Our Love. Their Courage. A Donald Berman Center
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Featured Staff Member - Talia Farber

TALIA'S PASSION FOR TECHNOLOGY TRANSFORMS LIVES

Talia FarberThe handicaps afflicting Meshi’s schoolchildren run a very cruel gamut: some children cannot speak, or cannot move, cannot see well, cannot write, cannot play, or multiples of these and more. Yet one woman—some would say “wizard”---devises tailor-made technological solutions to enable each child to study and to gain independence, despite the most daunting disabilities.
           
Talia Farber, who heads the Meshi School’s Assistive Technology department, pioneered this field in Israel, harnessing technology to “substitute” for impaired functions of the body. Under her guidance, Meshi has become one of the most technology-oriented rehabilitative schools in the entire nation.

“Every handicapped child can use a computer,” she declares, “which opens endless opportunities to learn, communicate and play. My challenge is to enable this by assessing each child’s specific needs, adapting computer hardware and software accordingly, advising the teaching staff, and altering the tools as the child grows.” In first grade, there is one computer for the entire class. By grade two, all Meshi students are equipped with their own special laptops, which will empower them at school, at home, and for life.

Adapting Computer Accessibility to Each Child’s Disability

“It’s difficult to assess a child’s motor and cognitive abilities when there’s multiple impairments and the child doesn’t speak,” Talia admits. “But eventually we succeed, and I’m rewarded with the gift of watching a child break through his silence to begin communicating and sharing feelings, via computer communication. The process begins in first grade, where I work in tandem with teachers and therapists to acquaint children with the computer, devise games they can play, and help foster reading readiness.”

It is an enormous challenge to adjust computer accessibility to each child’s disability. For children who are completely paralyzed, a specially-designed mouse or joystick must be purchased—or adapted—that is large or sensitive enough to be operated by the faintest “push” a child can muster. In severe cases, special switches are positioned on either side of a wheelchair headrest, enabling the child to send signals to the computer via a slight turn of the head. Computer screens may be adapted with special colors for the visually impaired, and keyboards, some virtual, may be enlarged and adapted to enable a disabled child to type. Sophisticated software, which must be translated to Hebrew, can work wonders: creating a “talking” computer to articulate the words written by a child who cannot speak, or automatically enlarging fonts for those with failing vision. 

“We totally integrate computer use with the child’s curriculum,” Talia explains. “As the children first learn to recognize letters and begin to read and write, teachers are working one-on-one with the child on computer. Afterwards, we teach the word-processing program “Word,” which students use to write their lessons and prepare homework. I’m always amazed to see how they move on so smoothly to master PowerPoint programs, computer graphics and to maneuver the Internet. From that point, the computer is fully integrated into the entire academic curriculum of the Meshi School.”  

Talia Farber, who received her B.A. in occupational therapy from the Hebrew University Jerusalem, pursued her MSc in Assistive Technology at New York’s Long Island University. Back in Israel, she began working at Meshi in 1995 as a consultant in Assistive Technology, a field then in its infancy in this country. The Meshi School gave Farber a free hand to build their Assistive Technology department, now one of the most advanced in Israel, and one of the very few to give each child a laptop.

They Can’t Ever Go Out and Play Ball at Recess

“I’ve expanded the department by adding a pedagogic director,” Talia explains. “She insures the program’s academic aspects by working with teachers to create individual worksheets for students to download and complete independently, and adapts reading and writing programs. I’m free to pursue the technical side, including such crucial ergonomic aspects as correcting the height of a student’s table or raising the keyboard.”

Most fun—and extremely valuable—is Talia’s work to create games that are appropriate to each child’s limitations and skill. “They can’t ever go out and play ball at recess,” she says. “It’s vital to give them fun activities they can do at their leisure on their computers.”

One look at the Meshi School is proof of how far these children with physical disabilities can travel: students research and create PowerPoint presentations on topics from natural disasters to flags of the world. They prepare assignments on their laptops, searching the Net for data and pictures. Some children play computer games; others create new games for their classmates. At all levels, students are almost entirely working on their own.

“Independence is the key goal,” Talia declares. “We also involve their families in the effort, guiding them in computer skills. We use e-mail to connect our students, particularly those who cannot speak, with the world at large. Speech therapists work with them to explain what’s appropriate to write, giving pointers in how to correspond with pen pals. The results are phenomenal: walls come crashing down to enable these severely handicapped children to become active participants in the world at large.”

The future holds far-reaching opportunities, Talia believes. “Our students will have access to virtual libraries, distance learning, and participating in online forums, for a start. At Meshi, we’ve used technology’s best solutions to grant them independence, knowledge and skills for a lifetime.”

Previous Staff Members
Esti Kushelevsky
For severely disabled schoolchildren, the ability to speak can be a powerful boon. Yet giving these children the gift of communication is a grueling mission that demands skill, ingenuity, and infinite patience. For veteran Meshi Center speech therapist Esti Kushelevsky, the job is her passion and joy.
Rochy Pfeffer
Rochy Pfeffer watches miracles unfold before her eyes each day. And to do her part to keep them happening, she carries a special screwdriver and toolkit through the corridors of Meshi. Poised & ready for action, the young physical therapy aide - & very deft "handyman" - is responsible for maintaining Meshi's 25 "Hart Walkers.
Talia Farber
Talia Farber, who heads the Meshi School’s Assistive Technology department, pioneered this field in Israel, harnessing technology to “substitute” for impaired functions of the body. Under her guidance, Meshi has become one of the most technology-oriented rehabilitative schools in the entire nation.
Chana Zolberg & Michal Yitzchaki
The women behind the organization and maintenance of Meshi kindergarten’s hundreds of pieces of specialized equipment are two young physical therapists, Chana Zolberg and Michal Yitzchaki, who take the daunting task in stride.
 
Keren Grant
By profession, Keren Grant frees children from prison. Not your average jail breaker, Keren's mission is to break through to disabled children who are completely unable to speak, and give them a means to communicate with the outside world.
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