It's been 12 years since Chad Ruble's mother suffered a stroke that led to aphasia, a disorder that affects language processing but not intelligence. Most of the one million Americans who have the disorder experience difficulty both reading and writing, according to the National Aphasia Association, and Chad's mother Lindy was unable to recognize text and thus unable to use a keyboard.
So Chad did what any computer-savvy son should: he hacked a Kinect to help her.
After designing a visual dashboard of emoticons (happy, sad, angry, tired, etc.), each of which can be further qualified by an amount (expressed as signal strength -- one, two, three, or four bars), Chad says he turned to a Kinect, some gesture recognition code, and the simple OpenNI library for Processing to track the position of his mother's hand. A green arrow button sends the email and a red X resets the screen.
The hack is pretty straightforward and the features are at this point relatively crude, but that doesn't make his mother's smile when she first uses it (see below) any less powerful.
Chad writes on his blog that he plans to use other boards and pages "for a greater variety of messaging" while maintaining "a super simple interface" for his mom, and he may also include the ability to snap and send a photo of herself instead of relying on generic emoticon avatars.
"Still," he writes, "it's clear that mom is happy with the result." Make that happy with full signal strength.