped an iPhone near his mouth. Using voice recognition software, LeGrand, a quadriplegic, suddenly could write emails, listen to messages and send texts with ease.

"I was like, 'Oh man, hallelujah! I can control my phone!'" said LeGrand, who lives in Camden, N.J., and is finishing a degree in labor studies and hopes to launch a career in sports broadcasting. He's already covering some college games.

"I can't move my arms, but I'm going to school and the sky is the limit for me," he said. "I can open and close the doors to my house through a home security app. I can control my wheelchair. I text message, go on Twitter and Facebook. I don't have to sit there like a vegetable all the time. Technology can take care of it."

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