STAR winners- Honors given for technology innovations

Innovations that make life easier for people with disabilities were honored this spring with the Minnesota STAR Awards. STAR stands […]

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Innovations that make life easier for people with disabilities were honored this spring with the Minnesota STAR Awards. STAR stands for a System of Technology to Achieve Results. The program which is through the state Department of Administration, is meant to help all Minnesotans with disabilities gain access to and acquire the assistive technology they need to live, learn, work and play. The Minnesota STAR Program is federally funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration.


Tana Vogele:

It may be hard to believe that Apple’s iPad has only been around since April 2010. But in this short time, it has become an invaluable tool for many people including nine-year-old Tana Vogele. She was given the STAR Award for Excellence in Assistive Technology for her work in promoting the use of technology to assist people at home, school and in the community.

Vogele was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. She attends Cottage Grove Elementary and she was an early adopter of the iPad. She took a lead role in showing her classmates and the community just how powerful this mobile device can be for people of all ages and needs. Vogele uses her iPad every day, especially at school where she uses it to work alongside her classmates doing research and helping them with their math and Spanish lessons.


Debbie Bock:

Cell phones and smart phones are not only communication tools but also provide functional assistance such as GPS navigation, text to speech, and barcode reading. Debbie Bock is one of two educators given a STAR Award for Excellence in Assistive Technology.

Bock is known for helping blind and visually impaired Minnesotans learn how to use their cell phones; she also helps them troubleshoot when they run into problems accessing their phones. Her patience, persistence and willingness to help others without compensation have earned her the gratitude of many. Bock goes above and beyond all expectations to use her technology skills and expertise to help people who are blind or have a visual impairment use assistive technology to access computers. She is adept at troubleshooting Internet and e-mail problems and is known for her participation on in a blind computer user group.


Erika Kluge Frake:

During the 2009-2010 school year, 122,333 Minnesota students in public K-12 schools received special education services under an Individual Education Program (IEP). For these students, assistive technology is considered as part of the IEP process in order to identify possible tools that may help students complete assignments, study, and take tests independently.

While the number of assistive technology options available continues to grow at an extremely fast pace, it also means that educators and students need assistance in sorting through all their options. Frake was given a STAR Educator Award for Excellence in Assistive Technology because of her passion and dedication to helping students and educators successfully use assistive technology to improve educational outcomes. With her help, students gain the skills and confidence needed to use their assistive technology as a tool for success in school and beyond.


Richard Brown:

As an artist, person, and user of assistive technology, Richard Brown’s life today is limitless and his doorstep leads to a world of beauty. But it wasn’t always that way. Brown was born with cerebral palsy. Most of his childhood and teenage years were spent lying in a crib or crawling on the floor at Faribault State Hospital.

Life, in his words, was hell up until the day in 1970 when he left the institution in Faribault and began living life on his own terms. Brown believes that through his disability he has “…learned so much and met so many amazing people.” He uses a high tech communication device and power wheelchair to help him accomplish his many goals.

Assistive technology has mobilized him and given him a voice. Brown began taking art classes at Partnership Resources Inc. in 2003. He often gives speeches and appeared in TPS documentary, “Institutions to Independence, “which can be seen on the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities website. His story was featured in a 2008 Access Press article.


Auditory Sciences:

The Northfield-based developer of communication software solutions won the Innovator category. Auditory Sciences (AS) makes affordable software—Interact AS—that helps to remove communication barriers for a wide range of users including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or need assistance with typing or reading. Auditory Sciences’ original reason for developing Interact AS

software was to give people who are deaf a portable way to communicate in real time with others who do not know sign language. The product is not meant to replace Interpreters but rather to provide an alternative way to communicate when an Interpreter is not available. The software may be installed on a computer, notebook, or tablet running Windows operating systems. Interact AS software uses complex algorithms to provide contextually accurate real-time transcription of spoken words with little or no speech recognition training required. This means conversations can take place anytime, anywhere—at home, school, work, stores and other public places. Because this software can be installed on touch screen tablets and transcribes typed text, handwriting, and speech, it is a versatile tool for users with varying communication needs.

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