- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - Sitting in his wheelchair in front of a computer keyboard and screen, Robby Stephens typed a Facebook message to his grandfather, Art Stephens.

Using mostly his right hand because he has limited mobility with his left, Stephens typed “love art” and added an image of Snoopy with a heart.

Stephens, for the first time Monday, was using the new adaptive computer lab for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at Marcfirst, 1606 Hunt Drive, Normal.

“I like it,” the 40-year-old Bloomington man said after demonstrating the equipment. “I can keep in contact with people.”

But - as Stephens knows - the application of the Bridgestone Computer Lab is beyond individuals that Marcfirst supports emailing and messaging family and friends.



Individuals will use the lab to improve their typing skills, present their individualized service plans to staff, search the Internet and participate in presentations, said Becky Ostler, director of developmental training.

For some, the lab could help to improve skills that could lead to a job. The lab is geared toward people in Marcfirst’s developmental training program which helps people with disabilities to become more independent.

“I hope to find a job that deals with computers,” said Stephens, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. “I love computers and I love helping people.”

But people in Marcfirst’s supported employment, residential and transitional (high school) programs also would have access to the lab, said Marcfirst CEO Laura Furlong. About 150 people could use the lab.

“When people are more connected to the community, they need less resources to be independent,” Furlong said.

“If people are more independent,” Ostler said, “they will be able to give back more to the community.”

The lab includes four computer stations in which table heights may be adjusted. Keyboards have larger, colorful, easier-to-read keys that appear alphabetically.

Mouse pads are larger and easier to see and move, Stephens said. A big red button to the right of the computer screen may be used in place of mouse right-clicking and left-clicking.

In addition, a computer station on wheels may be used to show video on a screen.

The lab is named for Bridgestone because the Bridgestone Americas Trust Co. donated $10,000 to equip the lab. A committee of employees at Bridgestone’s off-road tire plant in Normal selected the Marcfirst project.

“It is a population that we are excited about helping,” said human resources manager Betsy Morgenroth.

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Online: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1jEHW6v

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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