Technology in a nutshell
A click with your mouse can change your life: Digital technologies help regain a little of their independence for tetraplegics like Cyrill Guyer
His left arm and hand rest on the armrest of the electric wheelchair. “This side does not function anymore”, explains Cyrill Guyer, whose fourth cervical vertebra was smashed during a fall with his motorcycle in August 2003. In his right arm, however, the shoulder muscles still work and there is minimal movement of the hand. “Each movement that can accomplish and control something, tiny as it may be, makes my life a little less complicated”, the tetraplegic explains.
Digital helpers in daily life
Cyrill Guyer lives and works at WG Fluematt in Dagmersellen, Canton LU, requires support 24/7 but not constantly. Thanks to digital aids the 43 year old from Berne is able to operate and control many things in his environment and his room himself: doors and shutters, computer and telephone, sound system and TV. Smart phones have simplified many things during recent years – but individual adaptation to the users’ needs and motor skills is essential.
Hidden below the left armrest is a smart device named HouseMate. The small black box is the control center. In combination with the app ClicktoPhone it allows Cyrill Guyer to control all devices that work via infrared signals himself. For example, a smart phone and with its countless apps and digital aids.
Raphael Knörr from Active Communication has helped with set up, testing and adjusting. For him to be able to find the necessary individual components and to install them in his customers’ projects, the brain of an inventor is sometimes required: “Because at the end, all components must communicate with each other and fulfill the functions as required by the customers.”
A dot on the forehead controls the cursor
Cyrill Guyer moves to his desk where two large monitors are ready for him to work. Before his accident, he was a carpenter and also completed a secondary training program as metalworker. Due to his high lesion, however, he was unable to return to his trade. “I have therefore completed retraining and learned to work with CAD”, he explains. That means computer assisted drawing and sketching of plans, pictures and various themes.
Retraining for engineering technician has catapulted him into the digital world which he is able to navigate despite all the limitations without problems. To do so, there is a silver spot attached to his forehead. The so-called head mouse, which is attached above the computer, detects this spot as optical sensor – and when Cyrill moves the head, the cursor on the screen moves. “This does not work equally well every day”, he explains. The person’s own body vibration is sometimes stronger or spasms cause uncontrolled movements.
Clicking the mouse, on the other hand, is done using his right hand and the joystick attached to the wheelchair. “Therefore being able to coordinate movements between head and arm is essential.” He has practiced this, browses with focus through various folders, looks for a certain file, opens the graphic and shows how he is able to move individual parts of a drawing around skillfully.
For writing a text, Cyrill ideally uses speech recognition. However, if this does not work – as right now – it can also be done by mouse-click on the letters of a keyboard. “But this requires patience.”
Active Communication helps with applications to the disability insurance (IV)
In order for Cyrill to set up a computer, entertainment electronics or household devices, there are various technical aids and tools available on the market. To make them communicate with each other, via Bluetooth or infrared, using various interfaces and programs – assistance from experts like Raphael Knörr is required who know all the tips and tricks.
It is possible to switch devices on and off such as desk lights using a simple power outlet receiver, says Knörr. “But larger projects might need to be structurally adapted” – e.g. electric door openers or Smart Home Systems to control ceiling lights, shutters or windows.
“What would make our work easier?” Interfaces that allow controlling via specific devices – such as eye control.”
Raphael Knörr, consultant Active Communication
The Active Communication team assists affected persons also with questions regarding the financing of technical aids (see information box below). Normally, an application is submitted to the disability insurance. They then forward the application to the respective experts for pre-clarifications which results in a report including a cost estimate. This is not only about procuring the devices or tools but also the set up and training of the affected persons.
His body sets clear limits for Cyrill
Cyrill Guyer got to know various assistive devices over the years and has personally experienced their development. “From devices without display, to black and white monitors to the smart phone.” His new wheelchair now has even functions integrated into the neck support.
And technology is developing at light speed, expert Knörr is convinced: “Eye and voice control will improve immensely over the coming years.” He himself is looking in-depth for solutions in the field of assistive gaming, as the demand in this area is steadily increasing. But as there is a wide range of motor skills among the customers there is hardly a universal solution.
“Without help from experts such as Raphael Knörr, I was hardly able to benefit from all the technical aids.”
Cyrill Guyer, tetraplegic
After retraining, at first Cyrill was drawing for a project planning office, then for a company specialized in play and sports facilities. For the latter, his abilities were finally not enough. “Everything progresses a little slower – and I am not able to sit seven hours in front of the computer per day”, the tetraplegic explains. His body sets clear limits. He now works for the internal studio, designs themes for cards and fabric prints, and caters to individual customer requests. “I am completing the entire computer work by myself.”
Environment control – workspace adaptation – communication aids
How can I use my smart phone or PC despite my physical limitations? What are the options to control lights, doors, shutters and devices at home? During office hours, these and other questions can be discussed with Martina Jost and Raphael Knörr at the Nottwil campus.
Office hours: Every 10 days on Tuesday or Friday afternoons
How does assistive technology improve your (work) life?