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Equipment eases adjustment

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Paralyzed from the neck down and still dependent on a respirator, actor Christopher Reeve is nevertheless a man with much work to do. “I can’t get down to my office the way I used to,” he said in a telephone interview earlier this month from his home outside New York City. “But set up in the corner of my living room – from one station, I’m able to make phone calls, to fax, to return phone calls and to write letters . . . It really is one-stop shopping. It puts me in touch with the world.”

Reeve, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury after a horse-riding accident in May 199 5, is learning to use DragonDictate, speech recognition software that allows hands-free computer, phone, fax and printer operation. It is manufactured by a Newton firm, Dragon Systems Inc.

“I have a lot of correspondence to keep up with and spend a lot of time on the phone,” Reeve said. “I can put the mouse right in a certain window and dial any number to anywhere in the world.”

Reeve is just starting to scratch the surface of the hands-free computer capabilities he will eventually develop, said Andrew Meshulam of AM Technologies Inc. Meshulam has been training the actor to use the software that will allow him to work, write, and communicate independently.

“It’s hard for a person with a Disability to go to the front door and get the newspaper or to read one,” said Meshulam. During a training session with Reeve just last weekend, the actor was independently using on-line services to read the New York Times and other newspapers, Meshulam said. Eventually, Reeve will likely be set up with teleconferencing capabilities as well that will allow him face-to-face communication without traveling.

“It’s so easy to be in touch with everyone,” Reeve said. He was looking forward to getting the e-mail capability that will allow him to communicate with his older children in England. “My son is a computer whiz. Very shortly I’ll be able to communicate with him and not use the phone,” he said.

Reeve is also planning on setting up a home page on the World Wide Web about the Christopher Reeve Foundation and its work to find cures for spinal cord injuries. While working towards his own Rehabilitation, Reeve has become a vocal advocate for research in the treatment and cure of spinal cord injuries.

Despite his handicap, Reeve said it has not been difficult adapting to the speech recognition software. “I need only 1/10th of a second in between words and it keeps going,” he said. “The computer has no problem filtering out the sound and pauses from the respirator,” he said. “The more I do it, the better the accuracy.”

Does the computer make mistakes when he uses strange, or less common words? “It makes very few mistakes,” said Reeve, who then showed his sense of humor is intact. “I don’t have that large a vocabulary anyway.”

by Sharon Britton, Globe Correspondent

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