University of Montana Rural Institute

MonTECH – Assistive Technology Tools and Services

    Discovering Eye Gaze

    By Scott Thomas

    Nearly 50 years have passed since Stephen Hawking and others pioneered communication technology for people with disabilities. Hawking’s first creation was a small keypad attached to the arm of his wheelchair.  He had to cumbersomely type in each letter, one by one. Then once he had finished his thought, he would push enter and let the voice synthesizer take over. Surely a grueling effort.

    Living with a disability now-a-days is certainly not an easy task, but I often think of how fortunate I am to have been born in a time of great technological advances.  Technological advances have created communication options to fit the needs of individuals with various disabilities. Maybe most impressive are advancements made in eye tracking technology. I am a beneficiary of this incredible technology, receiving my first eye operated computer this past fall.

    Living with ALS, my speech is ineffective and I have little control over my limbs. There was a difficult two-year period from when progression of ALS forced me to quit my work in insurance to when I received my computer last fall.

    Since I received my computer I have realized endless possibilities. There are two categories where I have benefited from the computer. First, eye gaze technology has allowed me to effectively communicate my wants and needs, making my day to day living much easier. Second, and even more important, eye gaze technology has allowed me to regain a sense of purpose and meaning that had been absent for two years. This spring, with the use of my computer I earned my business finance degree from Montana State University.

    With school complete I have turned my focus to what I want to accomplish in my career. In thinking of how I want to take advantage of this new chance I decided to pursue work that I am passionate about. This led me to try my hand in writing. I have been privileged to recently write some sports articles, and in turn those articles have assisted me in earning the opportunity to write for MonTECH.

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    How Visitable Homes Benefit You and Your Community

    Visitable Home with shrubbery and wheelchair ramp

    Inclusive design approaches like having a visitable home can prevent us from having from having to leave our home and move into an assisted living facility

    A home is foundational to our well-being. For most, our home provides us with a sense of security, safety, and a place where we most often spend time with our loved ones. To me, this means having a roof over my head, safe running water, protection from weather extremities, and creating memories with my family and friends. We all define and describe what home means to us in different ways, but we share the common understanding that home is at the core of our daily lives. Purchasing or renting a home tends to be the single greatest expenditure Americans make. Our home can also play a role in shaping our health and well-being. However, as we and our loved ones continue to live longer than our parents and grandparents before us, we can also expect to experience disability, such as mobility limitations that require assistive equipment like a wheelchair, walker, or cane. When homes include steps to the main entrance, have no bathroom on the first floor, and the door widths are too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, our home, our very core, is disrupted and negative consequences can occur. To shed some light on this issue, inclusive design approaches like having a visitable home can prevent us from having to leave our home and move into an assisted living facility. Visitable Montana defines a visitable home, or visitability in three parts: 1) home has a zero step path of travel from the main entrance of the home to the street, sidewalk, or driveway; 2) doorways that are a minimum of 32 inches wide and hallways that are at least 36 inches wide on the main floor; and, 3) basic access to at least a half bathroom on the main floor. Accessible design of homes can support people to age in place, to have increased independence and to be socially connected to friends and family.

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Programs and Support:

Montana Adaptive Equipment Program

MAEP provides positioning, seating, mobility, recreation and some ADL equipment to Montanans with qualifying developmental disabilities. This grant-funded program may be able to loan adaptive equipment (AE) to children, teens and adults who have a qualifying developmental disability (see eligibility form) and are unable to acquire the AE by other means or need to trial equipment prior to purchase. Our clinical coordinator is available to assist families, therapists, and family support specialists in selecting the best equipment to meet each person’s specific needs.

Montana Assistive Technology Program

MATP provides AT information and services in education, employment, community living, and telecommunications. The mission is to enhance the independence, productivity, integration, and inclusion of individuals with disabilities through consumer responsiveness as defined in the AT act.

Other Programs and Projects 

MonTECH oversees various assistive technology (AT) programs and is continually seeking to expand the AT services and supports available to Montanans. Click here to view other projects and programs offered through MonTECH.