A young woman with cerebral palsy walks into a Starbucks and, despite her compromised motor skills and speech difficulties, uses an iPad to do what she’s never done before – she orders a cup of coffee by herself. That’s a scene that a multidisciplinary team at the University of Michigan hopes to see in the very near future when it completes work on a special app for mobile devices.
In looking for a project to tackle as part of a software-engineering class, a team of computer science and engineering students posed the question: What can we do to help people whose impaired motor movements make it difficult to manipulate touch-sensitive screens or press the small buttons on mobile keyboards? Customized systems on home computers make it possible for these people to use email and instant messaging, but those input systems don’t transfer well to mobile devices.
To solve the problem the students expanded the team, bringing in rehabilitation engineers from the University’s C.S. Mott Hospital. Pooling talents has proved to be invaluable in creating an app that will convert the entire screen of an iPad or smart phone into one large button that’s easy to use. A “scanning interface” will highlight each letter, button or link on the screen, one at a time. As the system highlights the desired item, the user simply touches anywhere on the screen to make the selection.
For those whose compromised motor skills make it hard to do what most people take for granted, the device will be a life-changer.
On Feb. 14, 2011, the mobile app for people with Cerebral Palsy placed second in the University Mobile Challenge at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The app is also a featured part of the Product Design Show, an informational series of videos on ENGINEERING.com.