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Computer Science
  

Pimp My Program: Help for the Disabled

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- You've heard of "Pimp My Ride" where they customize a car to meet the exact needs of the driver. Researchers have taken that same idea and applied it to various computer programs, creating an interface that can speed up computing no matter what your ability.

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Kevin Berg was born with cerebral palsy, but that hasn't stopped him from a career in computer science. His wife Melinda helps with the hardware.

"I literally live on computers 20 hours a day," Kevin of Compupane LLC, told Ivanhoe.

But getting the mouse to go exactly where he wants it to go can be frustrating. That's because most computer interfaces are designed for the average user. Computer scientists have created a new program called Supple that customizes applications to all types of abilities.

"Supple is trying to build a model of how well a person can control the mouse for different basic activities," Krzysztof Gajos, Ph.D., a computer scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., explained to Ivanhoe.

It starts with a diagnostic test to collect information on how a person performs basic tasks like pointing, dragging, clicking and list selection.

"The system is trying to build a model of all those things and then try to generate user interfaces that really play to a person's strengths," Dr. Gajos said.

The result is a custom designed layout. For the average user, Supple would design a layout that sacrifices aesthetics for speed. For someone with muscular dystrophy, the layout would be tightly packed with smaller fonts to deal with slow but accurate movements. To deal with Berg's cerebral palsy, the layout is larger and full of buttons to work with his rapid but inaccurate movements.

"It makes me about three-times faster to use the mouse," Berg said.

It's a new technology that's changing the software to meet the needs of users, instead of the other way around.

Supple's creators hope to make the programs available for web-based programs in the next two years. The long-term goal is to make the adaptive technology available on all operating systems.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Krzysztof Gajos
Cambridge, Massachusetts
http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~kgajos/

kgajos@eecs.harvard.edu

Lois Smith
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Santa Monica, CA 90406
(310) 394-1811
http://www.hfes.org

lois@hfes.org


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