Motor neurons and nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord control muscular movement in the human body—when these are destroyed, ALS patients become disabled. Oftentimes, their eyes are the only part of the body that are not paralyzed. This leads them to become less able or unable to participate in everyday activities. Among these many activities is communication. Speech-language pathologists can maximize communication function to a certain degree, depending on the progression of the disease. A decline in interaction ability is inevitable as muscle function degenerates. However, new technology makes communication possible and effective for patients.
“Eyegaze Edge empowers users to communicate and interact with the world, despite their disabilities. Not only can they hold conversations by typing messages or selecting pre-programmed phrases, they can also attend school, surf the Internet, and participate in social media using their eye movements.”
Eyegaze Edge enables users to accomplish many tasks, which include some of the following:
- Remotely operate lights and appliances
- Control televisions and stereos
- Surf the web
- Send emails
- Wirelessly control a PC or Mac (using on-screen keyboard and mouse)
- Store and play music
- Organize and view photos and home movies
- Read books (Kindle)
- Watch YouTube videos
- Use word processor
- Update Facebook profile and feed
The device can even be personalized to change gaze duration, phrases, appliance labels, and create custom communication screens to accommodate limited eye movement.
Cathy Manner, another ALS patient, uses this innovative eye tracking technology, which uses implanted electrodes to read her brain signals as she imagines her fingers moving across the keyboard. This equipment “can convert typing to spoken words, is giving people their voices back, enabling some to work full time, go to school, surf the Internet, listen to music and bond with family and friends.”