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14 great computing aids for the disabled

Keyboards controlled by eye, PCs operated by light

Getting work done on a computer is easily within reach of the blind and physically disabled thanks to a number of new and updated tools. We've rounded up the 14 best gadgets to improve computing for the disabled.

Using a PC for work or play may seem like an easy, every-day activity to you and me.

But for people who are blind, paralysed or otherwise physically disabled, using a computer can be an exercise in frustration.

However, a new generation of gadgets, gizmos and software is making it easier for disabled computer users to travel the digital world, interact with others and get work done without hitting the roadblocks that older technologies imposed.

A blind accountant can tell screen-reading software to read spreadsheet data aloud to her, while a paralysed programmer can write code by controlling his computer with the subtle movement of his neck muscles.

The key is that the PC is a general computing device that's adaptable to different forms of input and output.

The computer doesn't care, for instance, that the user is controlling the pointer with her feet or eye movements instead of a traditional mouse and keyboard.

I've gathered together 14 innovative items that can help the disabled take better advantage of the mainstream world of computing.

These devices use a variety of recent technologies and are available for a wide range of prices, from free to thousands of pounds.

These days, using a computer and being an integral part of the business world is not just for the able-bodied, but for everyone.

Muscle messages: The Impulse system

For those with amputated, paralysed or impaired limbs, AbleNet's Impulse system can be the ticket to using a computer without having to resort to bulky mechanical aids.

Impulse replaces the traditional keyboard and mouse with a small device fitted to the user's skin that uses electromyography technology to sense, amplify and transmit the small electrical impulses sent from the brain to the muscle.

It works with many different areas of the body, including the neck and face, and can turn a wink or smile into a click.

Impulse's disposable electrode sensor sticks to the skin; a small Bluetooth transmitter snaps on top.

Specialised third-party communications software installed on the PC, such as E Z Keys (sold separately), interprets the user's input and carries out the commands.

The user can navigate a PC's applications, surf the web and type with an on-screen keyboard.

Impulse works only with Windows XP or Windows Vista. The Impulse transmitter costs $2,100 (£1,390); 120 disposable electrodes adds $100 (£65) to the price tag.

The eyes have it: Eyegaze Edge

Quadriplegics or others who can't use a standard Keyboard and mouse can control a computer simply by moving an eye.

The Eyegaze Edge from LC Technologies uses a high-speed infrared camera mounted under the system's monitor and a small external processing unit to translate eye motion into on-screen action.

After calibrating the system, all the user does is look directly at control keys on the system's monitor, which can display a keyboard, mouse controls, a speech synthesiser with series of phrases to choose from, or a program for turning lights and appliances on and off in conjunction with the optional X-10 controller kit.

The system tracks where the user is looking on the control screen and 'presses' a key when she looks at a key for a specified period of time.

Users can connect a Mac or Windows system to the Eyegaze Edge system and use the keyboard and mouse screens to browse the web and run any off-the-shelf software.

Prices start at $7,250 (£4,810).

NEXT PAGE: Sip and puff input systems

  1. From keyboards controlled by the eye to light-operated PCs
  2. Sip and puff input systems
  3. Light-operated PCs
  4. ZoomText magnifier/reader
  5. Braille on the go


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