Eye-Gaze Computers: Background information when reading I Found My Tribe

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I Found My Tribe

A Memoir

by Ruth Fitzmaurice

I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice X
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 224 pages
    Mar 2019, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Eye-Gaze Computers

This article relates to I Found My Tribe

Print Review

Ruth Fitzmaurice's husband Simon, who had Motor Neurone Disease, communicated using a type of adaptive technology known as an eye-gaze computer. The author mentions its use as a critical part of their lives throughout her memoir, I Found My Tribe.

Adaptive technology is a subset of assistive technology and while the two terms are often confused, they are different in scope. Assistive technology can be defined as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capacities" of those with a physical impairment. Items such as a large-print book or Bluetooth headset used to hear one's TV at a louder volume fall into this category, and often those who wouldn't consider themselves disabled, rely on this type of device. Adaptive technology is "any object or system that is specifically designed for the purpose of increasing or maintaining the capabilities of people with disabilities. Adaptive technology would seldom be used by non-disabled people…[A]daptive technology often refers to electronic and IT-related systems – like systems that help blind or deaf individuals use a computer."

An eye-gaze computer is a type of adaptive technology that allows an individual with profound disabilities to communicate via a computer using only eye movement. By projecting harmless infrared light onto the eye, the device pinpoints the pupil center and also the corneal reflection, which is an accurate indicator of where the person is looking. The user can then communicate by looking at the relevant "key" on the control screen and "pressing" that key, which is achieved either by looking at the key for a specified period of time or by blinking, or if the user has sufficient mobility, pressing a switch.

Add-on software packages facilitate an interface with mainstream programs such as word processors, Skype, Facebook, etc. Microsoft has been working closely with eye-gaze hardware manufacturer Tobii to incorporate native eye tracking technology in Windows 10. The software can be set for voice output, and to control appliances like one's TV, wheelchair or hospital bed.

An eye-gaze computer needs to be calibrated to the measurements of the individual using the technology. It can be used with very young children with disabilities, not only to teach them and allow them to communicate, but to help identify undetected visual or cognitive issues.

Technological advances have improved the usability of eye-gaze systems over the past decade. A basic eye-gaze computer can be purchased for $1500 and often some or all of the cost is covered by health insurance. However, a few challenges remain. These systems may be difficult to configure and some find them too frustrating to learn. They are also slower than speech, which often leads to emotional challenges as one tries to communicate with others. Nevertheless, many with devastating illnesses find the technology crucial for maintaining a reasonable quality of life.

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to I Found My Tribe. It originally ran in April 2018 and has been updated for the March 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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