EagleEyes a Window to the Mind
June 18, 2005
By Jennifer Toomer-Cook
A new technology is offering a window into the minds of children with severe disabilities, and Jordan Valley School is the first in the United States to receive it.
The Jordan District school for students with severe, multiple disabilities is one of four in the world to receive donated EagleEyes technology: an eye-controlled computer that basically gives people with severe disabilities a way to express needs, desires, ideas - even draw, play video games or explore foreign languages.
"It's just really neat to see the kids that you never think would be able to communicate at all - or maybe 'yes' with one blink of the eye, 'no,' with two blinks - to be actually able to carry on conversations by using the computer," said Jordan Valley principal John Gardner, whose school demonstrated the technology for parents, therapists, teachers and others Friday. "It's given us a lot of hope for a lot of our kids."
EagleEyes was developed in a Boston College partnership with the Salt Lake-based Opportunity Foundation of America. Only a handful have been created and donated to Jordan Valley and Craighalbert Centre in Cumbernauld, Scotland. The Boston College Campus School in Chestnut Hills, Mass., and Goodwill Columbus in Columbus, Ohio, also are scheduled to receive them.
The technology was demonstrated Friday by Britt Allen, a Salt Lake Community College student who punches words into a computer to speak.
The technology is about the size of a paperback novel. It reads Allen's head and eye movements through electrodes, then translates them into a cursor's movement across a computer screen.
At first, EagleEyes is used for fun. A cursor might act as a paintbrush, tracing the eye's movements on the screen to artwork that can be printed out and hung on the fridge. Or, it becomes a scope through which to blast space aliens.
After about a month of play, users begin more solid communication. They might be asked to focus in on a box that states "I want" and then select a picture, such as ice cream, which they then actually receive as a reward. A long gaze acts like the click of a computer mouse; settings can be adjusted to meet individual needs or capabilities.
From there, students might progress to communicate more complex needs, such as a request to shift in their wheelchairs or to go home. They also can visit Web sites, such as Weekly Reader or National Geographic, explore world languages or even write letters - the first for one student being: "Happy Father's Day, I love you."
An EagleEyes GED test is being developed. Researchers also are examining the
possibility of electrode-free, infrared technology.
About half of Jordan Valley's 230 students could benefit from EagleEyes, assistant principal Wendy Bills said. Student Cameron Olivares already is on his way. He has been using the technology a couple of months, and particularly enjoys the space aliens game.
"This since has empowered him to know he can make his own choices," foundation board member Ron Williams said.
The foundation hopes to continue donating EagleEyes technology to schools for students with severe disabilities, and later take parents' requests, executive director and founder Debbie Inkley said.
"This has the potential of changing the world for so many people," Gardner said. "And not only the children - but their families."