Technology Extends Opportunities & Independence
for Learning Disabled Students
Widening the Window to the World
Lanie Pearce is a beautiful young woman with soft brown hair, sparkling eyes, and a knock-out smile. She loves hanging out on Facebook, watching YouTube* videos of her favorite country music artists, and engaging in activities with friends—from horseback riding to attending a regional Renaissance Faire.
But Lanie was born with severe cerebral palsy (CP). Her ability to control her body—including to move and to speak—is on a par with that of a four-month-old baby.
Lanie is among the tens of thousands of students and adults who live with conditions such as CP, ALS, and locked-in syndrome, which severely limit their ability to communicate. Like them, she uses technology as her window to the world.
Now, that window is widening, thanks to two technology trends: a new generation of powerful tablets with Intel inside, and the rapidly emerging field of perceptual computing. Perceptual computing lets you control a computer by using techniques such as gesturing and eye movement. Instead of moving a mouse or typing on a keyboard, you can wave your hand or gaze at a spot on the screen to initiate an action or indicate a choice.
But Lanie’s widening world isn’t just about technology. It’s also a story of committed teachers, dedicated family advocates, a giving community, and Lanie’s own zest for life.
|Improve communications and independence for students with physical disabilities|
Microsoft Surface Pro* 3 powered by Intel® processors and Windows* 8.1
Tobii Technologies C15 PCEye Go* with Gaze Selection* technology
|Students with disabilities enjoy easier and more affordable ways to communicate and increase independence using powerful tablets with Intel inside®, paired with advances in perceptual computing|
Advances in Eye-Tracking Technology
Lanie, who is 22 now, has used assistive technologies throughout her life. Her mom, Karole, has built her career around meeting her family’s needs, including those of Lanie and Lanie’s 20 year-old brother. A self-described tech geek, Karole has been on an unending quest to identify technology advances that might help Lanie.
One of Lanie’s most powerful technology solutions was a first-generation mobile eye-tracking device from Tobii Technologies, now TobiiDynavox. Karole found the solution online and worked with the Helen Hayes Hospital Center for Rehabilitation Technology to get one for Lanie. The eye-tracking device runs on Windows-based computers and uses the company’s Gaze Selection* technology to replace or augment the mouse, keyboard, or touchscreen. Now known as PCEye Go, the solution lets Lanie look at specific spots on the computer screen to home in on various actions, and then blink or stare to select them.
“We had tried eye-gaze solutions before the Tobii, but Lanie couldn’t hold her head stationary enough to work them,” Karole recalls. “We spent a lot of her life communicating with a series of Yes and No questions—upper left meant yes, and upper right meant no, and she had to gaze at an item for eight seconds to select it. The Tobii was a real improvement. Instead of yes and no, Lanie could type sentences. She could indicate a choice of a letter with a much quicker gaze.”
Lanie’s teachers worked together to help her make the most of the solution. Jennifer Cronk, who at the time was a technology learning facilitator with the Clarkstown Central School District in Rockland County, New York, helped Lanie and the team create a tailored desktop. “We wanted to expand Lanie’s abilities to write, self-edit, turn items in to her teacher, and communicate with the world around her,” Cronk says. “We customized a browser for her so every resource she needed was on the desktop when she logged on. Clarkstown is a Google Apps for Education* environment, and we used Chrome*, Gmail*, and Drive to make it easy for her to turn in her work.”
Going Mobile and Social
Lanie’s first solution had limited mobility. The computer was attached to Lanie’s wheelchair, but there was no way to charge the battery. As a result, Lanie was always tethered to an electrical outlet. Lanie’s mother worked around that problem by installing a power converter and later a power inverter to Lanie’s power wheelchair. Lanie’s wheelchair became her "outlet," freeing her to move away from an electrical outlet.
The computer’s large screen size added to the mobility challenges. With a 15-inch screen mounted in front of her, Lanie was unable to see forward while in her wheelchair. That made driving the wheelchair nearly impossible when the Tobii was mounted, and interfered with Lanie’s ability to engage with the world around her.
Then, Lanie’s eye-tracking system broke. Lanie was left non-verbal, back to looking left and right to answer yes and no questions.
Cronk, who had experiences as a learning disabled (LD) student herself, felt a personal connection with Lanie and her mother. “Karole was such a passionate advocate for Lanie, and her teachers were so committed to her,” Cronk recalls. “It made us all crazy to think of Lanie being so cut off. We all agreed we couldn’t let her go backwards.”
Cronk described Lanie’s predicament on one of her social media channels, and started campaigning to get her a new one. As often happens when situations touch the heartstrings, Cronk’s social media communication went viral. Teachers at Clarkstown High School South, where Lanie was enrolled, took ownership, and inspired students to get involved. Contributions came in from South High, the Clarkstown community, and across the United States. Within 24 hours, enough donations had poured in to give Lanie a very special birthday present: a new Tobii solution with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3.”It was nothing short of miraculous,” says Cronk. “South High School, especially the teachers, really deserve to be recognized.”
The Next Generation: Lighter, Faster, Easier
Lanie’s new Tobii solution is making a big difference. Communicating through Facebook Messenger*, Lanie says the new solution is smaller, faster, and easier to use. Karole adds, “Tobii has made mobile eye-tracking simple now. With the mounting of a device that’s no larger than a tube of cookie dough, connected by USB port, Lanie can use any computer she wishes to. With the device and the Surface Pro 3, Lanie has true mobility! She is able to see around the device, so driving her power wheelchair is no longer an issue while the communication device is mounted. The freedom the Tobii device and the Surface Pro have given her is magnificent!!”
Building on the performance of the Intel® technologies, the Tobii solution with the Surface Pro 3 give Lanie more freedom and flexibility. “Lanie loves the Surface Pro and Windows 8,” Karole says. “The experience is much more fluid—there’s a mouse emulation bar on the side of the screen, and she can activate the left or right click and then look at the object. She can control things with much shorter glances, so it’s less fatiguing to use. She can text me while I’m out of the room, giving both of us more independence.”
Big-Picture Impacts for Education and Beyond
Intel-based tablets and perceptual computing offer broad benefits for all students, including with special needs. “Lots of people who are learning disabled have hyper-linked minds—we’re wired to jump from one topic to another rather than following a single linear thread,” says Cronk. “Mobile technology can take the chains off of what restricts us. It helps with organizing all the information we have, which is always an issue for students with special needs. Students can record lectures, take photos of the whiteboard, share documents. They can use mobile technology to synthesize their thoughts, create amazing works of content and thought, and publish for an authentic audience. People who haven’t been able to communicate before will be able to tell us their stories and live their lives more fully.”
Perceptual computing is opening doors for Education and other fields. For starters, perceptual computing will make computing a much more natural, intuitive, fun, and productive part of everyone’s life. That’s true whether the computer is embedded in an educational game, a fitness app, or an automobile.
Eye-tracking technology, in particular, is helping researchers understand how we learn and what holds our interest. Next-generation curriculum materials can enhance learning by using eye-tracking to study how students respond to the materials—what excites them and keeps them working harder and longer. With deeper insights into how students are interacting with a lesson, educational software can deliver more personalized responses, helping each student succeed.
In the related field of 3D scanning and imaging technologies, inexpensive, portable 3D scanners, made possible through innovations such as the Intel® RealSense™ 3D Camera, educational simulations can be even more engaging and realistic. Students can use their tablet computers to express their creativity and demonstrate their learning in even more exciting ways.
Intel is actively advancing the field of perceptual computing, developing new products and investing in companies such as TobiDynavox to accelerate the industry’s progress.
Meanwhile, Lanie is working with a tutor to advance her ability to communicate. She’s looking for software that will let her compose and sing songs on the Surface Pro 3. She hopes to meet Keith Urban, the country singer, someday.
As for Karole, she says technology is making Lanie’s future immeasurably brighter. “Lanie relies on technology to be part of the world,” Karole says. “It helps her fill her gaps. Every new generation of technology gives her a greater ability to have a life. It also helps people get to know her. So many people tend to look right through a person with visible disabilities. For Lanie, technology becomes a bridge that lets her do more. It lets people see her as a whole human being. It allows her to appear and be normal in the eyes of people who otherwise can’t see her. That’s huge.”
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