- a new wireless input device uses a sensor system to translate physical
movements into fine-motor gestures that helps children with disabilities access
The device, coupled with supporting open-source
apps and software developed at Georgia Tech, allows children with fine motor
impairments to access off-the-shelf apps such as Facebook and YouTube, as well
as custom-made apps for therapy and science education.
"Every child wants access to tablet technology.
So to say, 'No you can't use it because you have a physical limitation' is
totally unfair," Howard said. "We're giving them the ability to use what's in
their mind so they have an outlet to impact the world."
The current prototype of the Access4Kids device
includes three force-sensitive resistors that measure pressure and convert it
into a signal that instructs the tablet. A child can wear the device around the
forearm or place it on the arm of a wheelchair and hit the sensors or swipe
across the sensors with his or her fist. The combination of sensor hits or
swipes gets converted to different "touch-based" commands on the tablet.
Children with neurological disorders such as
cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy
typically suffer from fine motor impairments, which is the difficulty of
controlling small coordinated movements of the hands, wrists and fingers. They
tend to lack the ability to touch a specific small region with appropriate
intensity and timing needed for press and swipe gestures.
The impact of Access4Kids could be significant.
More than 200,000 children in the U.S. public school system have an orthopedic
disability and have been excluded from tablet and touch screen devices. Current
assistive technology, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication
devices, is available to those with motor impairments for traditional computer
platforms but not tablets or smartphones.
"We can't keep it in the lab," Howard said. "It
doesn't make sense for me to have one child, one at a time look at it and say
'Hey that's really cool' and not have it out there in the world. The real goal
is to make it safe and efficient so someone can make it into a commercial
Howard is creating a second prototype that aims
to be more flexible. It will include wireless sensors that can be placed
anywhere a child is capable of hitting them, such as with a foot or the side of
the head. User trials for the second prototype will begin soon. Howard says she
hopes to have the device through clinical trials starting next year.
So far Access4Kids has received positive feedback
from both typically developing children and children with disabilities, as well
as caregivers. The device was also a finalist in a recent Intel-sponsored
competition and was showcased to the British Consulate prior to the Paralympic
games this summer, receiving good reviews.
The project was originally funded through the
NSF-sponsored Broadening Participation in Computing Program and then through
I-Corps, a National Science Foundation program that aims to translate
scientific discoveries into useful products for society. Howard is working on a
version of the device called TabAccess for adults with motor disabilities.
Access4Kids also received a seed grant from the
Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, a partnership between Georgia Tech,
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational
Science Institute that provides assistance with the commercialization of novel
pediatric medial devices.