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free computers for the developmentally disadvantaged resource center

Trygve's digital diary /
December 14th, 1999

"Nyx is for Kids (too)"

the kids at the DDRC testing out the new machines
Hunter says,

This is Hunter; he's one of many children receiving therapy and assistance from Colorado's Developmental Disabilities Resource Center [ ], a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing therapy, assistance, and services to people with disabilities (adults as well as children).

Hunter will be two years old this Christmas. He was born with cranial synostosis--the premature fusion of the plates of his skull--which required the surgical reconstruction of his skull just to prevent extensive brain damage. A more recent surgical procedure was able to relieve the pressure buildup behind his eardrums and he's now able to walk with the help of ankle braces.

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kids playing at the DDRC Christmas party

Hunter's family's insurance only covered a part of the cost; a lot of the children helped by the DDRC don't even have that much.

There's a lot to be done and resources are limited. The program that Hunter is in had a single Apple II computer--a fine machine twenty years ago, but one that obviously didn't support a lot of the software available to help teach motor skills, language skills, and a lot more.

Connecting the computers

Action Computers donated soundcards to help me get the systems ready. The computers I get in are usually no-longer-state-of-the-art business computers, so they typically have network cards, but not soundcards, joystick connectors, and other features necessary to run the software needed by the therapy program.

the parents check us out

Fortunately, computer superstores like CompUSA and MicroCenter often have sales with low-end generic speakers and joysticks for a couple of bucks. MicroCenter's sale on speakers for $4.95 a pair had just ended when I was collecting the rest of the parts to get these computers built, but after talking to the manager, he agreed to honor the old price (and, hey, the ads were still on display). I bought the nine sets that they had left. CompUSA had a bin of white-box joysticks for $1.99 each, and so, with several large bags filled with generic speakers and joysticks, I had all the parts I needed.

Accessories like joysticks and large, kid-friendly trackballs are important; some kids know what to do with a mouse, but the youger children often won't, and it's an added level of abstraction to move a mouse to make the screen do something. A lot of kids will pick up the mouse, or they'll have trouble with the idea that you move it across the mousepad, then pick it up and put it somewhere else on the mousepad, then move it in the same direction you were going before some more.

Darlene and friend

But this was one mouse that everybody liked; I didn't have the adapter to go from the tail to a serial port, though.

The one component I was most thrilled to have scared up was a 17" touchscreen monitor. I saw that in a used computer store and they only wanted a little bit more for it than they wanted for the ordinary 17" monitors, and the kids loved it. The kids could run the software just by touching the pictures on the screen, so it might get a few smudges sometimes, but it's very easy to use for even the youngest kids.

I'd gone over what the computers could do and talked about some other possibilities with the DDRC therapists and coordinators. One thing I think would be really worth trying would be some of the "gyro" mice normally used for stand-up presentations.

Anyway, it was all a great deal of fun. It's funny that some of the parents were a little afraid to touch the computers at first, but as soon as the screens lit up, the kids were ready to go. I'd expected that it would take a little more encouragement because most of these kids don't have computers at home, but I think I would have been risking life and limb if I'd tried to stand in their way.

For more information about Nyx, it's history, and the services it offers, check out Nyx's homepage at or my own page of personal ramblings about nyx.

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