The transformative power of eye-gaze technology for users with disabilities
Research supports the theory that, at least in some cases, blindness can heighten other senses, like hearing. So it seems somehow fitting that modern technology can enable an otherwise voiceless person to speak by leveraging — of all things — his or her own vision.
That’s essentially (albeit crudely) the idea behind eye-gaze technology, which uses a computer interface to convert the eye movements and pauses of individuals with ALS and other neuromuscular diseases into mouse clicks as well as typed and even audible words.
An example of this technology that has been in the news lately is Tobii’s suite of eye-tracking products. On the heels of its EyeMobile nabbing an award at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show for Best in Innovation (Accessible Technology), Tobii was prominently showcased in a Microsoft commercial titled Empowering that aired during the Super Bowl.
Featuring former NFL player Steve Gleason, the ad shows how Tobii’s technology allows its users to connect digitally to the world and even speak by simply gazing at an out-of-the-box Windows tablet.
More specifically, the Tobii EyeMobile consists of three pieces: the PCEye Go eye tracker, the EyeMobile bracket and a standard retail Windows 8 tablet. All Windows 8 tablets should work with the EyeMobile, but Tobii recommends those tablets that include automatic configuration. The bracket secures the other pieces and makes the system mobile-ready once mounted to, say, a power wheelchair. Once in use, the PCEye tracker converts the user’s gaze into commonly used “touch” gestures, like tapping, swiping and scrolling.
Rather than having to rely on specific gaze-based apps, this uniformly modified functionality lets users take advantage of everything a Windows 8 tablet has to offer, including the use of apps.
Other solutions that work with a tablet (or PC) interface to facilitate Web browsing, emailing and more include LC Technologies Inc.’s Eyegaze Edge and Eye Tech Digital Systems’ TM4 Mini. But other gaze-based technologies on the market operate as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which typically convert gaze gestures directly into spoken words.
One such product is the DynaVox EyeMax system, which gives voice to many individuals living with ALS. While the product doesn’t integrate with a PC interface, it does feature a robust selection of communication options, from a standard keyboard to picture- or phrase-based buttons. FRS Custom Solutions’ ComLink LT3G Enable Eyes similarly gives users the ability to communicate through gaze-based selections. Enable Eyes also can be integrated into home automation systems to let users control things like the television or lamps.
Prices for eye-gaze solutions vary depending on product capability and other factors, so be sure to investigate each product to find the one that meets your needs and your budget.
Need a Communication Device?
Get started by working with your MDA clinic team — including a speech-language pathologist or AAC specialist — to find the communication system that’s right for you. Explore your options because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. MDA provides assistance with repairs/modifications to durable medical equipment, including augmentative, alternative communication (AAC) systems. Contact the MDA office in your area at (800) 572-1717 to learn more.
If eye-tracking technology isn’t a need for you, but you’re still interested in staying connected and enjoying your tablet on the go, consider these handy options:
Charis Wheelchair Mount for iPad
Holding a tablet for even a short period of time can lead to fatigue, poor posture and soreness if you have a disability and use a wheelchair. Ditch the pain with this iPad mount made of strong but lightweight components. Charis Wheelchair Mount has a double-armed design that adjusts to your needs. The mount, which can be quickly removed and folded for ease of storage when not in use, connects to Joy Factory’s durable magnet-sealed iPad case.
This fashion-friendly bag, made from premium fabrics, trim and accessories, doesn’t skimp on practicality. Available in 20-plus styles and patterns, the CarryAll Bag can do just that—serving as a purse that’s roomy enough to tote your tablet wherever you go. The bag’s adjustable, detachable straps can be configured for manual and power wheelchairs, walkers and more.
For an exotic alternative that’s decorative and functional, consider this vibrantly colored walker bag that’s woven with straw and raffia by hand in Madagascar. The bag is available in a variety of colors and offers plenty of storage space for your tablet of choice.