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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.

Sipping and puffing: Jouse2

A computer can be controlled with nothing more than mouth movements and gentle puffs of air.

'Sip and puff' input systems employ a thin, hollow joystick that lets disabled users fully interact with a PC.

The user manipulates the stick with his or her mouth, cheek, tongue or chin to move the on-screen cursor and can click on an item by blowing into or sucking out of the straw.

Although sip-and-puff systems such as Semco's QuadJoy have been around for many years, the redesigned Jouse2 from Compusult takes the technology to a new level.

The $1,400 (£925) device plugs into the USB port of a Windows, Linux or Mac computer, and the articulated, adjustable arm can be mounted on a tabletop, desk or wheelchair.

Users can adjust input settings such as cursor speed, double-click (double-puff) speed and sip/puff sensitivity.

In addition to being a mouse replacement, the Jouse2 acts as a keyboard replacement with the company's JoyWrite software, which lets users control the text cursor and enter individual letters, numbers and punctuation by combining sips and puffs of air.

Jouse2 can also translate Morse code commands into letters, where sips are dots and puffs are dashes.

Head-motion detectors: SmartNav 4 and Camera Mouse 2010

Another option for those who can't control a standard mouse and keyboard but do have steady control of head movements is NaturalPoint's SmartNav 4:AT, an infrared scanner that sits on top of a monitor or laptop.

The $500 (£331) device connects with a Windows PC or Mac and senses head motion in a 45 degree field of view 100 times per second.

SmartNav 4 works by sensing a small reflective dot that can be stuck to the user's forehead, eyeglass frames, hat or headset's microphone; the package includes 26 reusable dots.

Move your head around and SmartNav follows the motion to place the screen's pointer where you want it.

Users can type using a virtual keyboard on-screen; actions such as clicking, right-clicking and dragging are controlled with a special toolbar.

The software is highly configurable, offering adjustments such as separate X and Y scaling for users with limited horizontal or vertical head motion and smoothing control for those with unsteady head movements.

A free mouse alternative for those on a tight budget is the Camera Mouse 2010 application.

Developed by researchers at Boston College and Boston University, Camera Mouse replaces the Windows mouse software with a system that tracks the head's movements with a standard webcam (either built in or externally attached via USB 2.0).

After calibrating the system to a corner of an eye or the space between the nose and the mouth, the user moves his head to move the pointer around the screen; holding the pointer still on a small area of the screen activates a click.

It takes some getting used to and isn't as sophisticated or precise as products such as SmartNav, but the price is certainly right. Camera Mouse requires Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7.

NEXT PAGE: Light-operated PCs

  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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