Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Canada, robots aid children with disabilities

From The Toronto Sun:

EDMONTON, Canada - Researchers at the University of Alberta are striving to help students with disabilities such as cerebral palsy with the aid of robots.

"We are trying to give children an opportunity to experience discovery and manipulation. Children who are born with cerebral palsy often have difficulty using their hands so they miss out on all the things that children do with their hands - explore objects, play with objects and manipulate them," said Al Cook, professor of speech pathology and audiology at the University of Alberta.

"They don't get to participate or play in those activities so what we're doing is using robots to help children discover and play and participate rather than just observe."

Chelsea Hagen (pictured), 14, of Edmonton is a student with cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair to get around and has extremely limited use of her hands.

In a study conducted by Cook and Kim Adams, assistant professor of assistive technology at the U of A faculty, it was found that the robots, along with a communicative device attached to Hagen's wheelchair, have helped her learn immensely in school especially learning math.

"It has helped me to do my reading," Hagen typed into her device.

Hagen said thanks to the device, she is dong "great" in school and loves all her subjects.

The robot is controlled by a device connected to Hagen's wheelchair - she moves her head to select actions and answers to the communicative device and the robot.

The robot allows her to move objects and measure them - the technology is being called Rehab Dialogue.

"She's done really well with it and it's helped her to be included in the class and with her friends," said mom Debbie Hagen. "She can do camps and have after school activities now and join in with the rest of the (kids)."

Cook said it's important people know these devices are out there for families to inquire about and that they can really change the life of someone with a disability.

"Every child that has used them has changed the perception about themselves to the people around them," said Cook. "It changes how people look at them and their perception of their competence.

"It gives these children an opportunity to succeed."

Cook also said that similar robots are used in school for science demonstrations that incorporating the robots for students with disabilities to learn with be "evolutionary and not revolutionary," and develop gradually.