Providing assistive technology in a changing market
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Innovation and reinvention remain the mantras for the ever-changing electronics and computer market as evidenced by The BigKeys Company website, which reads, “Get an adapter free when you buy a ‘BigKeys LX with iPad adapter from our on-line store.”
“We provide assistive technology, which simply means we assist people in using current technology, and if it is smaller, well, then we’re there to help and support their use,” said Jerry Wagstrom, semi-retired founder of Greystone Digital Inc./The BigKeys Company in Huntersville.
“About 15 percent of the U.S. population has disabilities, ranging from newborns to seniors. Our company handles filling that gamut from preschool to 80 or 90 years old, who might have Parkinson’s disease or macular degeneration, with products that can ease their use. ”
“That’s right,” said son Jon, owner and operator of BigKeys Company. “Our products help people with vision, dexterity and cognition issues. Our customers include quadriplegics or others who use mouth sticks to operate the keyboard. Some customers even use their toes.”
But the company’s U.S. and European customer base isn’t limited to those with disabilities. It extends to educators, parents, software designers, computer retailers and such industrial sites as nuclear stations and auto manufacturers, where operators, dressed in hazardous-material suits, and assembly line workers, dressed with gloves, are able to use the oversized keys.
BigKeys sells 85 percent of its products wholesale to other dealers, specializing in vision, literacy and assistive technology.
“I recently attended a trade show in Greensboro,” Jon Wagstrom said. “Having BigKeys connected to an iPad was received very well. We’re hoping to expand our opportunities in the U.S. through our network of dealers.”
Jerry Wagstrom, a Minnesota native, has continuously been involved in the computer industry, remembering the 1960s computers as giant machines that only big businesses used. The introduction of the personal computer, he said, opened the door for him to use his creative skills that eventually led to the creation of Greystone Digital in April 1993, and the creation of BigKeys, which hit the market in May 1994.
BigKeys, originally targeted for children ages 2 to 6, is a PC keyboard with oversized, colorful keys arranged in “alphabetical order,” which easily can be converted to the standard keyboard.
In 1995, Wagstrom found a market for people working with disabilities when he had his first trade show. Today, his products include key guards (pre-set to eliminate keying mistakes) and keyboard skins (environmental protector that guards against spills).
“Touch type is out of the question for many users, so if someone needs BigKeys to run a desktop or laptop computer, then it’s almost ‘inappropriate’ to think he/she can use small technology,” Jerry Wagstrom said.
His son concurred.
“The fact is our end users, who might have various disabilities are our customers, regardless of the computer size – laptops or iPads. We are accommodating their use.”