BC Assistive Technologies Give People More Than A Voice

I’d like to dedicate this post as a follow-up to my presentation to talk more about Camera Mouse, along with other areas that spiked your interest from the feedback I received. 

For someone who has grown up using computers ever since I can remember, I sometimes find myself taking technology for granted. What technology allows me to do so effortlessly is not always the case for people with disabilities who have little mobility to type or use the mouse on a computer. And like I mentioned, this is where Camera Mouse can give people more than a voice, but additional life value. 

To really understand how Camera Mouse works, I think watching a video of someone using it is a lot easier than me trying to explain it in more detail. But as a quick refresher, it is a free computer program that allows you to control the mouse pointer of your computer just by moving a part of your head. So alas, below is a video of how it works with a lovely voice over by none other than Professor Gips himself.

The fact that this download is free is a huge factor because it gives accessibility to everyone. A few other similar assistive technologies exist, but they require purchasing hardware that can cost anywhere from $500 to over $1000.

But who is Camera Mouse for? 

While I mentioned that assistive technologies can help people with disabilities, I would like to address exactly who Camera Mouse can really influence. Gips helped design this program for people who lack the ability to move their hands or speak to a voice recognition program, including people with Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Brain Injury, and various neurological disorders.

As I also mentioned, I am working with the Campus School at Boston College that has slightly over 40 students today. These students have severe disabilities, including some of the ones I mentioned above. But Camera Mouse goes beyond the Campus School students. While it’s been amazing and inspiring to see the Campus School students use the program, people with all disabilities all around the world use Camera Mouse. Since Camera Mouse started in 2007, there have been over 3 million downloads, and a large number of downloads come from India, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa.

“[Camera Mouse is] a valuable resource, not just for education but also for communication, enabling children with severe special needs to communicate, in some cases for the first time, with others and with their peers.” -Minister for Education of Northern Ireland

So yes, Camera Mouse can be used by anyone in the world with a disability or who has trouble using a computer with his or her hands. But what’s challenging and what we are trying to figure out at the Campus School, is exactly how many people can benefit from Camera Mouse. While I believe in the value of this technology, I also believe it has the potential to be used by a lot more people, especially students because it allows them to show their intelligence, read passages, and answer test questions on the computer. It can even allow students with severe disabilities to attend standard high schools. In fact, Professor Gips was able to see one of the students he first worked with actually graduate high school because of Camera Mouse!

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many students Camera Mouse because schools are not allowed to give up any specific information about their students with disabilities because of HIPAA standards. However, there are some statistics that do exist, including:

1. Around 8% of the U.S. population has a severe disability, which is around 24 million people (National Inclusion Service Project)

2. In 2013-2014, around 6.5 million students ages 3-21 had a disability in the U.S. (National Center for Education Statistics)

These numbers are simply restricted to the U.S., so I believe that there are many more people Camera Mouse has the potential to reach globally. (3 million downloads has yet to tap its potential!) I also believe that this technology can be used by anyone who does not have full mobility of their hands, even students who break their arms and cannot write at school.

But there’s more!

EagleEyes

EagleEyes is the second assistive technology Professor Gips helped develop. Similar to Camera Mouse, EagleEyes allows people with physical disabilities to move the mouse cursor by moving their eyes. This device is different in the sense that it requires attaching electrodes to a person’s head in order to detect eye position and each device costs a little over $1000. EagleEyes is designed for people who have little to no head mobility and cannot use Camera Mouse. Disclaimer: I know less about EagleEyes because it is not used by any Campus School students and has been licensed to the Opportunity Foundation of America in Utah. 

Moving Forward

Moving forward, I think Camera Mouse can be a huge element in helping increase learning programs for students, both in the Campus School but also schools throughout the country. Another challenge my consulting project is trying to solve is how to best leverage this innovative technology to help create Boston College and the Campus School as a Center of Excellence, including utilizing social media pages and outreach to schools.

As part of my project, we are working on creating marketing materials, training guides, and an outreach program. If we can create effective training manuals and guides for other schools in the country, we can help bring Camera Mouse to more schools that would otherwise spend money on expensive equipment, add value to people’s lives, and hopefully increase revenue for the Campus School. Another aspect includes creating more up-to-date videos and pictures, hence the lack of photos in this post.

Red Nose Day

So far, I have yet to see another assistive technology like Camera Mouse that is both free and not dependent on another piece of hardware to connect. You might be familiar with Red Nose Day, an annual television campaign that aired last month (March 24th) that gives proceeds to help end child poverty. One of the comedic videos included Stephen Hawking casting famous celebrities in order to find a new voice for his assistive technology computer.

This video is funny!

While this video was solely for comedic purposes, it spiked my interest about Hawking’s computer. I won’t go into extensive detail here, but Hawking was diagnosed with ALS and lost his ability to speak. Using a computer-based communication system created by Intel, he can select characters by moving his cheek. The Intel Team stated in 2015:

The idea is to have a camera pointed at Stephen’s face to pick up not just his cheek movements but other facial movements. He could move his jaw sideways, up and down, and drive a mouse and even potentially drive his wheelchair. These are cool ideas but they won’t be coming to completion any time soon.”

Should Camera Mouse give Mr. Hawking a call?

 

8 comments

  1. Nice followup to your presentation. I’m glad you attached the video, it really helped my understanding to see Camera Mouse in action. I also enjoyed reading about the alternate and wide ranging uses for the technology, in that it works for multiple types of disabilities. It makes me wonder if the technology can have even more applications. One of the questions I had after your presentation about it was what to do with Camera Mouse if the user did not have mobility of their head, but you answered that clearly by showcasing EagleEyes in this post.

  2. Nice post Nicole, I really enjoyed your presentation – it was great to hear about some of Prof. Gips’s projects and technology being used in such an impactful, life-changing way. The EagleEyes project sounds really interesting too. I took a look at the website and I found it really interesting that it was initially licensed out to a Texas-based company, before BC revoked the license and decided to create a version for free. It seems like it has reached so many users since BC decided to take this approach. Great presentation and post!

  3. I thought this technology was so neat in your presentaiton a few weeks ago, so I’m glad you decided to write this follow-up post! I hope that as we continue to develop new commercial devides and software (I’m thinking about Google Glass, eye tracking, etc.), we will also see these assistive technologies continue to grow in sophistication. There’s definitely more money to be made selling AR headsets to wealthy tech powerusers, but this technology seems most valuable for those who would otherwise just not be able to use computers at all. Good on BC and the campus school for keeping this software free and accessible. As our lives continue to shift online, it is assistive software like this that will be so important for allowing everyone to have access to the same platforms. I wonder what other technologies that computer hardware and software companies have, this is definitely a really interesting field!

  4. Thank you for the added insight into this technology. There is definitely a opportunity in this space to better match people’s abilities with the environment so all individuals can benefit from technology. With AI and some of the other things we’ve been learning about in class the potential is there to bring so much more value to peoples lives. If only money wasn’t an obstacle as it so often is.

  5. Great post, Nicole! I had always heard about assistive technologies like Camera Mouse and Eagle Eyes but never really understood how they work or just how many people that they help around the world. The video demo was certainly helpful in understanding more about Camera Mouse and its strong capabilities. I think adding the story of Prof. Gips seeing a student graduate high school because he/she used Camera Mouse is incredibly touching and powerful. I hope in time that technologies like this become more commonplace and less costly in order to help those who really need it. Thanks for sharing!

  6. This post was a great follow-up to your presentation. The demonstration video you included in the beginning helped illustrate a more complete picture of how the technology works and various use-cases. It must be amazing to work with students using this tech and see first hand how it is helping them to defy previous limitations. I believe Professor Kane commented at the end of your presentation that Professor Gips is helping some children speak/engage their parents for the first time via Camera Mouse- which is an incredible testament to the power/potential of this technology. I agree that 3,000,000 downloads has yet to tap it’s full potential – it will be interesting to see how the product develops moving forward to serve more people with and without disabilities.

  7. Great followup to your presentation. Interestingly, the red haired girl in the video is my former TA for #IS6621.

  8. Great post about a great presentation. I took Intro to Programming with Prof Gips and I remember him taking a whole class to talk about Camera Mouse and the work he was doing. He’s doing a great service to a community of people that can really benefit from a free and effective assistive technology that could be the difference between whether or not that person can use a computer. Just being about to use a computer seems like it could unlock a lot of possibilities for a disabled individual that previously didn’t have the tools to do something like access the Internet. Really neat stuff!

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