People with disabilities face a number of challenges each day, as they strive to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. Those living with ALS are among them.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
Depending on a patient’s progression, certain assistive technologies – or even a combination of two or more of them – can help them to communicate with loved ones, to access information online, and to move around during their daily routines.
Here are four assistive technologies that are improving ALS patients’ lives every day:
- Eye tracking
Eye tracking devices help individuals with no control, or only limited control, over their hand movements. Eye trackers follow the movement of the eyes to allow the person to navigate the web and to type on custom screens. People living with disabilities or degenerative diseases are benefiting from eye tracking technology, including patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, brain injuries, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and more. Eye tracking devices allow users to harness the power of their eyes to communicate with the world.
- Voice recognition software
If a patient is able to speak clearly, another option for computer use is to install software that allows him or her to control a computer by speaking. However, some people with motor disabilities (such as cerebral palsy) may have difficulties speaking so the software recognizes them. If that is not the case, voice recognition software can help people with disabilities surf the Internet, use email, and complete other online tasks.
- Single-switch access
If people have very limited mobility, a single-switch access device might be a good option as well. Even if the user can move only his or her head, for example, the switch can be placed to the side of the head so the user can click it with head movements. Special software on a computer interprets this head clicking, allowing the user to navigate the web. This type of system can be enhanced with auto-complete features for further ease of control.
- Sip and puff switch
This assistive device provides multiple single-switches. Using a sip and puff switch, a person can control their breath actions to communicate on/off signals to software on a computer of mechanisms on a wheelchair. Combining this hardware with a variety of software applications can help create a custom system for the user’s particular needs.
Image credit: “Person in wheelchair in front of bank entrance with stairs – lateral view” by Europe Disability Forum is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/