Friday, April 5, 2013

How care at home helped Kathryn live her life to the fullest, despite #ALS

Via ALS Association Greater Philadelphia website:

"A Lady in Red Brings Tender Care"
The following article on Kathryn Voit is from Bayada’s Website:CARE Connection Vol1 Number1.Jan 2012; by Caroline Graham. Sadly Kathryn lost her courageous battle with ALS on March 8th, 2012. She was loved and admired by all of us at The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter, and she will be deeply missed.

How care at home is helping Kathryn live her life to the fullest, despite ALS

Kathryn V. celebrated her 75 h birthday in a house filled with laughter and love, courtesy of her husband, Gerry, 80, the couple‘s four children, and 10 grandchildren.

―We thought about going out to a restaurant, but it‘s getting harder for Kathryn to chew and swallow, so we specially prepare her food for her,‖ says Gerry. ―It‘s much easier to stay home.‖

Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1998, Kathryn has defied the odds, as her disease has progressed much slower than anticipated. ALS causes nerve cells to waste away or die, preventing them from sending messages to the muscles.

This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching, and an inability to move the arms, legs, and body. When the muscles in the chest area stop working, it becomes difficult or impossible to breathe on one‘s own.

―The symptoms came on gradually,‖ says Gerry. ―At first she simply couldn‘t walk as fast, then she started to trip while walking. We were in the airport in San Francisco on our way home from a vacation when she realized she could barely walk at all.‖

Kathryn, who worked for years as a math professor at numerous colleges and universities, did not let her diagnosis stop her from teaching. At first she used a cane, then, a wheelchair. But after three or four years it got to be too much, and she had to stop working.

The disease had progressed to the point where Gerry knew he couldn‘t handle her care on his own.

Gerry contacted BAYADA Home Health Care and found out that a home health aide (HHA) would be able to meet Kathryn‘s needs and improve her quality of life.

HHA Connie Smith was carefully matched with Kathryn and Gerry. Kathryn shares that she had always been concerned that having a home health aide would ruin her privacy, but with Connie‘s discreet presence, she didn‘t feel that way. ―We can be silent together or we can talk and laugh together. It‘s fun to have this sisterly contact that we can enjoy, from politics to clothes, to what‘s on the menu today."

―Connie and Kathryn are like peas in a pod," says Gerry, describing the friendship that has developed in the eight years since Connie began caring for his wife.

ALS has robbed Kathryn of the use of her legs and arms. What‘s more, her trunk muscles are too weak for her to sit up on her own, so her wheelchair needs to be in a tilted back position.

Connie has adapted to the differences in the level of care that she provides to Kathryn with compassion, patience, and skill. ―As I become more and more disabled with ALS, Connie has become my hands," says Kathryn.

During a typical day, she will bathe and dress Kathryn, wash and style her hair, feed her, and help with toileting. Connie also takes her clothes shopping or to ceramics class. And thanks to a special stand used to prop up books, Kathryn is able to continue her love of reading, while Connie helps by turning the pages.

Modern technology has also opened a world of possibilities for Kathryn. At first, voice activated software helped Kathryn stay connected. Then, when her voice became unrecognizable because of the disease, Gerry connected their computer to the flat screen TV. A reflective dot placed on Kathryn‘s nose interacts with a sensor, which, in turn, interacts with the computer.

Connie learned how to set up the equipment for Kathryn, who can then control the mouse with the movement of her head.

―We have always been able to adapt to each new challenge as her disease progresses," says Gerry.

Last year, as ALS took away her voice, Kathryn found that writing poetry became a way to communicate with the world. During her birthday weekend, Kathryn participated in a special poetry reading at her church. Kathryn wrote this poem about Connie and her care:

A lady in red Brings tender care, Fills my needs, Answering a prayer.

Married 51 years, Gerry describes his wife as a gutsy, determined lady who insists on living life as fully as possible. Fortunately, Connie is there by her side, helping her have the best quality of life, despite her diagnosis.

In 2008, Connie‘s exceptional care and compassion for Kathryn earned her the distinction of being named BAYADA Home Health Aide Hero of the Year in front of thousands of employees at the company‘s annual Awards Weekend in Philadelphia.

Connie‘s husband, sister, father, mother, and of course, Gerry and Kathryn, were there to support her as she accepted the prestigious award.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Samsung Galaxy S4 and eye-tracking


The Samsung Galaxy S4 and eye-tracking


The launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 last month garnered the type of media attention we’re getting used to for any new smartphone. Among the most talked-about feature pre-launch was “eye tracking” – the phone’s ability to know where its user was looking and react accordingly.
It took a few days for anyone to point out the application was more “head tracking” than eye tracking. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, it enables what Samsung is calling “smart pauses” and “smart scrolling”.

Face tracking and the Samsung Galaxy S4.

In short, the “smart pauses” feature recognises if you are in front of the phone or not, and can save what you were last doing when you move away from the device and decide to come back to it.
“Smart scrolling” refers to the phone’s inbuilt eye-tracking technology, which detects if the phone has been tilted and scrolls up or down accordingly.

An eye to eye-tracking

Eye tracking is a set of technologies and techniques for measuring where a person is looking (the point of gaze), for how long (fixation), and what are called saccades (fast movement of an eye).
The use of eye tracking dates back to the 19th century, when it was used to study reading behaviour and which words people focused on and which words people skipped over and revisit using analogue, observation-based techniques.

Eye tracking demo.

Since the 1980s, eye-tracking has been used in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) for a myriad of purposes, including usability testing of interface design, and the development of computer navigation devices for disabled users.
Samsung’s innovation is likely the first step in realising the full functionality enabled in more advanced eye-tracking technology systems, such as those produced by companies including Tobii and Mirametrix.
Tobii, based in Sweden, is considered the industry leader in eye-tracking. The company develops hardware and software to analyse eye-tracking results, including goggle-based and traditional desktop systems.
Mirametrix, headquartered in Montreal, is a relative newcomer, and has developed more affordable eye-tracking equipment.

The new Galaxy S4 was unveiled in New York on March 14. Andrew Gombert/EPA

In terms of research and application, eye-tracking has been used in a wide range of disciplines, including vision research, psychology, cognitive linguistics, user experience testing and marketing.
Eye-tracking was recently used by the Australian media company Fairfax, as part of its neuromarketing research, to analyse the “eye-gaze” of readers on the ads in the smaller tabloid-size format of the new Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
The company’s director of ad strategy was reported as saying the new format, from an advertising perspective, led to a “50% improvement in eye gaze”.
Eye tracking is currently being used in spatial cognition, to help understand how people relate to maps and geo-location, and in virtual reality, as shown in the video below. In computer gaming, eye tracking opens up new possibilities in game immersion, where players can aim and turn through “gaze interaction”.

Last September, the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) ran a workshop in Melbourne that included a hands-on session with eye-tracking equipment.
Participants were introduced to the Tobii eye-tracking system and participated in an experiment on understanding soil maps, maintained by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries via Victoria Resource Online.
This is believed to be the first workshop of its kind. Similar workshops, in which researchers and conference participants will gain exposure to eye-tracking software for spatial research, have been planned for later this year.

Looking to the future

Eye-tracking technology is gaining momentum. From a commercial perspective, there’s great value in understanding where people’s attention falls and for how long, especially when designing technology products and marketing pixel-based real estate.
In terms of research, there are many exciting opportunities for using eye tracking to understand visual processes and the ways in which people interact with information.
No-one would claim the Samsung Galaxy S4’s move into this area is, in itself, a game-changer – but it’s something of a game starter, and a sign of things to come.
Chris Pettit receives funding from the CRC-SI. He is affiliated with SSSI and ISPRS.

Excellent article with great resources. Via

Assistive Technologies

What’s ready now and what’s in your future
Article Highlights:
  • Steve Spohn — an expert in gaming with disabilities and assistive technologies, and editor-in-chief of — highlights a few technologies that make life easier, safer and more efficient for people with progressive muscle weakness. Some technologies currently exist; others are coming in the near future.
  • A resource list offers links to the technologies described in the article; links are provided to videos of some technologies in action.
by Steve Spohn on April 1, 2013 - 9:21am

Entering into the world of disability should come with a giant neon sign that reads “Warning: Technology Ahead.” It’s inescapable. Not only is it all around us but for many of us, technology keeps us alive well beyond what the naysayers predict.

Different neuromuscular diseases progress at different rates, but eventually we all start losing mobility, strength and/or dexterity. Some of us will need canes, walkers, wheelchairs and even ventilators. Some will need technology that doesn’t yet exist.

Assistive technology allows increased freedom, improved quality of life and furthers independence. Yet, newer technologies are often expensive, leaving them out of reach for most on disability budgets.

Let’s examine which technologies will make your life better when you need it — without breaking the bank.

The technology of today

Click on photos to enlarge.
For those with hand mobility, Apple’s iPad can be a multitasking assistive device with many apps available.
Just around the corner is the Ubi, a voice-activated plug-in device to control your lights, TV, phone and access to the Internet.
Going beyond operating your TV, the Logitech Harmony remote can control a screen-mounted HD camera for high-quality Skype connections.
The more-affordable Tobii REX eye-tracking device moves your mouse pointer where you want it on the screen.
Due out within a year, Google’s glasses will project a smartphone mini screen onto one of the lenses. Voice command will enable you to search the Internet, make phone calls and take photos.
In the near future, a wearable exoskeleton from Ekso will sense brain signals and enable paraplegics to walk.
iPads: For those with some hand strength and range of mobility, the iPad has an abundance of apps and mounts to adapt the device to your specific abilities. There’s simply too much information to list in this article, but let’s go over some quick examples.

The iPad can record lectures at school or college, saving you from taking notes. You can upload your books to an iPad if physically holding a book is difficult. You can mount it to your wheelchair for use on the go. The standard controls of a game can be more accessible on the large screen of an iPad with its simplistic, touch-based controls. Need to write a report, control your television, turn on your stereo or make a phone call? The iPad provides alternative means of doing all of those tasks and more.

Vocally Infinity 3: When you need a little bit more help physically, the best device you can purchase is one that gives you peace of mind. With the Vocally Infinity 3, you can dial any phone with just your voice. You’ll need a phone that you’re able to access, such as a switch-enabled phone, speakerphone or headset. To make a call, simply say the name of the person you want to dial and the device does the rest. (For another voice-activated speakerphone, see the Fortissimo featured in Product Peeks Spring 2013.)

PC technology: There are an infinite number of assistive technologies available to help you utilize a personal computer, ultimately making it your best friend. The voice recognition software Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 allows you to speak into a microphone and control your PC without ever lifting a finger. The software recognizes voice commands such as clicking on website links, opening programs and preset tasks. Voice recognition has come a long way in the last 10 years. Although the technology has been around since the 1990s, it was slow and often inaccurate. Users became frustrated when the software would become unresponsive or start pushing wrong buttons with disastrous results. Today, voice recognition has been integrated into everything from our cars to our phones, and Dragon itself now reaches up to 99 percent accuracy. If talking out loud isn’t your preference, consider an on-screen keyboard with dwell technology. A virtual representation of the keyboard is placed onto your screen and functions the same as a normal keyboard. You can click the buttons with the mouse or enable dwell, which pushes the button for you by leaving the pointer over a key for five seconds. Alternatively some keyboards can scan across the keys until the one you want is highlighted.

Environmental controls: Another crucial ability is operating the environment around you. There are many high-tech and expensive ways to accomplish that goal, but the most cost-effective is to purchase a device called a USB-UIRT, which allows you to broadcast infrared (IR) signals (just like your TV remote) from your personal computer. Combined with a program called Girder, the USB-UIRT can learn the IR codes of any remote controlled device.
Point your TV, DVD, radio and other remotes to the USB-UIRT, program the codes and operate your entire environment from your PC. You’ll be able to use any assistive technology you already use, including eyegaze, to operate your environment. You also can purchase additional IR receiver modules to operate things that aren’t traditionally remote-controlled, like lights and fans.
If you can push buttons on a standard universal remote control, Logitech Harmony offers the same ability as the USB-UIRT without requiring a PC.

Wheelchair driving: Perhaps the most vital component to regaining independence is driving your power wheelchair. Up until recently, once you lost the ability to control a joystick there was nothing that could be done. Now there are all kinds of interesting ways you can drive wheelchairs, but the most popular is the ASL mini-proportional joystick. The device uses a thimble-sized joystick that can be operated with a feather-light touch. If you only have millimeters of movement and little strength, you’ll be able to continue driving with this Medicare-covered device. Moreover, newer models come with a Bluetooth-enabled interface allowing you to operate the mouse on your computer from the same joystick.

Future technology

Technology doesn’t stand still for long. We’ll continue to see progressively more advanced technology helping the disabled community. Here are a few things you can look forward to:

24/7 computer assistance: The Ubiquitous Computer (Ubi), set to be released in April 2013, is a voice-activated computer assistant, similar to the ones on newer smartphones, which plugs into your wall and accesses the Internet via Wi-Fi. You’ll be able to control the lights, thermostat, TV, Internet and phone — all with the sound of your voice. No button to press and the device is always listening. Ubi will be the ultimate in security and independence for people with limited mobility.

Cheaper gaze technology: Tobii, a world leader in eye-tracking technology, unveiled its latest product, Tobii REX, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. A small box attached underneath the center of your monitor keeps track of where you’re looking and moves the mouse pointer to that appropriate position in real time, giving those with very little movement further control over their computers.

Until now, the technology has been expensive, running thousands of dollars for quality hardware. But the company is calling Tobii REX the first eye-tracking device targeted at the mainstream, midprice consumer market. The consumer model will cost less than $1,000 when released later this fall; 5,000 limited-edition units are available for preorder.

Computer eyeglasses: Available within the next year, Google’s Project Glass is one of the hottest techie items to premiere in quite some time. An overlay that looks identical to your smartphone will be embedded in the glasses themselves. Imagine seeing the screen of an iPhone imprinted around the lenses of your glasses. For those with arm, hand and finger weakness, the ability to wear your smartphone and operate it by speaking instead of pushing small buttons on a hand-held device will be phenomenal. You’ll be able to take pictures, call friends, search the Internet, and more — all by voice command.

The glasses will be specific to the device itself at first, but rumor has it that the technology will quickly evolve into something that can be put into your prescription eyeglasses.

Robot suits: And finally, science fiction has been promising us exoskeletons since the Golden Age of pulp fiction. But a company called Ekso is promising that day is coming sooner than you think. A “wearable robot suit” that attaches to your legs and torso may ultimately be as common as wheelchairs.

The suit allows paraplegics to walk by sensing the electromagnetic signals the body puts out. It turns out that — whether you’re talking about a neuromuscular disease or an injury from a traumatic event — the body usually continues to send out signals from the brain to get our bodies to do what we want them to do.

Similarly, bioengineers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are hard at work on brain computer interface technology that would allow robotic arms to assist or replace nonfunctional limbs.
Within the next decade we may have the resources to allow people with progressive muscle disorders, like myself, to bolster ourselves with technology and, as we lose abilities through the natural progress of the disease, to replace them with robotic technology. The future looks bright.

Steve Spohn is an expert in gaming with disabilities and assistive technologies, editor-in-chief of and outreach chair for the AbleGamers Foundation. The 32-year-old Pittsburgh native, who has spinal muscular atrophy, also is a Web designer, gamer and writer.

ASL mini-proportional joystickAdaptive Switch Laboratories
(800) 626-8698

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12
(800) 654-1187

Girder (automation software)
Hands-Free Adapter for Nokia Phones
Apple Inc.
(800) 676-2775 

Logitech Harmony Remotes
(800) 231-7717 
SaviGo Headset System
Tobii REX
Tobii Gaze Interaction
The Ubiquitous Computer
Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation

(Universal Infrared Receiver/Transmitter)

Vocally Infinity 3
(voice activated dialer)
(888) 321-6006

ZooMate switch-adapted Bluetooth speakerphone
SAJE Technology
(847) 756-7603 
Watch this!
Google's Project Glass
See the device from a user's point of view.
Brain Computer Interface
See a paralyzed woman use this technology to feed herself chocolate.

Ekso Bionics
See the robot suit in action.