August 16, 2012 at 11:21 am

Iconicate v 1.0 – Arduino Powered Assistive Communication

Most of us have far more ways to communicate with our friends and loved ones than we need. But there’s group of people who, due to disability, illness, injury, or other another reason, cannot easily use keyboards; simply typing in a username and a password in a web browser is an insurmountable task.  Ironically, some of the most isolated and lonely people cannot easily send the simplest of messages. My mom is one of these people.

Ten years ago, when she was just 55 she suffered a major stroke which left her significantly paralyzed on her right side and severely damaged the part of her brain that processes language. That condition, known as Aphasia, affects approximately one million people in the United States (according to the National Aphasia Association). Her intellect is intact, but she has trouble processing language. She can speed dial friends for phone calls, which is at least one means of communicating.

For most of my friends, I can text, email, or poke as a simple way of checking in on the people I care about. But this isn’t possible for mom. Even if the message is simple, “I feel very groovy.” or “I am feeling somewhat tired.”, it would be so much more than she was able to do before.

Phone calls are often a frustrating game of 20 questions as I try to tease out the main purpose of the call, which is often, “just to say, ‘Hi'”. But if I can get an email that says, “I’m feeling quite a bit silly” or “I’m a feeling quite a bit groovy.” It could provide just a little bit of context that can be the difference between frustration and understanding. And this simple box is meant to be a first step toward helping mom provide that context and make it easier for mom to let us know how she is feeling.

She turns one button to select the emotion, another to select the amount, then, when she presses the red button, it will send an email to a fixed group of family and loved ones.  Messaging couldn’t be easier. Two dials and a button.

I could see versions with additional “pages”, so she can send messages about people and places that she is thinking about.

I made it with an Arduino, a couple of potentiometers, and a button. They connect to a Processing sketch that sends an email when the button is pressed. I’ll be posting wiring diagrams and the Processing sketch in the near future for people who are interested in making something similar.

This is the first of several experiments I’m planning on assistive networked communication under the heading of “Iconicate” to help my mom and people like her. Stay tuned. 

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