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 UMD Communication Sciences and Disorders Tests New Technology


Eye-Gaze Response Interface Computer Aid (ERICA) tracks eye movement to enable hands-free computer operation

The UMD Communication Sciences and Disorders program has been researching devices for use by special needs people for several years and now they have a new technology that may be more specialized than ever before. Eye-Gaze Response Interface Computer Aid (ERICA) is a device that tracks eye movement to enable hands-free computer operation.

ERICA is being developed for people who have had strokes, who have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or other conditions where they have lost their voice and may only be able to move their eyes. As the person gazes at a keyboard, an infrared light tracks their eye movement and a message appears as type on the screen. The device can also deliver a synthetic voice output. The technology can allow users to speak, write e-mail, surf the internet, create documents, or play games through eye movement alone. No keyboard or mouse is needed.
"There have been tremendous advances in communication technologies in recent years," said Mark Mizuko, Communication Sciences and Disorders professor. "UMD seeks to make the most of these new technologies - both hardware and supportive software - to help our northern Minnesota clients who have communication difficulties."

Joseph Maddern, a UMD Robert F. Pierce Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic client, has been testing ERICA. Maddern, who experienced a stroke while working as a successful wine broker in Florida, is trying out the ERICA device to determine if it will help him get a job. His cognitive skills are at 100 percent. In fact, he returned to the College of St. Scholastica after his stroke and received his bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He is intelligent, witty, and personable, but because his speech is slow and he only has the use of one hand, employers are reluctant to hire him. His positive attitude, along with the support of his daughter, helped him downhill ski, eat with chopsticks, and ride a bike. It is this drive that brought him to UMD six to eight times a month to work on his computer skills. “I know there’s something out there for me. Maybe it’s in sales,” he said. “My goal is to use ERICA or another device so I can get a job. A really high paid job.”

Graduate student Jolene Hyppa Martin said, “We think the ERICA technology has a lot of promise because as motor skills decrease, eye movement is the skill that remains in use the longest.” In addition to ERICA, UMD has a number of other devices in their line-up including devices that use a thumb or foot switch, voice recognition or touch. “If a person has even the smallest control, like the blink of an eye or a facial twitch, we can help them communicate using our computers,” said Martin. The Communication Sciences and Disorders program wants the community to be aware of their services. “If people in the area would like to test our technology to find a device suited to their needs contact the Robert Pierce Speech Language Hearing Clinic at 218-726-8199.

Mizuko and four graduate students, Martin, Jessica Cassellius, Kristen Eklund, and Stacia Syrett, gave a presentation about their ERICA research at the Closing the Gap annual conference in the Twin Cities last October. Closing the Gap has an international reputation for information on innovative computer technology for persons with disabilities.

Photo above: Joseph Maddern uses ERICA. Below: Professor Mark Mizuko and graduate student Jolene Hyppa Martin.

Written by Cheryl Riana Reitan. Posted Jan 19, 2005

Cheryl Reitan, Publications Director,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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