Alan Cantor began in the assistive technology field in 1988 while a Masters student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He taught Artic Focus to students with low-vision, and later, Artic Vision to students who are blind. He also modified macros he had previously scripted for FinalWord II, Sprint and MS-DOS Kermit for students with disabilities. (See Alan's 1995 article about customizing Kermit for screen reader use.) Despite a flair for assistive technology training and software customization, Alan planned an academic career. His field was the history and philosophy of the human body, and in his spare time, he studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Alan's plans unexpectedly zigzagged in 1990 after he developed severe RSIs (repetitive strain injuries) from computer and musical instrument overuse. His rehabilitation lasted five years. Driven to get his life back on track, he delved deeply into the assistive technology world. He began experimenting with DragonDictate (an early speech recognition program), abbreviation expansion and word prediction software, macro utilities, and alternative keyboards and mice. Through necessity, he began modifying tools and reorganizing spaces to accommodate his needs.
These activities led him to study ergonomics, and eventually, to write and lecture about ergonomic injuries and their prevention. A few months after facilitating an RSI prevention workshop for staff at Bloorview Kids Rehab (Canada's largest children's rehabilitation teaching hospital), he received a letter from the session organizer: "Computer related RSIs have been significantly reduced... This type of training should be made mandatory for all computer users."
Alan increased his efforts to educate people about RSI. In 1993, he approached the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (GSU) about his concerns about preventable computer injuries. As a result, the GSU commissioned him to prepare an illustrated manual, "Preventing Repetitive Strain Injuries: a Guide for Graduate Students who Use Computers" (1993). The GSU distributed it to thousands of University of Toronto students, some of whom mailed copies around the world. The same year, the Lakeshore Area Multi-service Project began distributing his "RSI Fact Sheet" to members of its RSI Support Group.
In 1993, the Ontario Ministry of Labour contracted Alan to research computer injury prevention, and to serve as an assistive technologist for ministry employees. These projects culminated in a landmark paper, Repetitive Strain Injuries at the Adapted Keyboard: Preventing Computer Overuse Injuries in Persons with Disabilities, which he presented at the CSUN Conference in 1995. This was the first published paper that suggested assistive technology use could lead to ergonomic injuries.
Assistive technologies allowed Alan to complete a 150-page Master's thesis in January 1995. The following week, Alan launched a company, "Cantor + Associates Workplace Accommodation Consultants." His long-time association with Dena Shumila Wainwright began a few months later. For their first collaboration, they trained Sympatico executives and developers about web accessibility. Between 1998 and 2001, they consulted frequently for Hewlett-Packard: They assessed the accessibility of software, hardware and web-sites; researched and wrote the Hewlett-Packard Accessibility White Paper; and trained hundreds of technical and non-technical staff about accessibility in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Closer to home, Alan began working with Barbara Roberts, who at the time was Special Needs Coordinator at Queen's University. Over the years they have pooled their knowledge and skills to accommodate university staff and students with disabilities.
Cantor + Associates was incorporated in 2001, and renamed "Cantor Access Incorporated" in 2004. Services that the company provides include: job accommodation, assistive technology training, macro scripting, research and writing, corporate training, and accessibility consulting.
Over the years, Alan and his associates have worked on projects, big and small, for scores of organizations. See this list of our clients.
Alan scaled back operations after accepting a full-time position at the University of Toronto in 2011. Although he no longer takes on large projects, he continues to work on small assignments, especially with his old clients.