User Researcher, Prototyper
Maria is an 8 year old girl who, due to her cerebral palsy, has severe muscular weakness preventing her ability to move and speak. Although she had developed into a keen 8 year old girl, she still has difficulty communicating and interacting with others because of her condition. As part of my volunteer work with the non-profit organization, YokyWorks, I developed a communication device for her to help improve her quality of life.
The device is a modified toy drum set that connects to a laptop. When Maria hits a button on the drum set, the laptop registers the input, and can play a sound such as "I'm hungry!". It can also speak colors and numbers. She is learning to press the buttons in a particular sequence in order to type letters using Edgewrite technology (see figure). I adapted the open-source Edgewrite program to be able to accept input from the drum set.
The device was developed iteratively with Maria. Early prototypes used touchscreens, but she was unable to touch them accurately. I noticed that she was good at hitting 3d objects such as balls. The improved device incorporates balls that are glued onto the buttons so she can hit them from any direction.
This work was featured on Marketplace on public radio. In the future, I will work with her school to integrate the device into her curriculum.