Hacking Autism: HP's new initiative follows long Palm history [video] | webOS Nation

Hacking Autism: HP's new initiative follows long Palm history [video]

by Jonathan I Ezor#IM Sun, 22 May 2011 12:03 pm EDT

At Makerfaire on May 21st, HP Personal Systems Group CTO Phil McKinney announced a new HP-sponsored initiative called "Hacking Autism." Its mission, according to its Web site:

Technology and Hope

When touch-enabled computing was introduced to the world, no one could have anticipated that this technology might help open up a new world of communication, learning and social possibilities for autistic children. Yet it has.

Hacking Autism is a story of technology and hope and the difference it's making in the lives of some people who need it most.

Hacking Autism doesn't seek to cure autism, but rather it aims to facilitate and accelerate technology-based ideas to help give those with autism a voice.

On his blog, McKinney announced a hackathon in northern California in early October, and featured a video called "Jordan's Story" that he also showed at MakerFaire (after the break).

Autism and autism-spectrum disorders like Asperger's Syndrome are not a new concern for technologists; Time Magazine and Wired are among many media outlets that have long chronicled "The Geek Syndrome," looking at both the higher rates of autism among technology industry professionals and the similarities between stereotypical geek traits and the signs of autism. Additionally, many in the autism community claim Microsoft founder Bill Gates with pride as someone who they believe could have Asperger's Syndrome (along with the fictional Sheldon Cooper from TV's Big Bang Theory).

What may be less evident in what HP is doing, though, is how important Palm has been over the years in supporting and enabling those on the autism spectrum, dating back long before webOS was launched in 2009. The PalmOS operating system made possible a wide variety of adaptive technologies and software packages that remain in use in educational and other contexts. On the hardware side, the Alphasmart (now Neo-Direct) Dana, which paired a full-sized keyboard with a widescreen customized version of PalmOS and printing capabilities, has been adopted by numerous schools as a tool for verbally and socially challenged students with autism for notetaking, organization and communication. On the software side, the simplicity, low hardware cost and easy synchronization of Palm OS yielded many innovative products from Symtrend to databases for DDH's HanDBase to Emory's HandObs software. webOS has its share of apps as well, including Behavioral Tracker Pro and even the AutismAware "app" for the original HotApps competition from which the developer pledged to donate any winnings to autism research.

While HP's new Hacking Autism site does not focus on webOS specifically, the unique aspects of webOS (notably the ease of development and customizing device features, Linux underpinnings, and built-in cloud capabilities) make it an ideal platform for apps that can assist both those on the spectrum and the parents, teachers and professionals who support them. We strongly encourage the webOS community to get involved in Hacking Autism, and are certain that the creativity and innovation we have seen in so many ways from our community will make this new initiative a much greater success.