Access4Kids Input Device Allows Disabled Individuals To Operate Touch-Centric Tablets

By Alexandra Burlacu | Dec 11, 2012 10:51 AM EST

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While most accessories nowadays are just cool additions to a device, Access4Kids aims to offer much more than that: allow disabled users to operate touch-centric devices.

While technological advancements have been crafting for years various ways for handicapped individuals to use computers, but the recent boom in tablet devices has created an entirely new issue. When the mere act of touching is a challenge, enabling someone to skillfully and easily control a touch-centric device is no easy task.

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Access4Kids is the brainchild of Avanna Howard, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, and graduate student Hae Won Park. According to the inventors, the accessory is a "wireless input device that uses a sensory system to translate physical movements into fine-motor gestures to control a tablet."

In a nutshell, Access4Kids aims to help those with limited mobility to be able to pinch and swipe, in an effort to offer greater accessibility to popular apps that are ubiquitous to any Internet-connected device.

Access4Kids is coupled with supporting open-source apps and software developed at Georgia Tech, and enables children with fine motor impairments to access not only off-the-shelf apps such as Facebook and YouTube, but also 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," said Howard. "We're giving them the ability to use what's in their mind so they have an outlet to impact the world."

The current Access4Kids prototype makes use of a trio of force-sensitive sensors capable of measuring pressure. The prototype then converts that pressure into a signal and translates it to the tablet.

A disabled child can wear the Access4Kids input device either around the forearm, or on the arm of a wheelchair. The user can hit the corresponding sensors or swipe across the sensors with one's fist. This functionality offers an entirely new level of interaction, especially for individuals suffering from celebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida, and muscular dystrophy.

Children with such neurological disorders typically suffer from fine motor impairments as well, i.e. the difficulty of controlling small coordinated movements of the hands, wrists, and fingers.

With Access4Kids, the combination of sensor hits or swipes is converted to different "touch-based" commands on the tablet, allowing users with fine motor impairments to operate a specific small region with appropriate intensity.

Howard is also creating a second prototype that aims to offer more flexibility. The second prototype will include wireless sensors that can be located anywhere a user is capable of hitting them, such as with a foot or on the side of the head. Howard said she hopes clinical trials for the device will start next year.

"We can't keep it in the lab," said Howard. "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."

Access4Kids has received positive feedback so far, from both typically developing children and children with disabilities, as well as caregivers. The device was showcased to the British Consulate this summer, before the Paralympic games, and received good review. Moreover, Access4Kids was also a finalist in a recent Intel-sponsored competition.

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