Cheri Blue is a first-year Ph.D. student studying special education. Her research, drawing on nine years of experience working as a speech-language pathologist in public schools, focuses on augmentative and alternative communication.
Blue is researching the use of eye-gaze controlled communication systems. Eye-gaze devices use infrared trackers to detect eye movement, enabling users to make selections on a screen. Though eye-gaze systems are useful for people with limited motor functioning, Blue noticed a dearth of research on how to best teach and implement this technology.
Blue now leads a team that is teaching a student with severe motor impairment to use an eye-gaze device. She hopes this will expand his capacity for expressive language, which is currently restricted to gesturing “yes” and “no” to a communication partner.
“It (also) has a lot of implications for control of his environment beyond communication,” Blue said. Eye-gaze systems can be paired with smart home technology to allow for greater independence with tasks such as turning on the lights or changing a TV channel.
Blue believes further research and access to this technology could have far-reaching implications for people with motor impairments. In an educational setting, it could be used to teach math and literacy skills and foster more interactions between educators and peers. “For students with severe motor impairments, this could be a game changer,” she said.