One Man's Legacy
Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 29, 2007; Used by permission
By Peggy Townsend, Sentinel staff writer
If it were not for Jon Bjornstad, a Santa Cruz software programmer and former yogi, Christina Bakanoff-Adams says she would spend most of her time watching television or paint peel, which sometimes can be like the same thing. Bakanoff-Adams, 33, has multiple sclerosis, which has left her paralyzed from the neck down.
But thanks to a free program written by Bjornstad that allows her to work a computer with the aid of a small reflective dot on her forehead, she can now send e-mail, write a shopping list and even do one of her favorite things: check her horoscope online. Bjornstad, who has worked from such companies as Santa Cruz Operations and Yahoo, wrote the program as a gift.
The program began after he befriended a woman named Sue Simpson, who had become paralyzed at the age of 35. "All of us," says Bjornstad, sitting in his simple, spare home, "are just a wink away from being handicapped. We are all really fragile."
His first program allowed Simpson to type in commands since she could not speak. The user maneuvered a cursor over an alphabet of letters using the reflective dot and a Smart-Nav device. Whenever the cursor paused, the letter would be selected. Bjornstad also included a list of frequently used words like "am" and "and," and a word predictor that learns the user's patterns. "H-E" might bring up the word "hello."
"But as with all software, you keep adding features," Bjornstad says and smiles. "It's the inevitable creeping featurism." Over the years, Bjornstad added code so users can now send e-mail, keep a journal, read books, visit selected Web sites and play word games to keep their minds sharp.
Named "Sue Center," Bjornstad provides his free program to clients of Multiple Sclerosis Community Services and others who need it.
The program, Bjornstad says, is simply his gift. "I don't have children," he says, "so this is my legacy."
For information, visit www.suecenter.org