Friday, September 7, 2012

Cutting-Edge Technology to Empower People with Speech Impairments and Limited Mobility


From: University of Aberdeen - 09/04/2012

By: Jennifer Phillips

University of Aberdeen researchers have developed software that enables people with impaired speech and mobility to assign simple gestures to actions they would like to be performed in their home. Wireless communication technologies are used to link the software to devices in the home. "For some people hand gestures are the only way of interacting with the environment around them because of speech impairments and reduced mobility, as a result of illness or an accident," says Aberdeen lecturer Ernesto Compatangelo. The technology is based on the Portable Sign Language Translator (PSLT), which helps users translate sign language into text. "In devising the PSLT, we wanted to create software that enables independent living not only by addressing the individualized communication needs of signers, but also their ambient control needs," Compatangelo says. People using PSLT sign into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, smartphone, or other portable device. Their signs are immediately converted into text, which can be read by the person they are conversing with. "Essentially any gesture can be assigned to any given word," Compatangelo notes.


Read the entire article at:


Portable Sign Language Translator

Ernesto Compatangelo


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Independence With an Eye: Disabled Gain Greater Freedom With Tobii's Gaze Selection Software for PCEye

BOSTON, Sep 05, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Tobii Assistive Technology Inc., the global leader in eye-tracking-enabled augmented communication and assistive technology devices, today released an update to its Tobii Windows Control software for the Tobii PCEye that features Tobii Gaze Selection, an award-winning, revolutionary new computer interface that allows users to completely control computers using only their eyes. This eye-tracking technology solution provides the most intuitive, easy-to-use, stress-free means of gaining comprehensive computer access to those who are disabled due to loss or restricted use of their hands or because of spinal cord or repetitive strain injuries, as well as patients with ALS, cerebral palsy and other debilitative conditions.
"This upgrade of Windows Control enhances the usability of our products for those with rehabilitative disabilities and will continue to help restore the quality of life these individuals are used to having," said Tara Rudnicki, president of Tobii ATI. "With Tobii PCEye, those with acquired disabilities can lessen the severity of their transition and rehabilitation efforts through continued computer access without additional assistance -- providing greater independence and privacy."
Tobii PCEye, a portable, lightweight, stand-alone eye-tracking unit designed to dock to any standard retail PC monitor, allows users to access files, navigate the Web, open applications, type and select on their own personal computers using their eyes. PCEye provides unparalleled eye-tracking accuracy and boasts the largest "track box" in the industry, allowing for a relaxed, unobtrusive computing experience while maintaining high computer performance via its built-in processor.
Tobii Windows Control has been significantly enhanced with the addition of Tobii Gaze Selection, a revolutionary computer interaction method that provides faster, more efficient and more relaxed computer access. The unique zoom function allows users the ability to hit smaller targets and provides full computer access typical of a conventional mouse or track pad. Additionally, with Gaze Selection, Windows Control now includes an improved on-screen, customizable keyboard that allows for a more relaxed computing environment.
The provision of Tobii ATI devices, such as the PCEye, has significantly enhanced the quality of life for more than 8,000 individuals with disabilities throughout the world. With Tobii eye trackers, these individuals are given greater independence and privacy, an enhanced emotional well-being, and the ability to communicate with friends and loved ones without the need for constant supervision and aid. Current Tobii ATI users are using their devices to create and sell paintings, write books and even play soccer with their children.
Most recently, Stephen Murray, a world-class BMX rider who sustained a severe spinal cord injury, uses his PCEye to run the daily operations of the Athlete Recovery Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding other extreme athletes who have suffered debilitating injuries. With the robust eye-control capabilities of his PCEye, Murray is able to send emails to family and friends, make phone calls, chat on Skype, review personal bank accounts, log in to Facebook, communicate with his ARF business partner, and browse the Internet to keep up on current happenings in BMX.
"Stephen is a perfect example of the capabilities provided by PCEye, enabling these individuals to maintain a sense of normalcy during their transition, regain their independence and even return to work," said Rudnicki.
Tobii ATI has also released Tobii Communicator Four, an upgrade to Tobii's communication software that allows users to type words and phrases using their eyes and to use a screen reader to communicate to nearby caregivers. The latest version of Communicator includes Skype chat, contact editing, Windows auto start, compression of images and a reintroduced content tool. The software is now deployed across all Tobii assistive technology devices, including PCEye.
Additional Resources
Check out a video of Stephen using his Tobii PCEye.
For a demonstration of Tobii PCEye or for more information, please contact, call 800-793-9227 or visit .

About Tobii Assistive Technology Inc.
Tobii Assistive Technology Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Tobii Technology, is a leading provider of eye-tracking-based augmented and alternative communication (AAC) devices that help improve the lives of individuals with disabilities by enabling them to communicate, control their environment and gain greater independence through the movement of their eyes. For nearly three decades, Tobii ATI has been helping men, women and children with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), muscular dystrophy and spinal cord injury lead fuller, richer lives. Through its total commitment to serving its customers -- individuals, families, doctors, therapists, schools and rehabilitation centers -- Tobii ATI has developed a reputation as an innovative and caring industry thought leader that continues to push the boundaries of what's possible to deliver the most advanced, effective and empowering communications tools available for a wide array of disabled communities through award-winning eye-tracking and gaze-controlled hardware and software. Tobii is the global leader in eye-tracking and gaze interaction. For more information, please visit .
SOURCE: Tobii Assistive Technology Inc.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication for People with Progressive Neuromuscular Disease

Individuals with progressive neuromuscular disease often experience complex communication needs and consequently find that interaction using their natural speech may not sufficiently meet their daily needs. Increasingly, assistive technology advances provide accommodations for and/or access to communication. Assistive technology related to communication is referred to as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The nature of communication challenges in progressive neuromuscular diseases can be as varied as the AAC options currently available. AAC systems continue to be designed and implemented to provide targeted assistance based on an individual's changing needs.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Need for Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Imagine being locked away in the prison of your own body, unable to express your simplest needs or feelings. This painful reality can happen because of neuro-developmental disorders such as cerebral palsy and Rett Syndrome, or acquired conditions, like stroke and motor neurone disease.

While was great to see Stephen Hawking, who has MND, giving such an inspirational speech at the opening of the Paralympics, the method by which he gave his message is important too - and also sobering. Communication is what makes us human, and without the ability to communicate effectively, many people are not seen as being capable, and do not reach their potential.

Thousands of people in the UK are denied the opportunity because there is NO statutory funding for communication aids; they live without his ability to express his thoughts. Professor Hawking said, "Look at the stars, not down at your feet. Be curious". Well, I'm curious about what the government will do to support those who have a communication disability. Where is the funding for their devices?"

The recently-launched Giving Voice campaign aims to raise awareness of the problems faced by those who are unable to communicate and to campaign for funding so that all these people have the resources they need. The message about Professor Hawking, posted to the "Giving Voice" page on FaceBook received 27 shares - apparently the most for any topic ever on that page, and generated 96 likes within 24 hours.

It also stimulated people to write individual comments like this one from Fern, who wrote: "I am fortunate enough to work for a charity in NZ where the Ministry of Health funds almost all communication systems providing the client has been through a thorough assessment process. In the current age of technology where AAC systems no longer have to cost £5000 or more, it is a real shame that clients who are non-verbal do not have the means to communicate and meet their potential. Communication aids are as important to my clients as other assistive technologies such as wheelchairs or walking frames."

Alternative and Augmentative Communication is the key to helping people who cannot communicate using their own speech and voice, but the debate is not only about the funding for AAC, but also about the information on AAC that is taught to students during their formative years in university. The debate should start there, and include questions like these:

How many Speech and Language Therapists graduate with sufficient knowledge and understanding of the needs of people who are unable to use their own speech and voice to communicate?

What opportunities are there for student placements where AAC is used?

Does the current curriculum cover the theoretical aspects of AAC in sufficient detail?

Once qualified, what support is there for newly qualified Therapists to develop the specialist skills required to assess and prescribe for AAC, especially high tech devices?

The issues of funding come after that, because if Speech and Language Therapists don't prescribe the devices, then the government does not know what the need is, and funding won't be provided.
The current system is mainly dependent on individual Speech and Language Therapists to assess and prescribe, sometime through special centres for AAC such as the Assessment and Outreach Centre for the South West, where a flexible assessment service, including home visits, is offered to people of all ages throughout the region. They have a bank of AAC devices which they can provide for trial, offering training to get the most from them.

Chris Freestone, head of children's services at the Dame Hannah Roger's Trust, Ivybridge, wrote, "I passionately believe that every child deserves to be able to communicate in order to make choices. It underpins everything we do." This also applies to adults.

Communication aids range from something as basic as teaching the person how to sign, to equipping them with the latest and most sophisticated computerised equipment that might cost many thousands of pounds. Some of the latest software available for use with an iPad is even free, or can cost as little as £1,000, while other devices can be £15,000 or more. But how can you put a price on a person's ability to communicate effectively with family, friends and loved ones, and to participate in society and use social networks?

Chris went on to say, "It is brilliant that we have been able to help a person with locked in syndrome to articulate what he is thinking again. It opens up all sorts of opportunities for him to be able to express what he is feeling."

The 1998 Human Rights Act recognises that communication is not a luxury but an essential life skill, yet in the present economic climate funding for such a right can be a political minefield. Sadly it can all come down to where you live; a recent Scope report found that health and education authorities often pass the buck between one another when it comes to funding, with some even restricting usage and removing the devices out of term time.

Funding is hugely important - I hear all too often from parents that the recommendations for devices are not made because "the funding won't be available". Surely Speech and Language Therapists need to believe in the strength of their convictions and prescribe the right devices, and educate Commissioners in Health and Education to understand that the devices need to be funded from central sources, not charities or personal fund raising?

On-line birthday bash for O.J. Brigance

Happy Birthday O.J. Brigance!! 

O.J. Brigance played for the Ravens when they won Super Bowl XXXV and later took a position with the team as Senior Advisor to Player Development.

In 2007, O.J. was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and has since founded the Brigance Brigade Foundation, whose goal it is to improve the quality of life for ALS patients and their families. While dealing with the debilitating disease and growing his foundation, O.J. still goes to work with the Ravens four days a week.

To honor O.J. and celebrate his birthday, the Brigance Brigade is hosting an ‘online birthday party’ where friends, fans, and supporters can post birthday wishes and, if inclined, make donations to the Brigance Brigade Foundation. The goal behind the online celebration is to engage O.J.’s many fans and supporters and give them a platform to communicate with O.J.. Donations made to the site will be used to help improve the quality of life for other ALS patients and their families through equipment and support services that they otherwise could not afford. The site fans can visit is: