Tools for the handicapped

Author: Cheryl Eslinger

Capabilities amplification

Virtual reality's input devices offer new ways of communicating and navigating. The wired glove is part of a system called Glove Talker, which relates specific glove movements to specific sounds so the computer can speak for persons who have lost the ability to speak [DUTTON92]. Quadriplegics have used VR technology to move objects on a computer screen using only their eyes. Biosensors can be used to control robotic manipulation [KNAPP92]. For example, a robotic arm can be controlled using biosensors which sense muscle movement in the neck.

Music and entertainment

Electronic instruments that produce music from bioelectric signals are referred to as Biomuse [KNAPP90]. These systems produce music from standard MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) instruments. The system can use the electrical signals from muscle (EMG), brain waves (EEG) and eye movements (EOG).

As an entertainment media, virtual bodies may have few limitations. Physically handicapped persons would be able to participate in virtual sports or virtual dancing. A virtual environment can more easily be adapted to the user's abilities than the real world. Means of communication and navigation could be customized to the user to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Designing accessibility

The Disabilities Act of 1992 dictated that all public buildings must now accommodate the needs of the physically disabled. The method most often used by architects involved building cardboard models of a design in order to simulate what it would be like to navigate through it with a wheelchair. Using VR headgear and input sensors, physically handicapped persons can now virtually walk through the design examining the spacing, dimensionality and reach of objects such as cupboards and tables. This has simplified the expensive design/feedback process [SCHMITZ93].


Dutton, G., "Medicine Gets Closer to Virtual Reality." IEEE Software, September 1992, p.108.

Knapp, R. B., and Lusted, H. S., "Biocontrollers for the Physically Disabled: A Direct Link from Nervous System to Computer." Department of Electrical Engineering, San Jose State University and Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford CA: 1992.

Knapp, R. B., Lusted, H. S., and Nagler, J. C., "Musical Performance by the Handicapped Generated from Bioelectric Signals." Stanford University and Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford CA: 1990.

Schmitz,B., "Virtual Reality: On the Brink of Greatness." Computer-Aided Engineering, April 1993, pp.26-32.

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Human Interface Technology Laboratory