Ganga Speaks With Her Eyes!

Ganga with her Tobii eye tracker

Ganga with her Tobii eye tracker

Ganga’s eyes focus on the screen, then on the boxes, and when she holds her gaze long enough, the words are said via digital voice.  This is her first day working with the materials prepared for her.  But given her dry humor and tendency for being naughty (or cheeky as our Australian friends say) this could well be what she intended to tell us. “Do something else, bored, bored, bored,” became her first words.

Buying the Tobii was a leap of faith.  I’ve had my eye on this type of technology for her.  She has worked with switches, head pointers, and specialized keyboards, but always hampered by her severe motor limitations. The eye tracker offered the ability to operate  windows  in addition to the specialized communication software.  She could eventually learn to surf the web, without ever having to use her hands or fingers.  This version of eye tracking, originally used for gaming was said to be less sensitive to head motion.   Buying without any chance to try it felt reckless.  But I kept coming back to Ganga’s current and future needs to break out of the isolation of her disabilities.  Among all our girls, she is the one who tries the hardest, loves to study the most,  cares about geography, history, and news, and understands humor and sarcasm.  I placed the order with the company in Mumbai that sells the product made in Sweden.  Apparently we were their first customers for the Tobii PCEye.

Soon after we purchased the Tobii but before it arrived, we had an amazing group of volunteers from Equal Health in Australia, all connected with early childhood education and disabilities who came to help and guide us for a week.  Their leader Kristy Tomlinson contacted her friend Amy Litton of Independent Living Center in Nedlands.  Amy Litton is a TRAINER in the use of the Tobii as well as other assistive devices.  She and her team enthusiastically offered to help Ganga.  Below is a Skype screen shot of speech pathologist Amy Litton and occupational therapist Jessica Rigden learning about Ganga.

Amy Litton and Beth on Skype talking to Ganga and me about the Tobii

Amy Litton and Jessica Rigden on Skype helping Ganga with Tobii

This is a clearer picture of the Tobii PCEye Tracker, the little black device at the bottom of the screen.  The red dots are where the infared lights connect with her eyes in order to operate the laptop.

the eye tracker on the laptop at the bottom of the screen

the eye tracker on the laptop at the bottom of the screen

This is one of the personalized pages Amy and her team prepared for Ganga.

The partially complete red circle in the

The partially complete red circle in the “I love to dance” box shows that this is where Ganga’s focus is. In the picture below you will see the circle complete and the voice synthesizer will have said, “I love to dance.”

The red circle (incomplete) in the

When the circle is complete, namely when she had held her gaze long enough, the sound will play.

In both the above pictures there is a side bar on the right, representing eye tracker control of mouse functions.  Between substituting mouse functions and using the screen keyboard, the usual Microsoft and internet work can be accomplished.

A keyboard can be called up at any time and operated by eye tracking.  Ganga has already typed GAN and is focusing on the G. The red circle fills as she holds her gaze.

Ganga has already typed GAN and is focusing on the G.  The red circle fills as she holds her gaze.

Now Ganga has already typed GANG and is focusing on the A. The red circle fills as she holds her gaze.

With GANG already written, she adds A.

Ganga's eyes do speak.  Here she is saying that she has done well and deserves a photograph.

Ganga’s eyes do speak. She is telling us that she has done well and now she deserves a photograph.

Good work Ganga.  So many of us are waiting to hear what you are thinking, what you dream about, what you want us to know about yourself, and some day to read the book you want to write. 

Our Visual Voices – Via Widgit Software (c)

These are my thoughts as I finish the website, and explain our use of  Widgit (c) symbols in our work. First I ask you to read

OUR VISION:  A society where orphaned and abandoned children, those with abilities and disabilities are not segregated but are respected as necessary members of our society.

 It’s nice, with lots of honing of words and meaning in putting it together.  Is it memorable?  I’m not sure.

Now read Our Vision below,  illustrated with symbols, and you know exactly what I mean.  Hopefully it is more memorable.

More than 30,000 years ago, before our written language of letters and alphabets, we communicated in drawing and symbols, on mammoth teeth and bone, in caves, and probably many other places lost over time. These were our expressions of meaning, communications, aesthetics, our visual voices etched to last over time.

More than 5000 years ago, the Sumarians used symbols and drawings on clay to communicate, to express themselves, to tell and pass on stories to those who would follow. Art and symbols have never been replaced by written language.

Rather they have complemented each other.

 Symbols have become an accepted and integral part of communication in the disability community, as part of what is called assistive and augmentive communication, but at the same time acquiring a status of “lesser” than regular.  But symbols enhance meaning, add aesthetics, and add to the community of people with whom we can communicate. Shishur Sevay uses the language of Widgit for just these reasons.

The blog is my “thinking out loud.”    Our website will be Widget enabled in two ways.  First, we have a license to use the Widgit symbols on the website (Insite) and also here in the blog.  Second, there will be a way for symbols and spoken voice to appear when the cursor hovers over a word, called Point.

We have worked hard to have a site that is accessible to hearing impaired, visually impaired, and also the language impaired.  In a way I think of this as people who understand more by JPG than by DOC.  My minimal understanding was that the Apple frame was more based on image, on a form of JPG, and DOS on more linear byte building. (WikiMe requests info on this.)  One of our  older girls is severely dyslexic, still doesn’t know the alphabet or meaning of numbers, but she wins at memory games that require matching images of cards turned over.  For her, the use of Widgit symbols allows her to understand, to follow what is being read.  We’ve also used it in teaching English, using the symbols of up, down, in, on, under, etc.

But our biggest user has been Ganga, about whom I’ve written a lot before.  Currently she is in Class III in a regular school with the other girls, and is the only child there with motor disability.  Ganga is very bright and loves to study.  She makes sounds, but not words.  When the teacher asked all the children who had seen a globe, Ganga called out loudly.  In her class she was the only one.  How does she use it?

In this picture, Ganga is practicing her typing, and also learning what has been taught.  As the keys are pressed, the program voice sounds the letter, and then the word, and then the sentence.  So there is constant feedback visually and aurally.   And it is fun.  Sometimes she is naughty and presses many numbers, and then the spacebar and giggles as the voice tries to read off zillions, trillions, billions…  sounding like random syllables.

If you click on the link below you will see a story I wrote in Widgit for Ganga.  It’s about why she has a disability.  To me, the illustration makes the story what it is.

ganga cp story-2

I like the aesthetics of the Widgit symbols, the cuneiform markings, similar to the Sumarian writing.  (I just learned about the cuneiform aspect of writing today — the triangle shapes that are part of the Sumarian script, and some in the Widgit).  It is similar to Hieroglyphics.  I have a children’s story I wrote some years ago and I want to write it with the Widgit symbols.

I looked at a number of symbol systems before I chose this one.  It was a big decision as it is costly for the software and now for the licenses to use it on the website and this blog (if we can get it to work on the blog).  I want this site to be truly accessible, even as I struggle to define what that means.  But the challenge is also to make it accessible, including with symbols, without creating a “cumbersome” aspect that will cause the “normals” to click off the site.  Isn’t that what it always is with a minority (even if the minority is the majority)?  It’s about power in part, those with power not wanting to be “slowed down” or have their thinking or reading interrupted because of something useful or even necessary for those with disabilities.

What I like about symbols is that they are less ambiguous.  When I started using Widgit a couple of years ago, their symbol for orphan was a child, and no parents.  I talked with them and they made a new symbol, orphan with two children, one in a wheelchair, one without, and without parents.

But now that I look at it, I realize there is one more step in the creation of the orphan line of symbols.  For our children it’s not just the loss of parents.  If you look back at Our Vision, you will see a symbol of “community” but it’s that community, or society that our orphans do not have.  Yes, first is a loss of immediate family, but then to end up in an institution there is also the rejection, actively or passively by the community.  So the symbols really should be:

Understand now?  These are the girls we brought here. lost, abandoned, living in an institution, but nothing can say it better than the symbol  Well, I feel I’m closer to what I’m trying to say.  I’d be grateful for comments.

Widgit software (c) is at    We have the icon for the website and it will go up with that.  We haven’t been able to get Widgit working on the blog, or I’d be writing much more in Widgit.

This blog is my thinking out loud, and my conversation with  interested parties, whomever they may be.

Ganga’s Disability Story… and other matters of the day

Ganga’s Disability Story (click to open)

I am trying to put Widgit ©symbol language into the website that is being developed, and this blog.  It looks like I may not be able to do it in the blog.  But I was able to link a pdf file to the blog and it seems to work.

Ganga knows she has a disability.  In fact she knows she has CP, or at least she recognizes anyone else with CP.  I know from living and working with her, that sometimes she is very upset that she cannot do what other children can.  It is compounded by her constantly being seen in terms of her disability rather than her intellect.  The world of children, people, with disabilities easily becomes the world of caretakers.  The children sit and listen but cannot talk to each other, nor can they have any influence over the discussion.  Ganga wants to be with the older girls.  She wants to study with them, listen to their teachers, make comments, and even sometimes be naughty like the others.  I founded this home.  I live here.  I hire the teachers, but still it is hard to make this happen.  Ganga is happy with someone reading to her from an encyclopedia but she is often left with the group doing nursery rhymes.  I keep trying to find teachers for her, but also trying to balance a situation where some people think I’m out of my mind and imagining her intellect.  I’m writing this because it MUST be familiar to others.  Most of our struggles are fundamentally quite similar, wherever we are.

Ganga is learning to use a head pointer on the computer.   I am short of people who can teach or use computers.  Today the special educator was using a real mouse with a child with CP, simply taking her hand and pressing the mouse.  I hooked up the switches (I’m the IT dept here too) but then had to stop the teacher from hitting the switch.  You have to give the kids time to respond.

The rest of the day was spent dealing with a new crisis with the older girls.  They had begun receiving tutoring (called tuition here) in their school after it let out.  It’s a common practice.  But it seems the principal has forbidden the teacher to teach our children so we had to make other arrangements.  I can’t say more.  I don’t want the kids kicked out because mom says too much.  But if India is serious about corruption, it should start with the educational system which (in my opinion) is far more corrupt than the government and far more serious as the minds and futures of the children are at stake.  And it teaches children very early about the power of money and influence.

Ganga looks up to her Didi with CP

Ganga looks up to her Didi with CP

Here is the link again to the disability story I wrote for Ganga: Ganga’s Disability Story (click to open if you didn’t before)

It’s 11 at night here and I’m just going to post this and go to sleep.

(Widgit Software a product of; ©)

Ganga and Bornali: Sisters Become Friends

Ganga and Bornali

Yesterday afternoon only Ganga and Bornali were home.  Nine others had gone to an event and Rani was in the park for her afternoon walk.    I was home still recovering from my cold; teachers were gone… so it was time for some fun.  Ganga and Bornali had just been given misti doi (sweet yogurt) for afternoon snack, and per my instructions, I wanted to let them work at feeding themselves. Bornali takes her food very seriously and when the spoon became too difficult she did the only natural thing she could think of, which was to do away with the spoon and go directly to the source.

Bornali gets practical

Notice that not only has she gotten to the source, but she used her knees to tilt the tray upwards to bring the dish closer to her mouth.   A few years ago she did this with a puzzle piece.

Getting the Job Done

2008: Getting the Job Done


Bornali’s teacher was not happy with this. In the teacher’s mind, the assigned task was for Bornali to use her hands to pick up the puzzle pieces. But in Bornali’s mind, since her hands weren’t getting the job done, she used what worked for her. In her mind, the task was to pick up the piece of the puzzle. In yesterday’s task, Bornali’s understanding was that she was to eat without assistance and since she couldn’t get the spoon and her hand working right, she did what made sense to her. It seems to be what made sense to both of them.

Later in the evening Gangaand Bornali delighted in our showing the pictures.

Ganga working with her hand in 2008

The pictures from 2008 also show Ganga struggling with using her hands. I realized that she is no more able to use her hands now than in 2008. Her preferred means is her foot. Apparently she has figured out how to turn off the tv with her foot if she doesn’t like what is playing. For computer she prefers her foot.  Here she is learning from Dipak Ghosh, her role model

Learning from Dipak Ghosh, her role model

though we have just starting using a head pointer.

Hunt and Peck Ganga style

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August 2020
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