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Pebbles Assistive Technology

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Uses of Hand-Helds as Assistive Technologies for People with Disabilities

Keywords: Assistive Technologies, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), Hand-held computers, Muscular Dystrophy, Handicapped, Disabled, Disabilities.

We are looking at how handheld devices, such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) like PalmOS devices and PocketPCs, can be helpful for people with physical disabilities. This research is currently progressing along two tracks:

  1. We are studying the use of a PDA as an alternative input device for computers
  2. We are looking at how to automatically create remote controls for everyday appliances that will be usable by people with disabilities.

We believe that by using commercial, off-the-shelf hardware and adapting software which also has significant mainstream usefulness, we can provide increased benefits at low cost to people with disabilities.

Disability Related Problems

People with Muscular Dystrophy (MD) and certain other muscular and nervous system disorders such as Cerebral Palsy (CP) may lose their gross motor control while retaining fine motor control. The result is that they may have difficulty operating a mouse and keyboard. However, they can often still use their fingers to control a pencil or stylus, and thus can use a handheld computer such as a Palm.

Hand-Helds as Alternative Input Devices

In our first track of research, we have developed two programs, called RemoteCommander and Shortcutter, that allow the handheld to substitute for the mouse and keyboard of a PC. RemoteCommander allows all keyboard and mouse functions to be performed using the PDA, and includes support for word completion and word prediction. Shortcutter allows custom panels of controls to be created, to make it easier to perform specific common or difficult functions in specific applications. Our tests with a variety of children and adults show that this software can be very useful for some people.

Hand-Helds as Universal Controllers

As our second track, we are creating a "Personal Universal Controller" (PUC) that allows graphical and speech user interfaces to be automatically created as remote controls for everyday appliances. Research is progressing in three areas: how to create high-quality graphical user interfaces from a high-level specification that will take into account user preferences, how to create speech interfaces automatically for appliances (this work is being performed by the Universal Speech Interfaces group), and how to connect our interfaces to real appliances. A PUC will enable people who have visual and physical disabilities to have access to a wider range of functions on a wider range of appliances. We are coordinating with the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) Standards Development Committee on Information Technology Access Interfaces (V2) to help with the Alternative Interface Access Protocol (AIAP) which has similar goals to our PUC.

Downloadable Applications

You can download EdgeWrite text entry software from http://depts.washington.edu/ewrite/ under the "Download Software" section.

You can download the standard Pebbles distribution, which has all the standard Pebbles applications, including RemoteCommander and Shortcutter. See the standard download page.

For the Palm, we have a special download for the software for people with disabilities, that has the latest (undocumented and only partially tested) versions. This might be better for people with disabilities. This download also includes two testing programs useful for measuring the speed and accuracy of typing and selecting objects.

Changes in this version since the official V5 release:

  • Ability to hit hotsync while in RemoteCommander, and have the PC automatically switch to hotsync and return to PebblesPC.
  • Word prediction in RemoteCommander! To use the new word prediction mechanism, you will need to load RmtCmdWords.pdb from the Palm directory onto your Palm. Note this big file takes a long time to load--maybe 1/2 hour! So just be patient. Then go to the Options/Preferences screen on the Palm and choose the Word Prediction option.
  • If you load both RmtCmdWords.pdb and RmtCmdWordsBk.pdb into the Palm (which will take twice as long!), then the option to reset the Palm's database of word predictions will be available. We will use this to make comparison measurements of speed and prediction accuracy.
  • The PC side of Remote Commander can log all the keystrokes for analysis. In PebblesPC, hit Plugins..., then select RemoteControl and hit Preferences.

Sorry, there is no documentation yet for the special download or its programs.


A new assistive text entry method for handheld devices designed to provide high accuracy and stability of motion for people with motor impairments. It is also more accurate than Graffiti for people without motor impairments.

Download & More Info

Remote Commander

A word prediction version of this software is available for download.

Download | More Info

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