No one really knew what thoughts were locked inside Anselmo until he started using a computer. Anselmo, 20 years old, has a handicap that prevents his speaking. He communicates using a computer that speaks with a voice synthesizer.
Six months ago, Anselmo did not communicate one word. Today, he has the vocabulary of a junior high-school student.
Elizabeth Buckley, his teacher at the English High School in Boston (a public school with a special area for handicapped students), says that before Anselmo had access to the computer he was visibly frustrated and unwilling to use his paper communication board with words and symbols on it.
Technology now makes it possible for Anselmo to learn and to express his own character and concerns -- concerns about marriage and the Boston Celtics, concerns of a young man.
Denise, who is also handicapped, now takes computer programming with nonhandicapped kids. She knows a little Basic, a programming language, and is working on a r'esum'e. Like Anselmo, the computer and voice synthesizer have changed her life, allowing her to communicate and venture beyond the school's sheltered workshop for severely handicapped students into a mainstream curriculum. She hopes to get a job using her programming skills.
``We can't see where they're going to stop,'' says Ms. Buckley. ``The next step is to teach them vocational skills, word processing, database programming. Right now they get only sheltered employment,'' doing manual tasks like grouping combs into bunches with rubber bands. ``Computers may open the door to competitive employment,'' she says.
Boston is among the most active cities in bringing technology to special education. In part, that is due to the efforts of Madalaine Pugliese, the coordinator of Boston's Special Education Technology Resource Center.
The center, which was established in 1984, tests and supplies equipment for handicapped students and trains teachers to use it as a learning aid. Examples include devices that help students with limited mobility to manipulate computer keyboards and magnified video displays for those with vision problems.
The center buys its computers and devices with money from the public school system and local foundations,
Ms. Pugliese says that the greatest hope lies with the youngest children, the 3- to 4-year-olds. ``If we can get them comfortable with artificial voice,'' she says, ``their opportunities will be open-ended.''