Saturday, December 15, 2012

Access4Kids device brings tablets in reach of disabled kids with fine motor impairments

From Georgia Tech. Ayanna Howard (right) and Hae Won Park (left) model the Access4Kids device that allows kids with fine motor impairments to control a tablet.

Even those who consider themselves particularly coordinated will no doubt have been guilty of a misplaced tap here or a badly timed swipe there when using touchscreen devices. But spare a thought for children with fine motor impairments who are essentially excluded from the touchscreen device world and all its educational, entertainment and social benefits. A new device called Access4Kids aims to bring this world within reach of such users.

While there are various technologies available that bring control of traditional computer platforms to those with motor impairments, the explosion in the use of touchscreen devices has caught many by surprise and left children with fine motor impairments on the sidelines.

Developed by Ayanna Howard, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Hae Won Park at Georgia Tech, Access4Kids is a wireless input device that uses force-sensitive resistors to measure pressure from physical movements and converts them into fine-motor gestures to control a tablet.

Aimed at children lacking the ability to touch a specific small region of a touchscreen with the appropriate amount of force and timing required for press and swipe gestures, the current prototype device includes three force-sensitive resistors, which the child hits or swipes with their fist. Various combinations of hits or swipes are translated into different “touch-based” commands that are relayed to the tablet.

Supporting open-source apps and software also developed at Georgia Tech gives users access to off-the-shelf apps, such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as custom-made therapy and education apps.
In its current form, the device can be worn around the forearm or placed on the arm of a wheelchair, but Howard is working on a second prototype that includes wireless sensors that can be placed anywhere a child is able to hit them, such as with a foot or the side of the head.

The first prototype has already received positive feedback from typically developing children and children with disabilities alike, as well as caregivers. User trials for the second prototype are set to begin soon with Howard hoping to start clinical trials early in 2013.

“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 product.”