Release Date: December 8, 2004
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Using a computer mouse can be a difficult and embarrassing task for children and adults with disabilities affecting fine motor skills.
But a new software application, available soon, promises to ease the frustration of using a mouse -- and provide greater computer access-- for people who suffer from cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or other disabilities that make it very difficult to point and click.
PointSmart, developed by Infogrip of Ventura, Calif., with assistance from the University at Buffalo Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC), helps stabilize erratic mouse movements by allowing users to adjust the sensitivity of those movements beyond standard speed and acceleration adjustments found on most personal computers.
A beta version of PointSmart will be available for consumer testing in January, and a final version of the product is expected to be on the market in March.
PointSmart is one of a handful of new products recently developed, improved or tested by the UB T2RERC, which works with companies to research, evaluate, transfer and commercialize assistive devices for persons affected by disabilities. The center is one unit under the umbrella of UB's Center for Assistive Technology, which is part of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.
"We're a one-of-a-kind research center," says Stephen Bauer, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of rehabilitation science and director of T2RERC. "We're entirely focused on transferring beneficial technologies and products, like PointSmart, to persons affected by disabilities and older Americans."
PointSmart features a joystick mode that starts the mouse in one direction and allows it to continue without continuous control until the user chooses to change direction or select an object. PointSmart users also can change the functionality of mouse clicks and buttons -- switching the left click and right click functions, for example.
For visually impaired users, PointSmart can display very large and easy-to-read mouse pointers
on the computer screen.
"In schools, PointSmart will allow children with disabilities that affect fine motor control to effectively access computers that their classmates use on a daily basis," says Wendy Strobel, T2RERC project manager. "It will allow all children to learn together on computers in their classrooms.
"In work environments, people with disabilities that affect fine motor control will be able to use a mouse without the frustration of missed targets or misplaced information -- misjudgments that often affect productivity negatively," she says.
Moreover, Americans who have aged into a disabling condition -- through arthritis, stroke or other malady -- can continue to access personal computers using PointSmart, Strobel points out.
Other new products developed, improved or tested by T2RERC include:
* CaptionSync, by Automatic Sync Technologies, an automated captioning system for the hearing-impaired or learning-disabled that within 10 minutes can develop captions from any electronic media file and its transcript.
* For the visually impaired, the PDA Line Magnifier and Text Isolator, which attaches easily to any personal digital assistant.
* The UpStop Wheelchair Braking System, developed with AliMed. The only automatic braking system for manual wheelchairs, it is designed to reduce patient falls.
* An Automated Pill Crusher for patients with arthritis or Alzheimer's disease who have difficulty crushing their medications.
* The Black and Decker Digital Advantage Countertop Oven™, a combination toaster/convection oven, built with user-friendly features for the elderly.
Another UB T2RERC collaborative product, the Black & Decker Lids-Off™ Automatic Jar Opener for people with poor grip strength, is expected to be a big seller again this holiday season, says James Leahy, UB T2RERC project administrative officer, who worked with Black & Decker to commercialize the jar opener in 2003.
According Leahy, the UB T2RERC will soon begin to work with other major consumer products companies, in addition to Black & Decker, through the center's new Fortune 500 Project.
"We're showing companies how they can broaden their market by increasing the usability and accessibility features of mainstream consumer products," Leahy explains. "These companies are very interested in trans-generational design -- designing products with usability that spans generations -- because they're very attune to the fact that baby boomers are aging and will need products made with features that ensure usability and access as they age."
The UB T2RERC is funded by a five-year $4.75 million grant from the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research.