The tech giving people power to deal with disability

Worldwide, around a billion people have a disability, says the World Health Organisation.

In Europe and America, this is one in five people. And since they are less likely to be in work, their poverty rate is about twice as high.

So technologies that could help disabled people contribute more in the workplace – and improve their quality of life – are surely welcome.

And it also makes good business sense.

If a million more disabled people could work, the UK economy alone would grow 1.7%, or £45bn ($64bn), says disability charity Scope.

The eyes have it

Motor neuron disease affects 400,000 people worldwide, including renowned scientist Professor Stephen Hawking. Multiple sclerosis affects 2.3 million.

But neurons controlling eye movement are more resistant to degenerative diseases. This is also true of other parts of the face, like the cheek, which Prof Hawking uses to communicate.

US company LC Technologies has invented a device that enables people to control a computer using just their eyes.

Eyegaze Edge is the latest invention of the company, which was founded in 1988 by a group of engineers in a basement.

It solved the basic scientific problems then, but the early device was cumbersome and very expensive.

“We crammed it in back of a single-engine plane and took it around to towns where there was a need,” says medical director Nancy Cleveland.

“Now, it fits in a suitcase in a commercial aircraft.”

The technology behind Eyegaze is called Pupil Centre/Corneal Reflection, or PCCR. A tablet is set up in front of the user, with a small video camera underneath. A near-infrared LED (light-emitting diode) light illuminates the user’s eye.

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