Google Glass opens up new experiences for Westfield woman with limited mobility
Ashley Lasanta’s first time in a swimming pool was during a trip to Miami in May, when she was lifted out of her wheelchair and put on the stairs in the shallow end.
The pictures the 23-year-old Westfield woman took of the experience are her favorites — so far, she said.
Photography is also new for Lasanta, who has cerebral palsy. Her hands and arms have limited range, so she could never hold and use a camera.
Since January, Lasanta has been using Google Glass, a hands-free, voice-activated wearable computer.
Wearing the eyepiece, Lasanta can snap a photo by tilting her head and saying a few words of instruction.
She got the device through Community Access Unlimited, an Elizabeth-based nonprofit group that provides services for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
CAU director of membership development Billy Busch said when the group first started looking at obtaining the Google Glass, Lasanta was a natural choice because of her proficiency with other technology.
"I don’t think she needs my help with it anymore," Busch said yesterday. "But I do enjoy coming out here and checking in — and getting emails, like at 9:00 last night — with shared photos from Ashley."
Lasanta laughed. She’s been taking a lot of pictures lately, she said.
With no typing required, Google Glass also makes it easier for Ashley to email, text, video chat and use other internet-enabled applications.
Lasanta said she’s not sure she can narrow down the benefits.
"There’s so much," she said yesterday in the living room of the Westfield home she shares with three other CAU members. "It’s been awesome."
Most important, Busch said, the device has helped her become more independent.
Busch said CAU has about six other clients who might benefit from Google Glass, but the agency is waiting for the $1,500 price to drop.
After being shown the ropes by Google staff at the company’s New York office, Bush taught Lasanta to use the device.
Recently, Busch and Lasanta cooked dinner together using Glass, choosing a shrimp scampi recipe from a cooking app.
Lasanta said she loves seafood, but cooking was a new experience for her.
"I tasted almost everything, except the shrimp," she said.
She sampled every ingredient along the way, from a pinch of parsley to a sliver of garlic.
Lasanta picked the meal from available recipes, and the ingredients and steps were displayed. She read them to Busch, who said he acted as "just kind of the arms," manning the knives and frying pan.
"Everything else, Ashley was able to assist with, like crushing and peeling the garlic," he said.
Google’s online description says that Glass lets you share and read recipes "even when your hands are covered in marinade."
But beyond the intended hands-free convenience, a number of developers and nonprofits have started to find ways for the technology to help the disabled.
Last week, Google awarded Glass devices and grant money to five charities, including two planning to find therapeutic uses. The Mark Morris Dance Group in New York plans to develop an app to help people with Parkinson’s Disease dance, and the Baltimore-based Hearing and Speech agency will work on communication uses for people with speech difficulties, hearing loss and autism.
For their part, Lasanta and Busch have been sharing their experiences with Glass as an assistive technology. Their trip to Miami was to make a presentation at an American Network Community Options and Resources conference on Lasanta’s experience.
Their presentation generated a buzz at the support-services conference, prompting others to envision assistive uses for the device, Busch said.
"What were people doing all week?" he asked Lasanta.
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"Asking," she said. "Asking how they could get one."