Locked-in Syndrome

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When I got the stroke I could not move my head at all. Over time I regained head movement and I use this to operate the computer. It is obviously slower than using one's fingers, but it allows me to
do almost anything (except games of course). For example this site is all done by me - slowly but possible.

We had tried tilt switches that functioned like a joystick and then a program converted this to mouse movement. This method didn't work very well and there was the problem of how to produce mouse clicks. At first we thought of a bite operated switch, but there was a major problem : a mouse has two buttons but our bite-switch could only emulate one. Then the friend of mine who was doing all this (Stephen Hall) had the brilliant idea of using a small laser mounted on an old pair of spectacles and a target-board with 6 Light Dependant Resistors (LDR's) - 4 for direction and 2 for mouse buttons. These worked as a joystick and the rest was done by software to convert it to mouse movement. This worked quite well but it was slow and I could only move the mouse in 4 directions (NSEW) so if (for example) I wanted to go to the bottom left of the screen and the cursor was in the middle of the screen, I would first have to go to the extreme left or down followed by down or extreme left. Then there was the disadvantage that I had to look at the target-board while using it, making me loose focus of the screen. When I needed letters I would use an on-screen keyboard called Click' N' Type (available free - www.lakefolks.org/cnt ). This setup (although quite slow) allowed me to do just about anything on my computer, which is (by the way) a standard laptop. Then we were having a few problems with the laser : we were using cheap keychain lasers, but these lost power after a week - we needed something more reliable. Eventually two were ordered from England, and these have proved very reliable .

We then found the SmartNAV(www.naturalpoint.com/smartnav/ ) it looked suspiciously  good : it was cheap and  seemed to do exactly  what I wanted. It has 4 infra-red  Light

Emitting Diodes (LED's) that  illuminate  my  face with  infra-red light and a small  camera tracks the reflection of a small dot stuck on my glasses (you can use a cap or a headband). This is converted to mouse movement and therefore I can control the mouse by moving my head. If you are wondering - yes, it does all the manufacturer claims it can do. Then mouse clicks are generated by a dwell program called Point N Click (free from - www.polital.com/pnc/).

Then in 2003 I had the 25-year school reunion, and my ex-school mates collected funds to buy anything that I may need. After an extensive search on Internet, I found something very interesting : a laser-operated keyboard called LUCY (www.lucykeyboard.com/). The keyboard is quite expensive but it is full of features and a communications module can be added to it (voice module). LUCY was ordered from an English supplier of items for disabled people (www.keytools.co.uk). It works perfectly and can be used as a computer keyboard or as a voice generator........in fact it works very well in both modes, but one cannot use it in both modes daily because the connectors will fail eventually, plus when used in voice mode it has a lot of useless keys. On the other hand it plugs in the PS/2 port of the computer and the PC sees it as a normal keyboard - no drivers and it will work outside Windows (in the BIOS for example). And as an added bonus it can also emulate a mouse - useful because the SmartNAV software is one of the first to get unloaded leaving the user helpless.

About mid-2004 something strange was happening - the "r" key was not working, or rather pressing it was like pressing the right mouse button. After looking for the cause without success, I decided to change the laptop. I decided to buy another laptop (and not a desktop) for two reasons :

Laptops are compact........they have everything built-in and take up little space.

Now a common feature, but not when I wrote this, they have tft screens that don't emit radiation like cathode ray screens - so therefore they are kind on the eyes.

Before I had a Toshiba Satellite 2800 and now I got an HP nx9005. When everything was rigged up, LUCY would not work!! After a few e-mails, a technician working for the place where I bought the computer from, came over to try and find a solution. The problems were two : he removed a driver that Windows installs automatically for no apparent reason and LUCY's lead has a socket for a PS/2 keyboard. With the Toshiba I never had to plug in a keyboard, but LUCY will not work without an external keyboard plugged in. Since a keyboard is rather large (and I had no place for it) I asked the technician if it would work if only the circuit board of a PS/2 keyboard was plugged in. It worked and he made a small plastic box containing the printed circuit of a keyboard which fitted easily on my cluttered table.

Since I wrote the above, I contacted the maker of LUCY and a different cable should be used if an external keyboard is not used.

All this is based on head movement, but a computer can still be used if that is not possible - LUCY can be used by various switches operated by any part of the body and in fact can be used with a minimum of one switch. If even this is impossible, there are systems that are capable of tracking the movement of the user's eye. There are several of these systems on the market and probably the most known are : www.eyegaze.com , www.eyecan.ca or www.tobii.com but a search on Internet will give loads of results.

I am updating this page in late 2014....LUCY is still working faultlessly, so is SmartNAV, I still use Point N' Click and I am on my 4th laptop, which is an Asus X75A (i3 with 8Gb RAM) running Windows 8.1 - it is running the same setup as before, only much faster.

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