For the last 3+ years I have been making custom switches for AAC users at Bruyère Continuing Care’s Saint-Vincent Hospital. The impetus came from the fact that sometimes commercial switches do not suit our users’ needs. That is understandable as mass-produced devices by definition cannot cover the full spectrum of people’s capabilities. When one falls outside of a device’s stated specifications, then one would not be able to use it. A user may also ‘grow’ out of spec. For instance, we had a user who for a number of years quite adeptly used a single switch device to operate her computer. That is, until she gradually lost both strength and movement in her one mobile finger. When she could only move 2mm, the commercial switch became impossible to operate. That’s when we outfitted her with a custom light-sensor switch.
We have come across quite a few cases where off-the-shelf means out-of-reach.
Having worked with a number of users, we now think that there are some commonalities. That’s when SensAct is born.
The sense aspect is handled by a number of analog ports. We supply 5V so many hobbyist sensors can be readily adopted. In addition, we can accept I2C input which caters for an even wider array of sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes. We adopted the common 3.5mm audio cables. Now the sensors are truly plug-and-play. Occupational therapists will be able to try different sensors to find which one would be most ideal for a particular user.
The act aspect deals with commonly needed AAC functions such as controlling a desktop, tablet or smartphone. So we have both USB and Bluetooth (HID) outputs. In addition, we recognize that many users need to operate TVs and entertainment devices so we also have on board IR. Lastly, we provide two relays for activating common items such as the call bell.
I was determined to build something that is easy to configure. The software is thus browser-based and cross-platform. We experimented with two different ways and will likely iterate more in order to come with something flexible and useful that is also approachable to non-technical people.
SensAct is open source both in hardware and software. We realize that not everyone has the resources to DIY. We plan a small-scale production so that SensAct will be available off-the-shelf.
At last, off-the-shelf can mean within-reach!
*Thanks to Bocar N’Diaye for coordinating and spearheading at SVH, Hilary McKee, also at SVH, for unfailing faith in testing the various versions, Bruce Braidek for board layout, Nathan Lim for v2 of the configuration software, and Bill Dawson for championing and advocacy, and many others who are part of the journey!