Image: Good Bytes cafe
Eric Gay  /  AP
Leticia Rodriguez, right, uses a nose dot to control the cursor of a computer at Good Bytes Cafe in San Antonio. Goodwill Industries opened the Internet cafe for disabled users Dec. 15, featuring computers with a joystick mouse, magnifying software and technology allowing people to point and click with eye movements.
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updated 12/15/2006 7:04:28 PM ET 2006-12-16T00:04:28

The Good Bytes Cafe has stained concrete floors, jars of scones and a small bank of computers in the corner, making it much like any Internet cafe.

But the computers — outfitted with a joystick mouse, magnifying software and equipment allowing people to point and click with their eye movements — make Good Bytes one of just a handful nationwide specifically designed for disabled users.

The cafe, which held its grand opening Friday, is a first for Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit best known for selling used clothing and furniture at its thrift stores nationwide.

"We're the first, but we won't be the last," said Rebecca Helterbrand, marketing vice president for Goodwill Industries of San Antonio.

Goodwill has long had job centers around San Antonio to help disabled residents find work, but surveys found that 70 percent of the area's disabled are unemployed and 60 percent don't have computer skills, she said.

Because of the correlation between joblessness and lack of computer skills, Goodwill wanted to build something that would give more disabled people access to assistive technology. The nonprofit also wanted to do it in a setting as likely to be filled with nearby office workers and tourists as the disabled, Helterbrand said.

The cafe, funded with a $125,000 grant from San Antonio-based AT&T Inc., will be supported by food sales and will double as a location to train disabled food service workers, she said.

Typically, disabled users who need special technology or equipment to operate computers or surf the Web must pay for it themselves, said William Gribbons, a professor of human factors in information design at Bentley College outside of Boston.

"There is some incredible stuff out there, but unfortunately, it's expensive," he said.

Some of the technology, like software that magnifies and reads aloud to help those who are visually impaired, is cheaper, because of a large market of aging computer users. But technology that can aid rarer disabilities can be considerably more expensive.

"It tends to be concentrated with the 'haves,'" Gribbons said.

The Good Bytes Cafe does not charge for access to the technology.

Two computers are outfitted with magnifying and reading software.

Another PC allows users with no physical mobility to control a mouse with the movement of their eyes. The mouse follows their gaze and clicks when they blink.

Another computer at the cafe allows those with limited mobility to stick a silver dot to their nose or glasses. A screen-mounted reader recognizes the dot's movement, and the user can navigate and type with it.

Leticia Rodriguez, who is deaf, attended the opening Friday and was playing with the silver-dot navigator.

"This is absolutely awesome," she said through a sign-language translator. "It's wonderful for people with other disabilities, and I think it's about time."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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