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.

Pursuing work at MonTECH is an obvious fit for my passions. Knowing how technology has improved my life has me excited to help others discover what technologies can benefit them. None of this work would be possible without my computer.

Eye gaze is a fairly new technology with only a few large companies in the space. Although new, there are enough options to customize to the individual. I use a Tobii Dynavox computer with the eye gaze bar built-in to the monitor. My Tobii runs Microsoft 10 software, which allows me to accomplish just about everything someone who uses their hands to operate a computer can. There is also an option to attach the eye gaze bar to a monitor of your choosing. The Microsoft Surface tablet is a popular choice among many.

While I can’t speak to the intricate engineering that goes into developing eye gaze, the concept is quite simple. The user simply focuses on a key for a brief moment to select. It does take some time and patience to master, but it is well worth it. There are some improvements that need to be made. For instance, eye gaze is very sensitive to direct sunlight. Lucky for users, Steve Gleason (former pro football player with ALS who uses eye gaze technology) has teamed up with Microsoft to continue improving the technology.

The best way to see if eye gaze or another communication technology is right for you is to explore the different options. MonTECH either has or has access to most assistive technologies available. I recommend making an appointment to discover what assistive technologies can improve your life.

Call MonTECH at 1-877-243-5511 to set up an assistive technology demonstration appointment, learn more about AT devices, or to ask questions about our services.

Have questions about eye gaze technology? Ask Scott Thomas at