New Device Gives Kids Access to Touchscreen Devices

Access4Kids

The current prototype of the Access4Kids device measures pressure and converts it into a signal that controls the tablet.

New technology, including cell phones and computers, are now coming equipped with touchscreen technology. But for children who don't have the ability to perform the common pinch and swipe gestures, using these devices is nearly impossible.

Ayanna Howard, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Hae Won Park at Georgia Tech want to change that. These researchers created Access4Kids, a wireless input device that uses a sensor system to translate physical movements into fine motor gestures. The device, coupled with supporting open-source apps and software developed at Georgia Tech, allows children with fine motor impairments to access apps such as Facebook and YouTube as well as custom-made apps for therapy and science education.

“Every child wants access to tablet technology. So to say, ‘No you can’t use it because you have a physical limitation’ is totally unfair,” Howard said. “We’re giving them the ability to use what’s in their mind so they have an outlet to impact the world.”

With the current prototype, a child can wear the device on the forearm or a wheelchair arm and either hit the sensors or swipe across the sensors with a fist. These hits and swipes are converted to different “touch-based” commands on the tablet.

The device is appropriate for children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy who typically have fine motor impairments.

“We can’t keep it in the lab,” Howard said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to have one child, one at a time look at it and say ‘Hey that’s really cool’ and not have it out there in the world. The real goal is to make it safe and efficient so someone can make it into a commercial product.”

Howard is currently working on a second prototype that will include wireless sensors that can be placed anywhere a child is capable of hitting them, such as with a foot or the side of the head. User trials for the second prototype will begin soon. Howard says she hopes to have the device through clinical trials starting next year.