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2014 Spring Newsletter

Posted by Debbie Inkley on April 8, 2014

Christmas Cards Made with EagleEyes

Posted by Debbie Inkley on December 27, 2013

Students with disabilities use eyes to create art for Christmas cards

By Becky Bruce and Heather Kelly - December 21st, 2013

Click here to see original story.

MIDVALE — A school in the Canyons District is using state-of-the-art technology to help severely disabled students.

Jordan Valley School welcomes students from birth to 22 years of age who are severely disabled. Students who are unable to speak or use their arms to communicate use a technology called Eagle Eyes that allows them to communicate, learn and create with their eyes.

Principal Mark Donnely said electrodes are hooked up to individuals that monitor eye movements. As the users learn how to control the muscles in their eyes, they are able to move a computer cursor and fixate for short periods of time on a screen to pick out objects. This allows them to learn how to read, draw pictures and communicate with others.

"It's amazing to see how the students light up because probably for the first time in their life they are in control over something else," Donnely said.

Donnely also said that Eagle Eyes also allows families to interact more with their child in ways that they couldn't do before.

"For families, you see tears, because they knew how intelligent their child is — they knew that — but now they're actually seeing them show you what they know," Donnely said. "It's just an eye-opener for everyone that's involved in it."

Eagle Eyes is also working on a standardized IQ test that can be taken within the parameters of this new technology, Donnely said.

Canyons School District sent out its annual Christmas cards this year with pictures drawn by students with their eyes.

Pay it Forward

Posted by Debbie Inkley on December 27, 2013

Tuesday, June 18 2013, 10:00 AM MDT

Pay It Forward: Debbie Inkley

(KUTV) For a severely disabled child, the ability to talk to others is nearly non-existent. But thanks to the Opportunity Foundation of America, children trapped inside uncooperative bodies are learning to communicate. The program is called Eagle Eyes… and uses technology to allow them to use their eyes to control a computer. Debbie Inkley is putting Eagle Eyes programs into schools around the country. She is this week’s Pay It Forward recipient. Learn more and help the cause at www.opportunityfoundationofamerica.org.

(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group) 

Ice Skating on Wheels

Posted by Debbie Inkley on December 27, 2013

Tuesday, December 10 2013, 07:56 AM MST

New Technology Helping Disabled Children

(KUTV) A special fundraising event that began as an Eagle Scout project is helping raise money for children who suffer from cerebral palsy.

Dozens of volunteers donated skates and gear, while raising money for a good cause Saturday.

Volunteer and Eagle Scout candidate Eric Robertson wanted to give the children who suffer from this disease a chance to do what kids like to do, like ice-skate with friends.

The ice-skating rink at Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center was full of smiling faces and that was all Eric wanted to see.

"They may appear disabled from appearance, but inside they're just like the rest of us, so having an experience like this is really, really special," said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore. "You can tell by the looks of their faces it's really special."

Many of the volunteers are from Olympus High School. They were brought in by the non-profit organization Opportunity Foundation of America.

Chip Hopkins teaches at Olympus High and works with the Eagle Eyes Project, which is a benefactor in the fundraising event. They provided a new technology for disabled children.

"We put sensors on the faces of those communicative challenged kids and it's a mouse replacement, so they move their faces and it moves the cursor on the computer screen," Hopkins explains.

"A lot of these kids are able to get out of their comfort zones and are able to get into the world and really feel as though they can play a part - a vital part in society," he said.

Only 150 of the devices are currently in use, but many don't realize the technology is available. That's something the Eagle Eyes Project is trying to change. 

Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group

Seeing with EagleEyes

Posted by Debbie Inkley on August 28, 2013

Seeing with ‘Eagle Eyes’


Tyler Tilton is rewarded with a Star Wars video after focusing his eyes
 on a spaceship target. This exercise is teaching him how to use 
the Eagle Eyes system in preparation for more advanced programs.

Original Story from Hendergasque
Local boy living with cerebral palsy is first in area to benefit from innovative technology

Nine year old Tyler has never been able to ask for a drink when thirsty. He has never been able to tell his parents that he loves them. He has never learned to count or read. He has never even recognized the relationship between cause and effect until a few months ago when he started using Eagle Eyes, an electronic system that tracks eye movement like a computer mouse.

Born with cerebral palsy, Tyler is paralyzed and communicates only by vague facial expressions, ambiguous sounds and, occasionally, tears. His dedicated parents Mike and
Kristy Tilton hope the innovative technology will improve his ability to interact with the world around him.

“To see Tyler using this device and thinking of the possibilities is indescribable,” said Kristy. “The thought of him being able to tell me what is hurting when he cries or that he loves me or even just ‘hi mom’ is beyond words.”  

The Tiltons are the first in the area to acquire Eagle Eyes, and the Henderson, Nevada residents feel fortunate to be one of only 40 families and organizations currently using the system across the country.

The award-winning system uses electrodes attached to the face to translate eye movement into computer cursor activity and enable hands-free navigation through Microsoft Windows-based programs projected onto a television screen. Medical experts consider Eagle Eyes ideal for people of all ages who have limited mobility as a result of conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Rett syndrome, spinal muscular atrophy, severe cerebral palsy and neurological disorders.

“Tyler picked up on it immediately,” said Kristy, “and it was just so exciting to see him be able to do it and to succeed. It’s crazy how fast he did it. ... And then we hooked Mike up and he kind of struggled with it.” 
“Actually, his disability is his advantage with this,” said Mike Tilton, “because it only detects eye movement. (Able people instinctively turn their heads to look at something, doing more work with their necks than with their eyes.) Tyler has such limited movement that he moves his eyes more than his head and that’s what this system detects. I had to really concentrate on holding my head absolutely still and watching it completely with my eyes.” 

The Tiltons enjoy watching Tyler progress through the baby steps that are enabling him to communicate.

We have been waiting 10 years to hear him say his first words,” Kristy said, “and I can see it getting closer every time he uses Eagle Eyes.”

They also hope that the program will eventually help Tyler accomplish something they formerly never imagined possible – an academic education.

“There’s a story that I read online of a kid who actually graduated from a typical high school using this,” said Kristy. “It’s so amazing and encouraging and exciting!”

“So many of these kids that we work with are so bright, they’re just locked in bodies that don’t work,” said Debbie Inkley, Executive Director and founder of the Opportunity Foundation of America (OFOA), the nonprofit organization currently producing Eagle Eyes. “It’s not a magic answer … but it’s a fabulous tool that begins to open these kids’ worlds.”

Though many investors have encouraged the developer to produce the system for lucrative profit, the OFOA manufactures and distributes the system at cost.

“Most of the technology that is out there for profoundly disabled people is $15,000 to $25,000 and most of these families can’t afford that,” Inkley explained, “so we have kept the Eagle Eye system with everything that is needed to facilitate it -from the software and hardware to the alcohol swabs and batteries - to only $1,200.”

Inkley, whose nonprofit foundation hopes to improve quality of life for severely disabled people, hopes to spread the word to families and schools nationwide that the technology is available and affordable.

Kristy Tilton with her sons. Tyler has electrodes attached
 to his eye area to work the Eagle Eyes program.

Article written by Michelle O. Cutler with updates.  Originally appeared in The Henderson Press on June 27, 2013.

Mia's Makes a Wish

Posted by Debbie Inkley on August 12, 2013

Make-A-Wish brings joy to Redford girl

Written by
M.B. Dillon
August 9,2013

Observer and Eccentric
A Gannett Company

Read the original story

On July 17, a dream came true for Redford’s Mia Zerial, a blue-eyed, blonde-haired 9-year-old unable to walk or speak due to Rett syndrome, a neuro-developmental condition she’s had since birth.

At a “Wish Fulfillment” party, Make-A-Wish Michigan presented Mia with “EagleEyes,” a device that allows her to operate a computer by moving only her eyes, enabling learning and communication.

“Her smile is full of joy,” said her mother, Michelle Zerial. “EagleEyes is giving Mia an opportunity to explore what is going on around her and show us for the first time that she understands. Mia has never held a book and read it. Mastering something on her own is a new experience for her. That’s where the magic comes in. Watching her blossom and realize her own abilities is truly heartwarming.”

Ron Williams, a special guest at the party, flew in from Salt Lake City, Utah. Williams is director of training and education for the Opportunity Foundation of America, the nonprofit sole supplier of EagleEyes. He taught Mia’s parents Mark and Michelle; sisters Madeline, 11, and Megan, 8; Make-A-Wish staffers; relatives; and friends how to use the system. Mia was ahead of the curve because she uses EagleEyes at Cooke, the school she attends in Northville.

EagleEyes works by eliminating the computer mouse. “Every time we move our eyes, we create positive and negative charges,” Williams said. “EagleEyes uses electrodes taped around the eyes to track the movements of our eyes and amplify the charges. The system captures that movement and translates it to movement of the cursor on the screen.”

Mia's eyes direct cursor

Shae Snyder, communications coordinator for Make-A-Wish, watched Mia demonstrate her skills at the party. In short order, Mia hit a target with her eyes – showing that she understands cause and effect.

“When she placed the cursor on the puppy, the puppy played a song. To witness Mia using the EagleEyes system to communicate with her family for the first time in a simple way was absolutely amazing to see,” Snyder said. “Mia is a huge fan of Ron’s. Whenever she hit a target, she would look to him as if to say, ‘I did it!’”

Make-A-Wish Michigan grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. It has fulfilled more than 7,000 wishes since 1984, averaging more than one per day.

“Mia is a beautiful little girl, adorable,” Snyder said. “Her sisters and parents are very special. They’re a great family, humble and grateful for what Make-A-Wish did for them.”

Invented and developed by Boston College professor Jim Gips in the 1990s, EagleEyes is used in 10 states, Canada and Ireland. Of the 80 EagleEyes units in existence, 18 are in Michigan.

Mia is blessed with exceptional teachers, Snyder said: “A lot of them came to the party. You could tell there is this bond between her teachers and her. They really, really care about Mia. It’s something special to witness.”

The Zerials have come a long way. “During a time of desperation when I had a feeling of not being able to give Mia anything more to help her, a time of feeling powerless and not being able to help my daughter any more than I was, I submitted a letter indicating that my daughter has a life-threatening illness and would benefit from the gift of a ‘wish,’” Michelle said.

Better than Disney

“Mia’s application was accepted and Make-A-Wish invited us to meet with our Wish volunteers, Ken Kavanaugh and Lynn Vela. What a wonderful group of people! There were a few ideas that our family had and we spent many months deciding what Mia would want most,” she said. “Mia had used the EagleEyes system at school successfully and was making quite a bit of progress, so ultimately our family decided that her very own EagleEyes system would be the biggest benefit. In a matter of only a few weeks, the wish was granted and Mia had EagleEyes in her home to use and learn from.”

“Wish granter” Kavanaugh of West Bloomfield said: “I’m happy that this wish is something that’s going to last a lifetime. During the party, I was telling Mia’s dad Mark that we could have sent his family to Disney. But that’s only for a week. At the end of the week, they’d have memories, but that would be it. It gave me a really good feeling to know Mia is now going to be able to communicate more effectively.”

Fellow “wish granter” Vela of Troy, who with Kavanaugh handled lots of the paperwork, said she greatly admires Michelle, who works full time, and Mark, who gave up his teaching job in Detroit to care for his daughters. Vela predicts Mia will learn to spell before long. “Nothing could be more exciting,” she said. Vela enjoys volunteering for Make-A-Wish and meeting youngsters like Mia. “I’m retired and I hate bridge, so this is what I do and I love it.”

Mia and her parents are optimistic, too.

“Mia hopes to keep working hard and to be her own star in all that she is able to do,” Michelle said. “It is our hope that Mia can train herself to use the system to be able to learn her alphabet and numbers, read books and be able to tell us what she is thinking – all over time, of course. We see this is a tool that should bring much reward to her life. The possibilities are honestly endless.”

Rett syndrome usually is diagnosed in the first year of life when a child isn’t meeting developmental benchmarks. Characterized by a compromised gene on the X-chromosome, it most often affects girls. Mia experienced seizures, eating and growth difficulties, gastrointestinal problems and scoliosis.

“Dr. Andreas Rett is the one who identified this disorder in the early 1990s. The medical community only recently began doing a lot of research on it,” Michelle said.

Annual walkathon

The Zerials have met many other Detroit-area families through the Rett Syndrome Research Trust. “Mia has opened our eyes to a whole other world,” said Michelle. The fourth annual Walkathon for Rett Syndrome Research is set for 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at Inglenook Park, 20901 W. 12 Mile Road, Southfield. “We would love to have a corporate sponsor,” she said.

“We’re happy we can share our story and let others know there is help out there,” Michelle added. “Keep looking for it.”

She encourages interested individuals to visit www.michigan.wish.org, www.questforacure.net and www.opportunityfoundationofamerica.org for more information.

“Meeting with Mia and her family was great,” Williams said. “They are a wonderful, warm family who love their daughter and want her to have every opportunity to succeed. That’s evident in the hospitality and love felt in the home. Mia was an absolute delight to work with. She’s used this technology at school and we could tell she was so excited to have it at home to show her family where she is cognitively and to interact with them in a way she’s never had the opportunity to do before.

“This is a major step,” he added. “It’s an amazing feeling to watch a child experience true independence, doing something for herself. Mia is just starting out; she’s barely scratched the surface. From here, it all depends on her and where she wants to go with it.”

EagleEyes in Henderson Nevada

Posted by Debbie Inkley on July 3, 2013

EagleEyes in Iowa

Posted by Debbie Inkley on May 29, 2013


Eagle Eyes at Johnston Middle School in Iowa

EagleEyes for Jen in Wiarton

Posted by Debbie Inkley on May 17, 2013

EagleEyes in Chatham-Kent Canada

Posted by Debbie Inkley on May 1, 2013

EagleEyes in Ashton, Idaho

Posted by Debbie Inkley on April 30, 2013

Click here to watch the news story


Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 7:00 am

Jeanette_Johnson.jpgASHTON — A lot of caring, a little luck and advances in technology are combining to provide possibly life-changing help for a young patient at the Ashton Living Center.

Jeanette Thompson Johnson sustained severe head injuries from a traffic accident in January 2011 in Rexburg, injuries that left her as a paraplegic with “very limited ability to communicate her needs and her wants to staff and her family or her two little children.”

Jonathon Chidister, an occupational therapist for the center, happened to see a story about “EagleEyes” while watching a segment on the BYU-TV network. Created by Boston College researchers, the system uses a person’s eye movements to control the cursor on a computer screen, enabling communication. 

“We wanted to try this on our patient,” said Ashton Living Center administrator Shon Shuldberg.

Earlier this month, Ron Williams from Opportunity Foundation of America in Salt Lake City, a nonprofit that distributes the EagleEyes system, evaluated Jeanette as a candidate.

s“She was able to play simple video games with her eyes,” Shuldberg said. “For her to have the ability to communicate anything through this system will be a life changing for her and her family.”

There is a cost involved – about $3,000.

But more caring has entered the picture. Shuldberg said the Ashton Red Hats, a group known for its generosity and service, caught wind of the situation and have helped raise the money the family needs to purchase the system. 

In fact, Shuldberg said, “Several organizations are getting on board,” and the center administration has decided to get the system for the patient in hopes she will be able to learn how to use it in an effort to improve her quality of life.

“The ability to speak and communicate – something most of us take for granted – would be life changing for her and her two children,” he said.

So Williams will be coming back to Ashton next week to bring Jeanette the system and teach the center staff how to teach her how to use it.

Jeannette’s life until Jan. 11, 2011, seemed pretty normal for a young mother in the upper valley. She was a waitress at Applebee’s in Rexburg, a divorced mom working to have a home and make a life for her children. The accident that day on icy roads left her with anything but normal circumstances. She suffered severe head trauma and was in a coma for several weeks.

“At the time they did not give us much hope that she would survive,” her mother Faye Thompson said. She spent time in two nursing homes before the family moved her into the Ashton Living Center.

“They are very kind and loving and take a personal interest in her,” Thompson said.

Her daughter is unable to move or speak or take care of her basic needs, she said.

“She does smile and moan and through the expressions in her eyes and face you can somewhat communicate with her.”

She often goes home with her family and seems to love it, as well as being read to, looking at pictures and going outside. Formerly a pianist, music is very soothing to her, her mother said.

“We so appreciate all the kindness that is done for our daughter Jeannette,” her mother said. “We truly are grateful for the offer of the Red Hats to fund this new project ‘EagleEyes’ for her. It hopefully will give her an opportunity to be able to communicate and have a better quality of life.

“We fell like this is an answer to many prayers that have been offered.”

Read more: http://www.uvsj.com/news/technology-brings-new-hope/article_3278af48-ad3a-11e2-9577-001a4bcf887a.html?mode=story#ixzz2RzStRUPE

Whitney_and_Friends.pngEagleEyes » Electrodes track eye movement to control a computer mouse to play games and learn new skills.
By Rinna Waddhany | Special to The Tribune
First Published Mar 14 2013 02:18 pm - Read Original Story Here

Students from two schools are forming a relationship that transcends words.

Through their Community of Caring class, Olympus High students are helping out their special-needs peers at Hartvigsen School to communicate in a way they’ve never been able to.

This is done through a technology called EagleEyes, which allows students with severe disabilities to use their eye movement in place of a computer mouse or cursor.

"We’re creating empowerment for students at Olympus as well as students at Hartvigsen," said Chip Hopkins, Olympus High social-studies teacher. "It’s bigger than the Wright Brothers to release people from isolation, and we have embraced real joy."

Hopkins started the Community of Caring class 19 years ago to promote community service. He learned about the EagleEyes project last year and decided he had to include that as an option for his students.

About 20 Olympus High students go to Hartvigsen twice a week. They work with five Hartvigsen students, but there are only two EagleEyes units available at the school, so they have to rotate between doing EagleEyes and literacy mentoring.

Sarah Demers, a junior at Olympus High, works with 17-year-old Krystal Caldwell.

"You realize in high school that a lot of your relationships rely on talking," Demers said. "Krystal, she and I have become really close, and we’ve never had a word of conversation."

The way EagleEyes works is electrodes are placed near the eyes, allowing the system to pick up on the eye movement. Students are able to navigate a computer screen with their eye movements and select an item by staring at a fixed point for a few of seconds.

This allows those with disabilities to train their attention spans, learn basic skills and concepts, watch videos and play games.

Senior Amy Cummings said she has created true friendship with the Hartvigsen students. She works especially with Whitney Jasper, who’s in her final year at Hartvigsen, where students can stay up to age 22.

"I look forward to fourth period, to coming here and spending time with her twice a week and seeing that smile on her face when we get those electrodes on her," Cummings said. "I honestly feel she has made me a better person."

Hardvigsen_Friends.pngWhat started out as classroom curriculum turned into a desire to extend their helping hands as Olympus High kids raised funds to buy EagleEyes units for two Hartvigsen students to use at home.

Jasper was one of the recipients, and Stephanie Hopkins, an Olympus High senior, was one of the people who delivered the gift to her house.

"It was right at Christmas time, so it was like a Christmas gift," Hopkins said. "She was so happy as soon as she knew what the bag looked like, and she got excited. She recognized us."

Hopkins said Jasper and the Hartvigsen students help her more than she helps them.

"It makes my day so much happier just to come and interact with them," Hopkins said. "It gives you that awesome feeling of happiness with your ability to serve people."

If there’s one thing the Olympus High students learned so far, it is that the students they help are just regular teens trapped in bodies that don’t work.

"A lot of people think that special-needs kids don’t have the same attributes that we have in our personalities," Demers said. "But you see Krystal, and she’s got so much sass, and it’s obvious she’s not some lifeless, personality-less person."

Although the process may be gradual, the Olympus High kids know the Hartvigsen students are making progress, and they can see the joy on their faces.

"I’ve seen the kids excel a lot," said junior Porter Treanor. "They all love life, and they’re just happy."

Another party that’s involved is the Opportunity Foundation of America, whose mission is to provide EagleEyes to people with disabilities.

Debbie Inkley, the foundation’s founder and executive director, said the interaction she has seen so far is impressive and poignant.

"When the Olympus High kids first came, they were a little bit intimidated, but it took them maybe at the most two or three days," Inkley said. "They have fallen in love with the kids here at Hartvigsen."

To her, it’s important that people with disabilities get to spend time with others their own age.

"They all realized they’re more alike than they’re different," Inkley said. "It doesn’t matter that Krystal can’t speak because they read through her eyes."

On Feb. 22, Olympus High students hosted EagleEyes Extravaganza, an art auction and fundraiser that raised about $11,000. Inkley said she was pleased with the generosity displayed by the 250 attendees.

"There was a gentleman who handed a $100 bill for a soda and said keep the change," she said. "And then he went to get a cinnamon roll and handed in another $100 and said keep the change."

The money goes toward providing for EagleEyes units at Hartvigsen School.

From a mother’s perspective, EagleEyes is life-changing.

"It’s a whole new communication," said Sharon Caldwell, Krystal’s mother. "For 17 years, it was like she was stuck in her own body, and now she’s able to express herself."

Caldwell said her daughter is absolutely hooked on the EagleEyes unit she uses at home, and she’s grateful to those who raised the money for it.

"Eventually, we’re hoping that would be her communication," Caldwell said. "What the Olympus High students do is incredible."


Twitter: @sltribMid




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