IST project helps disabled users to get online

May 20, 2005

Brussels, 19 May 2005

For people with disabilities, access to and use of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) can offer increased independence and a better quality of life. But for individuals with motor impairment or movement disorders, simply being able to use a computer often requires specialist equipment and training, the cost and availability of which can act as a barrier.

That is why a project supported by the information society technologies (IST) priority of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) is currently developing a new generation of input devices for elderly and disabled users, such as head mouse controllers, and a system to allow for remote adaptation of these devices, as well as general computer training.

The coordinator of the ARTEMIS project, Valérie Delaval from Barcelona-based Information and Image Management Systems, told CORDIS News: 'It's the 'remote' nature of the project that is the real innovation - currently there is no similar system in existence. In Ireland, for example, where one of the project partners is based, they don't have rehabilitation centres in every town and it's often not easy to get around - that's why the remote aspect is so important.'

As Ms Delaval explained, a user that suffers from tremors, for example, needs to adapt their input device so that the effect of the tremors is neutralised and the computer only recognises deliberate movements. The system currently being developed within ARTEMIS allows professionals to do this from a remote central location, and can also be used to train individuals on how to operate the input device and the computer in general. 'Using a computer can be very difficult for someone with impaired mobility, for example using small icons, and we hope to be able to develop specialised interfaces too,' she added.

The first step in creating the system, and probably the most challenging part of the project according to Ms Delaval, was carrying out a study in the five partner countries (Denmark, France, Ireland, Spain and the UK) to assess user requirements, and then conceiving a cost effective system to fulfil the identified need.

The cost considerations were paramount, explained Ms Delaval: 'Usually, disabled or very elderly people are not the richest - that's why it is so important that we develop a system that is as cheap as possible.' Such specialised systems and equipment do not come free, however, and the consortium therefore stresses the need for proactive public policies to subsidise the cost of introducing such life-enhancing technology.

Having consulted focus groups and other stakeholders identified as potential users of the ARTEMIS system (including end users themselves, occupational therapists and rehabilitation specialists) the skeleton of the final system has been built and the first input device (a head mouse) is being integrated into the software development.

Once further devices have been integrated and the system is finalised, a technical and user-based evaluation will be carried out between July and the end of this year. From the start of 2006 to the project's end in September of that year, practical demonstrations of the system will be carried out in the five rehabilitation centres that form part of the consortium - one in each of the countries involved.

Ms Delaval admits that developing and testing a system across five countries presents certain challenges, such as different telecoms infrastructure and professional practices. But these differences are also one of the project's key strengths. 'We benefit from the involvement of five countries as we can see the different realities in each. Mentalities and approaches are completely different in the UK and Ireland compared with Spain, for example,' she said, suggesting that a system developed to meet such divergent needs will have the broadest possible appeal.

Looking ahead to the end of the project, CORDIS News asked Ms Delaval to predict what impact the ARTEMIS system could have. 'This product has the potential to completely change the lives of many people,' she replied. 'It allows disabled and elderly people to be more closely integrated into society - it's not just using a computer; it's a key to greater independence.'

For further information, please consult the following web address:
http://www.artemis-service.net/

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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