October 1, 2005 A new system makes typing easier for persons with disabilities. Invented by computer science student Jake Wobbrock, EdgeWrite is a typing method that uses edges of a square template to guide a PDA pen tool or computer trackball to form letters the result is a faster, easier way for people with handicaps to master small keyboards.
PITTSBURGH--It seems like everyone has one a cell phone, personal computer, or iPod, but what if you couldn't use these devices. What if a car crash, stroke or accident made it nearly impossible for you to use small computers? Now, a new device is making life easier for disabled Americans.
After a car accident left Bob Milan paralyzed, maneuvering a wheelchair is easy but using a computer is a challenge. "I don't have much dexterity in my fingers, so it's difficult to use a keyboard," he says.
As pocket-sized computers become more popular, people with disabilities need other ways to strike tiny keyboard letters. Now, a new system called EdgeWrite makes typing easier for them. Milan says, "I don't feel like I have a disability when I'm using it."
Invented by computer science student Jake Wobbrock, EdgeWrite is a typing method that uses edges of a square template to guide a PDA pen tool or computer-trackball to form letters. Jake Wobbrock, a human-computer interaction research student at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, says, "The edges of the square provide stability. This is proven good for people with tremor and other motor impairments."
This is how it works: Milan places the trackball cursor inside the square on the screen. Then, moving the cursor toward the corners inside the box, in a specific way, forms letters. This is the letter "A" ... This is a letter "B." The result is a faster, easier way for people with disabilities to master small keyboards.
Brad Myers, a computer scientist from Carnegie Mellon, says, "The whole point is to try and make it much more accurate to do text entry, which of course is a key requirement for any kind of use of computers." The guided system has literally replaced Milan's traditional keyboard. All he needs now is in the palm of his hand.
EdgeWrite also works with a joystick on a power wheelchair or with a touch pad on a desktop computer. It is also helpful for people with motor impairments such as Parkinson's disease or cerebral palsy, who have difficulty holding a pen tool steady on a Palm Pilot.
BACKGROUND: A Carnegie Mellon University doctoral student has designed a new gestural input system, called EdgeWrite, that helps people with motor skill problems work more easily with computers.
HOW IT WORKS: EdgeWrite consists of a square plastic overlay that is placed on the touch screen of a PDA device. The overlay helps guide a stylus along the edges of the template, even if the user's hand is unsteady. The EdgeWrite language is based on forming letters not by stroke, but by hitting a series of corners on the template in a particular sequence, making it very tolerant of wiggles and tremors. So if a user has a shaky hand when guiding the stylus, it won't affect recognition of the text. That's because the device doesn't identify letters based on the shape of the stroke, but on a sequence identified by the device's own alphabet, which can represent letters, numbers, punctuation, accents, and even other languages.
THE PROBLEM: Most PDAs, such as the Palm Pilot, use a language called Graffiti as a writing method, but it is difficult for people with motor impairments -- or even able-bodied users walking or riding in a vehicle -- to write clearly because letter recognition depends on the path of movement. It is also difficult for these users to use shift or caps lock modes; Edgewrite only has modes for punctuation or extended characters.
WHAT'S NEXT: In the future, the EdgeWrite system could be used with a trackball or cell phone, and entire words completed as the users enter sequences of letters.
ABOUT MOTOR FUNCTION: Even a simple motor movement involves many different regions of the body, but the primary motor cortex of the brain is one of the most important. It sends out electrical impulses through nerve cells called neurons that control the execution of movement. Every part of the body is represented in the primary motor cortex; the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. Certain diseases or brain damage can disrupt these basic functions. For instance, cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination because of brain damage, which interferes with messages from the brain the body, and vice versa.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.