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Eye Trackers - Communication For People with Paralysis, Communication Disorders

New Technology May Aid Communication for People with Disabilities

By Steph McLean

Updated February 28, 2013

People who lack the physical ability to communicate but have the cognitive skills necessary to do so often have tremendous frustration in their lives. Unable to express their thoughts, feelings, and preferences, they need assistive technology assessments and augmentative communication devices to interact with others. Even with these devices, however, communication can be a painstakingly slow process. Further, many assistive communication devices have vocabulary and capacity limitations. Low-tech eye gaze systems of communication have been around a long time and typically involved a cumbersome method requiring another person to sit behind a plexi-glass screen to carefully observe a user's eye movements as they fixed on letters of the alphabet, words, or pictures on the screen. Talk about a frustratingly slow process! However, eye-gaze technologies have moved into the future through the use of computers linked to high-tech glasses and contact lenses. The result is a faster, more accurate, and independently operable means of communication for individuals with disabilities. Guest writer Steph McLean shares more on this helpful new development:

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A new scientific breakthrough allows you to use a computer just by looking at the screen. Contact lenses with the ability to track the wearer's eye movements are just one of the latest in a series of cutting edge contact lens technologies that are expected to be designed and engineered over the next 3 years or so.

Eye tracking contact lenses are literally able to monitor where the wearer is looking at any specific time. So far they have been used in exciting psychology experiments that test the reliability of eye witness testimony, and there are talks of incorporating them into gaming. But one of the most positive and powerful applications of the lenses is, unquestionably, through helping people who have disorders such as paralysis, Locked-In Syndrome, ALS, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury, stroke, communication disorders, and traumatic brain injury to communicate.

What Is Locked-In Syndrome?

Locked-In Syndrome is caused by damage to the lower part of a person's brain. This damage leaves them with no voluntary muscle control in their body - they may be completely paralyzed. They are, however, fully cognitive. So their brains are fully functional; they are able to hear, think and feel emotions, they just aren't able to express themselves.

It is a very sad and difficult situation, and it can be caused by a variety of factors ranging from stroke, to being involved in a car accident, to having a degenerate muscle disease or developmental disorder. Fortunately they are not very common, but for those who do have these disorders, there have been few highly effective technological developments to assist with communication, until the eye trackers.

How Eye Trackers Can Help

People who have Locked-In Syndrome, or any of the other disorders impacting physical movement listed above, often have varying levels of movement. Some are able to move a finger, which has been helpful in the past with communication, some aren't able to move anything, and some are able to move just their eyes. And that is where eye trackers come in...

Computer software has been developed that uses webcam and contact lens technology to track a person's eye movements. The computer screen will display an on-screen keyboard, and the user can 'type' by looking at the letters. Once they have completed what they want to say, a computer generated voice will audibly communicate what is written. You can see it in action in the video below.

This will unquestionably have a huge impact on Locked-In Syndrome patients. It will allow them to communicate with the people around them, convey when they want or need something and greatly improve their quality of life.

Steph McLean works at Lenstore, an online retailer of contact lenses. She likes to keep up-to-date on new contact lens technologies, and the ways that they can be used to help improve people's lives.

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