Enabling computer access for people with ALS
When ALS patients start losing mobility, simple on-screen keyboards may no longer be an option for navigating the internet. Gaze interaction, or eye-tracking technology, can help those with ALS overcome feelings of isolation and remain active in their communities and connected to the world.
All of the functions of a computer can be accessed through eye movement alone.
Keeping in touch with family and friends online has become a daily routine, and can remain an important part of life for those affected by ALS. From joining video chats to sending email and posting on social media platforms, developing and maintaining relationships plays an integral role in enjoying a fulfilling life. Moreover, with the continued ability to use a computer, people with ALS can connect with online support groups, which can decrease loneliness and provide a sense of empowerment and control.
Along with computer access comes the opportunity to further one's education. In an Australian survey conducted by Curtin University and the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), researchers concluded that students with disabilities find e-learning to be more fulfilling and less difficult than attaining a degree in a traditional school setting. Assistive technology makes this possible for ALS patients. The ability to access online resources also means ALS patients can own businesses, volunteer their talents, and continue leading productive lives. Blogging and other online interactions can play an increasingly important role after ALS diagnosis, because they empower patients to share their ideas and stories with a wider audience.
Steve was one of our ALS users who managed to work as an employee and even ran his own micro-brewery with the help of his I-Series device.
How eye-tracking works
To learn more about how eye tracking works, please watch our "How eye tracking works" section.
What's next in Assistive Technology for ALS patients?
Research on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) is providing further encouragement to those with degenerative conditions like ALS. These systems use electrodes attached to the scalp, or more invasively, on surfaces of the brain, to pick up brain signals that are then directed to a computer. Changes in brain signals brought on by the user's recognition of a desired letter, phrase, or image can cue the software, which translates the signals into commands. BCI technology works very slowly and isn't yet available commercially, but with researchers working on it around the world, it holds great promise.