Moving and clicking the mouse is a major key to computer operation. Amazingly, these days there are products and software, which make it possible to get there by pointing, or blowing, or looking, or even just thinking about it.
Thus far we’ve looked at physical pointing devices such as mice, digitising tablets, touch screens and Voice recognition Software (VRS) to implement a method to comfortably navigate your PC. Variations on the good old mouse and VRS are all well and good, but what really is the point (no pun intended really) if you have limited movement and VRS is of no value since you may have limited speech capability. What then?
Fortunately there are solutions to cater for just about any limitation; some truly exciting and avant garde. However, you may need the assistance of a professional, such as an occupational therapist, to set up some of these devices for your specific needs. And most of these products are only available via Internet order, but despite the infuriating downsides of PC’s, they are built with compatibility in mind, which means you can connect any device via various standard ports (plug-holes).
You are the remote
Imagine placing a small disposable disk on your forehead (almost unnoticeable), and with small movements of your head you are able to move the pointer/cursor to wherever you want. Imagine that not only with the small infra-red receiver placed on top of your monitor, which plugs in comfortably to any USB on a PC (or Mac), you get software which will interpret your movements, has built-in dwell clicking (i.e. if you remain stationary for long enough on an icon or menu option, it assumes you want to access that option), and an on-screen virtual keyboard to allow for true hands-free typing, plus the software is fully customisable to allow additional switches to be added. Stop imagining! Such technology exists, and is available.
Drink and Drive
Still not impressed? Then how about this? Maybe it’s not that easy to get a small disposable disk on your forehead, and your head movement may be a little too limited to use the method above. But you do perhaps have good motor control of your mouth, about 10 grams of mouth pressure to be precise and you’re also able to sip and blow through your mouth. Then this solution could just be for you. Through minor movements of your mouth you are able to move the cursor, and by gently sucking or blowing through the mouthpiece you are able to double-click and drag-and-drop. It operates as a standard mouse, and therefore installation is as easy, you simply plug it in via a USB port on your PC, and Windows will install automatically using standard mouse drivers.
Are you looking at me?
As fantastic as these first two solutions sound, they may not be of any value to you if head movement is impossible or strenuous. But can you still move your eyes? If yes, then the next device is absolutely amazing. With just the movement of your eye, you are able to move the cursor, and with the accompanying software, dwell-click and type on an on-screen virtual keyboard. How does it work?
This method uses a camera mounted on the computer monitor, which is focused on one eye. Software then processes the camera image to determine where the user is looking. This is referred to as the gaze point and the cursor will then move to this gaze point. Mouse clicks are achieved by purposefully blinking.
However, this does have its drawbacks. You have to keep your head steady, so you may need a headrest. The room in which you work cannot have very bright sunlight so you may have to close a curtain or two. You have to be no more than two feet (about 65 cm) away from the camera and parallel with the computer screen, and every time you need to use your PC, you will need an assistant to get you close enough to the screen and make minor adjustments to the camera and the lighting in the room.
Look Mom – magic!
This next invention is simply remarkable and testament to the development taking place in hardware and software design, which is enabling those with severe paralysis.
The device is categorised as a brain-actuated control device. This means that through thought, you are able to control devices. What’s more amazing is the ease of implementation – put on a headband (with assistance), plug the device into your computer and allow your concentrated thought navigate hardware and software.
The headband contains sensors which detects tiny surface electrical signals caused by brain and subtle muscle activity. These received signals are then transmitted to the computer allowing you to control the cursor, even play a video game.
Is there anyone out there?
I am amazed when I discover these products and although some have been around for a long time, the vast improvements made to them are overwhelming. Surprisingly, in that a country where so many of our population are handicapped in some shape or form, no one has used the opportunity to sell these products locally. Until such time, these products are only available via the Internet, but many of the ‘retailers’ allow a 30-day money-back guarantee if the device you bought does not work for your specific needs. My favourite site, which stocks all the products that I have featured here, is www.enablemart.com.