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I had dinner recently with a group of friends, one of which is the IT Manager for a school. We talked about the digital divide, and the increasing need to be technologically skilled even in lower years of school. Instead of the critical gap being literacy and maths, which was the traditional line in the sand for student ranking, it was now the gap between those who were comfortable with technology and those who struggled to cope with it.
For those with disabilities, the challenge is even greater. Whether it’s a cognitive or physical disability, there needs to be a fair opportunity for all kids (and adults) to connect and interact with technology to similar levels enjoyed and utilised by able-bodied people.
This is where a company like Tobii comes in with their assistive technology, helping to bridge the gap where one might exist, and in fact possibly providing a greater range of communication and expression that may not have been achieved in previous times.
The demonstration we saw and tried out was a simple one. The product on demonstration was the Tobii PCEye Eye Control Unit. This eye tracking unit could be used with glasses, movement of the head, and most lighting environments.
We calibrated our eyes by focusing on dots on the screen, which took only a few seconds. Then we were ready to try out the software interface. The first was a game, which allowed me to blast asteroids just by looking at them. It’s amazing how quickly I adapted to this method of cursor control.
The second one was more relevant to education, control of appliances and communication. With the Tobii eye tracker I was able to scroll up and down a page, shift to other documents to the left and right, and even turn virtual lights on and off the screen.
The mind boggles at the possibilities that this and similar assistive technology devices can do to improve the quality of life of thousands of affected people around the world. For all the amazing innovations at the CES, the fact was that 99% of them were focused on able-bodied and able-minded people. I can’t wait to see what other systems can be created to help those with disabilities.
And of course it’s not just the mechanism that excites me. It’s the level of independence and the ability to express oneself, to communicate in your own style and personality that is the fulfilling side of this technology. Use Facebook, write emails, read books, and call up TV episodes with just the blink of an eye.
I think it’s great that there are companies working on this assistive technology to bring the enjoyment and necessity of technology to those who otherwise might not have the opportunity. Whether it’s social networking, home entertainment or controlling lighting and heating in the home, it’s an extra tool that uses some great innovations and technology to assist people with disabilities.
Here’s a short video of us using some of the basic functions of the eye tracking Tobii PCEye:
What do you think of this technology? Can you see it improving the lives of those with disabilities, or do you have a personal story to share? Feel free to comment below as always.