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Student creates device to help disabled kid communicate better

Shared by Ana Duarte on 2015-10-07 12:29

About the solution

Andrew uses a computer software program to communicate with his family and friends. The program scans through a variety of words, pictures and letters, and Andrew must operate a switch with his head to indicate the words he wants to say. But because of a movement disorder that accompanies his rare form of the disease, he often hits the switch unintentionally and his messages become garbled. What Gary did was create a light-activated switch that reduces the incidental contact with the switch.

With this device, a light-activated switch, Andrew is less likely to activate the computer program inadvertently. To use the new gadget, he wears a headband that has a light the size of a needlepoint, which he directs at a small receiver attached to the head support on his wheelchair. Because of the device’s small size, it’s harder for Andrew to activate the communication switch by accident and because the transmitter and receiver are close together, Andrew only needs to make slight deliberate movements to activate it.

“He’s been using the computer for learning how to read, spell and construct sentences, and he was getting a lot of false hits,” said Andrew’s father, Gary Sylvia. “He’s learning how to read and write and it’s important for him to have good software so he doesn’t get frustrated.”

Comtois created the new device as part of his internship to develop assistive technologies for patients at the Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, and it took him two months to complete the project.

“I was thinking about it – this invention is actually going to do something for someone. Then it’s not work anymore – I’m going to help someone. The fact that behind this project was a real patient in need really motivated me. I came up with an initial design, then met with Andrew and his parents to learn more specifically what they needed, and then modified the design based on their input”, explained the inventor. A lot of the ideas for the final design came from Andrew’s father.

Gary Sylvia, then a URI chemical engineering graduate, is grateful that Comtois engineered a device that will improve Andrew’s ability to communicate and function, something that is essential to his development and schooling.

“Anything that can increase his efficiency and accuracy will add to his ability to interact with the computer,” Sylvia said. “The switch becomes more important depending on how far Andrew goes. As he proceeds (in school) he needs to be quicker and more accurate. The switch has great potential to go forward, and be designed for other children”.

Adapted from: http://bit.ly/2vFop2T

More info: http://bit.ly/2tzwYe4

This solution shall not include mention to the use of drugs, chemicals or biologicals (including food); invasive devices; offensive, commercial or inherently dangerous content. This solution was not medically validated. Proceed with caution! If you have any doubts, please consult with a health professional.

About the author

Andrew Sylvia, from USA, has cerebral palsy. In 2003, when Gary Comtois, from USA, then 20 years old, was a junior at University of Rhode Island, he developed a device to help Andrew use a computer and communicate better.

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