Eye Trackers for Paralysis and Communication Disorders

This new technology helps people with disabilities express themselves

close up of eye and contact lens
mattjeacock/E+/Getty Images

Eye trackers can help people with communication disorders, paralysis and related disabilities express themselves.

Individuals who lack the physical ability to communicate but have the cognitive skills necessary to do so often experience tremendous frustration. Unable to verbalize their thoughts, feelings, and preferences, they rely on assistive technology assessments and augmentative communication devices to interact with others. Even with these devices, however, communication can be a painstakingly slow process. Moreover, many assistive communication devices have vocabulary and capacity limitations.

Low-tech eye gaze systems of communication have been around for a long time and typically involved a cumbersome method requiring another person to sit behind a plexiglass screen to carefully observe a user's eye movements as they fixed on letters of the alphabet, words or pictures on the screen. Talk about a frustratingly slow process!

Eye-gaze technologies, however, have moved into the future through the use of computers linked to high-tech glasses and contact lenses. The result is a faster, more accurate and independently operable means of communication for individuals with disabilities. 

A Scientific Breakthrough

A new scientific breakthrough allows a person to use a computer just by looking at the screen. Contact lenses with the ability to track the wearer's eye movements are just one of the latest in a series of cutting-edge contact lens technologies that are expected to be designed and engineered in the near future.

Eye tracking contact lenses are literally able to monitor where the wearer is looking at any given time. So far, they have been used in exciting psychology experiments that test the reliability of eyewitness testimony, and there are talks of incorporating them into gaming. But one of the most positive and powerful applications of the lenses is helping people who have disorders such as paralysis, Locked-In Syndrome, ALS and traumatic brain injury to communicate.

What Is Locked-In Syndrome?

Locked-In Syndrome is caused by damage to the lower part of a person's brain. This damage leaves them with no voluntary muscle control in their body. They may be completely paralyzed. They are, however, fully cognitive. So their brains are fully functional; they are able to hear, think and feel emotions. They just aren't able to express themselves.

It is a very sad and difficult situation, and it can be caused by a variety of factors ranging from stroke to being involved in a car accident to having a degenerate muscle disease or developmental disorder. Fortunately, such disorders aren't very common, but for those who do have them, there have been few highly effective technological developments to assist with communication, until the eye trackers.

How Eye Trackers Can Help

People who have Locked-In Syndrome or any of the above disorders often have varying levels of movement. Some are able to move a finger, which has been helpful in the past with communication. Some aren't able to move any body part, while some are able to move just their eyes. 

Computer software has been developed that uses webcam and contact lens technology to track a person's eye movements. The computer screen will display an onscreen keyboard, and the user can 'type' by looking at the letters. Once they have completed what they want to say, a computer-generated voice will audibly communicate what is written. 

This will unquestionably have a huge impact on Locked-In Syndrome patients. It will allow them to communicate with the people around them, convey when they want or need something and greatly improve their quality of life.

Was this page helpful?