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Rachel Zimmerman undoubtedly had her teacher’s inspiring “Go for it” advice in mind when she, at the age of 12 in the mid-1980s used her love of science to develop an invention that continues to significantly help the way people with severe speaking disabilities communicate with others.
Why She’s Important: While exploring possible topics for a school science fair project as a sixth-grader, Rachel came to invent a computer software-based system that allows speech-disabled persons (such as individuals with cerebral palsy) to communicate without speech. The system uses Blissymbols (an established group of graphic symbols that people with speech difficulties have long used to communicate), but Rachel’s system greatly improves upon this old method. Known as the “Blissymbol Printer”, the new system enables the speech-disabled to write messages independently by pointing (via a special computer touch pad) to various symbols on the system’s page without having someone in the room to interpret the symbols for them.
Other Achievements: Rachel’s invention also automatically translates the disabled person’s message into a written language of the user‘s choice. In this way, the user can record his or her thoughts or communicate via e-mail.
Current Activities: After studying physics and space technology in college, Rachel (born and raised in Ontario, Canada) is currently an outreach specialist for NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Her goal is to take NASA innovations and tailor them to fit the needs of people with disabilities.
For more exciting role models in science and engineering, visit the USA Science & Engineering Festival www.usasciencefestival.org