|Nose Dot Revisited|
|Written by David Brunnen|
|Thursday, 19 July 2012 13:49|
An update to an editorial from 2006 featuring assistive technolgy
Amongst the extraordinarily clever combinations of gadgets and software that contribute to Christopher’s survival, the most obviously useful is still this thing perched atop a laptop screen. It looks like an old webcam from the days when they were add-on extras but is, in fact, his ‘mouse substitute’.
Diligent followers of this publication, those with a very long memory, may recall the 2006 editorial about ‘Nose Dots’.
Way back when Chris had ‘escaped’ from the Spinal Injuries Unit and was learning to handle life without limbs, it was an early version of TrackerPro, catching the light reflected from the shiny dot stuck on his nose, that provided a way forward.
This week we took the opportunity to revisit Chris and find out what else has emerged to ease the challenges of wheelchair-bound life. No gadgets, of course, could ever replace the care of a strong family, good neighbours and a dedicated team of NHS support workers with home facilities adapted for standby and disaster recovery modes.
Chris’s central challenge is to make sense of his life: working out, in an environment of total physical dependency, how to make a useful contribution to the lives of others.
For all of us in business or at home, a basic value of digital technologies is often found in the reduction of everyday hassle – the elimination of awkward or unnecessary processes and easier access to useful information. This digitally-driven simplification of living assumes a much higher priority for folk with impairments of any kind.
Chris might not claim any special ICT talent but it’s immediately clear that a large part of his own ‘hassle elimination’ is entirely down to a hands-free digital dexterity – aided in large part by his Open University online studies in programming and astrophysics and an innate sense of scientific curiosity developed in previous careers.
Tracker-like ‘mouse’ technologies have evolved little over the past six years – small improvements in accuracy perhaps – but there have been big gains in speech-to-text software eliminating much of the arduous on-screen keyboard point-and-select process.
Chris’s preferred system, ‘Dragon Naturally Speaking’ from Nuance Healthcare Solutions, incorporates verbal punctuation commands but finer editing still demands the point-and-click keyboard. His current left/right/double/hold ‘dwell-click’ software is clever but complex and also relies on TrackerPro dexterity.
There may be some scope here for further development of voice control but meanwhile there’s a chance that Chris will soon solve the usability issues; big buttons operated by head movements may be an answer if they can be mounted on his wheelchair without interfering with all the other controls and he can master management of the cursor at the same time as nudging the buttons – quite a trick to get his head around!
Another customized application of voice control is in his management of extensions for Google’s Chrome browser to follow links. With so much screen-time every day the facility to flip to alternative background colours and font sizes has become a major priority – not least because his 23-inch screen is never closer than 4ft away.
Sip & Puff
Reaction time is a key part of gaming and with two teenage children Chris is keen to be able to play along.
Previous encounters with ‘sip & puff’ control systems were not altogether successful – conflicting with the breathing of his on-board ventilator – but a new more-sensitive controller developed specifically for Sony PlayStation may now prove more successful.
For the latest news on this project check the footnotes of this article.
Apps and mobility
In a world of ‘apps’ you might think that smarter presentation and vastly expanded library choices would be liberating but from Chris’s perspective the evolution of tablet design – with a focus on touch screens and reduced processing power – is oddly irrelevant. Elegance in external design may be admirable but the old rule, ‘form follows function’, must still apply. This hasn’t, however, deterred Chris from ordering a Google Nexus Tablet to explore how the Android operating system might be adapted to enable his greater mobility and more things to do around the house and garden. An ‘untouchable tablet’ maybe!
But perhaps more than all this technological cleverness, what sustains life here in a fairly remote part of rural Scotland (but is most in need of improvement) is connectivity.
The best that can be said is that the family’s Internet connection is consistent and his service provider gives great customer support. Technically, however, it shouldn’t even be called broadband - the download speed is slow (<500kbps), the upload speed even slower (<100kbps) and the ping times to London-based servers are not going to break any Olympic records (700-1600ms). The mobile data alternative? ‘3G’ signals have yet to be detected in the neighborhood.
This level of connectivity would be a problem today if Chris was already into online gaming and will become a problem again next week when his family returns from a break in the USA and they start uploading holiday snaps and videos. This is, sadly, typical of the current digital infrastructure in rural Nairnshire, Scotland and, despite the grand plans, few citizens here hold out much real hope for growth in the digital economy and even less for the wonders of ‘connected health’ services.
‘Ideas’, they say in Sweden, ‘are born where they are needed most’. Let’s hope, not just for Chris but for all who work and live in this glorious countryside, that the local MP and the Scottish government will take a long strong look at rural broadband infrastructure and rethink their policy options.
The bottom line
Visiting Chris again has been a sobering experience. Whatever daily concerns, annoyances and issues, impinge upon our ‘normal’ lives, these are all made fairly irrelevant in the context of his condition.
We will, I’m sure, enjoy TV coverage of the upcoming Paralympic Games in London.
We will marvel at these athletes’ determination to compete and succeed.
We will watch with a renewed respect for the way that, like Chris, they face up to the challenges of making sense of their lives and working out, despite dependencies, how to make useful contributions to the lives of others.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 05 August 2012 13:31|