Using an Eye Gaze Board with Encoding for Written Expression or Communication for Students with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments
Mari Beth Coleman-Martin and Kathryn Wolff Heller, Ph.D.
Some students with Severe Speech and Physical Impairment (SSPI) must rely on eye gaze boards for communication and written output due to the severity of their motor limitations. Some students use eye gaze as a secondary method in addition to other Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices. One way to facilitate the use of an eye gaze board for multiple messages or something more complex such as spelling words is through encoding. Encoding is the use of a pattern or code to symbolize a message. It allows the user to have direct selection access rather than having to rely on scanning which can be slow and fatiguing. One method of encoding using letters and colors is described below. First, there is a description of the eye gaze board’s setup and then a description of how it is used.
Description of Eye Gaze Board
As seen below, the arrangement of the eye gaze board will, hopefully, make more sense as you read how it is used. This eye gaze board is set up with five different boxes containing five to six letters each. Lowercase letters are used because those are the letters most frequently encountered in reading materials, thus, those are the first letters that should be taught. In each box, there are six possible positions for letters. Each letter is assigned a color. The upper left position is always yellow, the upper middle is always pink, and the upper left is always blue. On the bottom row, the colors remain stable: green, brown, and orange.
The first box contains letters a through e. There is not a letter in the upper left position. Letter a is in the upper middle position and b is in the upper right position. Letters c, d, and e are in order on the lower row. The upper left position is intentionally empty so that there is not a yellow letter in this box. Above the first box, there is a yellow strip of paper. For each box, the position that is left empty is that of the color that will be located above or below that box. For example, above the second box, there is a pink strip of paper. There is no letter in the upper middle position which is the pink position.
The first four boxes each have an empty position and each has a color above or below it which corresponds to the empty position. However, the last box contains six letters. Since there are only five boxes but six colors, and since color strips are located next to boxes in which there is not a letter of that color, the remaining color strips must be placed elsewhere on the board. In this example, the brown strip is placed at the bottom in the middle of the eye gaze board. The orange strip is placed vertically on the far left side of the eye gaze board.
The side of the board which faces the student is set up as described with the alphabet moving from left to right with a through e in the upper left box and u through z in the lower right box. The exact same letter boxes and colors will be placed on the back side of the eye gaze board; however, the order will be reversed so that the teacher is seeing the box containing a through e and the yellow strip of paper are located in the upper right position. Care must be taken to insure that the student and teacher are both viewing the same letter box and color when they mutually look at a position on the eye gaze board.
Use of Encoding with the Eye Gaze Board
As previously mentioned, encoding involves using a pattern or code to convey a message. In this example, each letter will be indicated through a two step process. The reason that the color above or below the box of letters is the same as that of the empty space is so that the user does not have to look in the same position on the eye gaze board twice or “double hit.”
To use the board, the student first gazes at the box which contains the letter they want. For example, if the student wants to indicate m, she looks at the upper right box of letters. She then looks at the teacher (or other communication partner) to confirm she has made her selection. Next, she looks at the color of the box in which m was located. In this example, that is green so she would look at the green strip of paper in the lower left of the eye gaze board. After indicating her selection, she then looks back at the teacher and the teacher confirms, “m,” as the choice. Thus, a is indicated by first looking at the upper left box of letters and then at the pink strip at the top of the middle of the eye gaze board, b is indicated by first looking at the upper left box of letters and then at the blue strip at the upper right side of the eye gaze board, etc.