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Alternative Acess: EagleEyes and Camera Mouse

Posted by Debbie Inkley on April 11, 2012

Posted on March 03, 2012 on http://essentialeducator.org/?p=11996

Walk in most any class where computers are available and you will find students accessing them by scrolling and clicking a mouse and typing on a QWERTY keyboard. However, when students have multiple disabilities or other impairments which impede their effective use of these typical methods of input, they are often found passively watching what others have selected for them to view on the computer screen. Some may believe these students are not intellectually or physically able to use a computer. Yet advances in assistive technology have provided multiple alternatives to accessing computers.

EagleEyes Use

Alternative access hardware often includes adapted keyboards, trackballs, joysticks, and switches. Because these devices require physical ability, other alternative access may be necessary, such as a microphone with speech recognition software, sip-and-puff technology, and vision-based input devices.

In 1994, Boston College Computer Science Professor Jim Gips developed an innovative eye-controlled technology called EagleEyes, which enables users to access the computer by simply looking at the computer screen. Users are connected to the unit by electrodes placed on their faces, and the unit is connected to the computer via a USB port. EagleEyes measures a user’s electro-oculographic potential that indicates the position of the eyes relative to the head. The mouse cursor follows where the user is looking on the screen. The eyes essentially replace the mouse, and therefore EagleEyes is usable with any commercial software. Each selection is made by looking at a small area of the screen for a short period of time, which causes a mouse click.

The EagleEyes technology has been used at the Boston College Campus School for almost 20 years to evaluate and teach students with multiple and physical disabilities. In 2005, the Opportunity Foundation of America began a partnership with the Boston College EagleEyes Project and signed a formal license agreement to manufacture, distribute and provide training for the technology. Together they are bringing EagleEyes to the forefront of the assistive technology community.

EagleEyes is used for entertainment, communication, and education. It is appropriate for those who are unable to access computers with a typical mouse or other means which requires physical or verbal skills. Students who have intentional eye gaze are good candidates for this technology. Many EagleEyes users have profound or multiple disabilities, are non-verbal or have very limited methods of communicating, or have paralysis. Recent success has been experienced with students who have cortical visual impairments.

In 2000, Professor Gips developed Camera Mouse, a mouse replacement system to access a Windows-based computer with a webcam (free download available at www.cameramouse.org). This technology is most appropriate for those who do not have reliable control of their hands, but do not need to use EagleEyes because they have purposive head control. The technology has found its major application in helping people with multiple disabilities, cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury and various neurological disorders.


The Camera Mouse technology is less restrictive than EagleEyes as it does not involve putting on electrodes. It involves sitting in front of a webcam and moving one’s head. Thus, people who have good head control are encouraged to try Camera Mouse first. If the user is not successful with Camera Mouse, EagleEyes is another option for a mouse replacement.

There have been 700,000 downloads of Camera Mouse since it was first publically available in 2007. More than 2,000 Camera Mouse downloads are running each day all over the world.

In the early learning stage of using an alternative mouse, users experience simple cause-and-effect activities such as those developed by Dr. Gips where users “paint” with their eyes, and shoot aliens by moving their eyes across the computer screen. Other commercial or public domain software is also appropriate for teaching cause-and-effect. Once users are successful at controlling the mouse cursor, they can proceed to use other software for educative or communicative purposes. Advanced users can access anything on the computer screen that is available to users who use a keyboard and a typical mouse. The basic Microsoft package includes an on-screen keyboard (click on the “Start” button and search for “on-screen keyboard” to bring it up), and a more child-friendly keyboard is available for free (www.midastouch.org).


While these technologies may not be appropriate for some individuals with severe or multiple disabilities, they have been successful for many. Two users will be highlighted below.

EagleEyes for Angel. Eight-year-old Angel (Angelina) Danis attends Jordan Valley School in the Canyons Schools District. Angel has been diagnosed with Rett Syndrome and is non-verbal with very limited use of her hands. At the beginning of the school year, Angel’s teacher, Linda Eller, suggested to her parents that Angel would be a good candidate for the EagleEyes technology.

The first time Angel tried EagleEyes she was able to intently focus and was very engaged. Each time her EagleEyes volunteers come into the classroom room, she gets excited because she knows it’s time to learn and play. After using the technology consistently for 5 months, Angel has improved her ability to respond to her surroundings, to positively participate in her daily activities, and to be actively involved in her education.

EagleEyes has also given Angel a voice and the ability to communicate with the world around her. Linda Eller shares, “Her smile is worth a million dollars but to watch her succeed in an educational game or activity is priceless. The symbol for Rett’s is a butterfly. Angel is my inspiration and she fights every day to let us know she is here, and to let her fly. My goal as her teacher is to set her free, to open her world to education and to the fun life that every eight-year-old girl wants.”

After watching Angel’s success at school, her parents decided it would be very helpful for Angel to also have the technology at home. This proved to be true. Tracey Danis, Angel’s Mom, shares, “EagleEyes has been amazing for our daughter. It has allowed her to be more independent and not have to rely on ‘hand over hand’ to complete a task. It gives her the chance to make her own choices instead of always having them made for her. She can now play games like any other eight-year-old child. She gets so excited to use EagleEyes and it has really awakened her. She knows she has control of the mouse and she loves it. The most amazing thing for me was when I watched my daughter count for the first time. I watched as she counted the spots on a ladybug and then selected the correct number symbol. Not only does this show that she is ‘in there,’ but that she understands and has the ability to learn and grow academically. I hope with EagleEyes to someday teach Angel how to read and write.”

Camera Mouse for Darrin. A mother of Darrin, who uses Camera Mouse, wrote to Maureen Gates, EagleEyes Project Director at the Boston College Campus School. She writes:

Dear Maureen, I want to thank you and let you know what a great help you and Camera Mouse have been. You have changed a young man’s life overnight!

My son loves shooting aliens, painting, spelling and exploring other games programs on his brother’s computer. It is amazing to watch him. He can now spell out his name on the keyboard for the first time ever. He played on the computer for almost 3 hours yesterday. What a transformation.

The experience gave him and me some real hope after all the doctor visits, wheelchair issues, and insurance and school problems.

Thank you, Maureen, Professor Gips and Boston College for Camera Mouse!

Angel and Sister

Technology has the power to change the lives of individuals with significant disabilities. However, without access to assistive technology and the training necessary for effective implementation, the full effects of this power will not be realized. For the past five years teacher candidates at Brigham Young University have been trained to use EagleEyes and Camera Mouse. These teacher candidates have given students at Oakridge School opportunities to engage in learning activities that were previously not considered due to the significant nature of the students’ disabilities. Currently, teachers at 21 schools across the state of Utah and in 2 schools in Ireland have received training and regularly use EagleEyes with success. Many EagleEyes units have been purchased or donated to families for use in their homes.

While EagleEyes and Camera Mouse may not be silver bullets to “cure,” or “fix” the disabilities these users experience, they may be important components in a multi-element plan to expose users to an electronic world that their peers, teachers, and families rely upon daily.

To learn more about EagleEyes and to view videos of individuals using the technology, visitwww.bc.edu/schools/csom/eagleeyes or www.ofoa.net. To inquire about a demonstration of EagleEyes for a potential user or for teacher candidate and teacher training, contact Debbie Inkley of the Opportunity Foundation of America at debbieinkley(at)ofoa.net. For more information about Camera Mouse, contact Dr. Gips at james.gips(at)bc.edu.

Authors: Tina T. Dyches, Brigham Young University, Debbie Inkley, Opportunity Foundation of America, &Maureen Gates, Boston College Campus School