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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.