TORONTO — Mauricio Meza says the problem with using traditional assisted devices for communication is they’re expensive and don’t always work well.
“The kind of device Stephen Hawking uses to communicate (costs) $10,000,” the CEO of Toronto tech start-up Komodo OpenLab Inc., said in a recent interview with Postmedia. “And they … fail very often. They’re cumbersome, they’re not great (and) you can have very similar functionality with an iPad and our hardware.”
That hardware is the Tecla Shield, a wheelchair-mountable box that connects to a mobile device via BlueTooth, letting people with physical impairments more easily use their phone or tablet.
When paired with the phone, Meza explained, the Tecla will scan through the apps on the home screen until the user chooses the one desired.
A proximity switch system can be used to make this selection. The accessory is basically a button that acts like a mouse click. It can be a literal button, that’s placed in, say, the headrest of a wheelchair, or, as Meza demonstrated, a pair of glasses that react when the users close their eyes.
Each switch can be configured with two actions, one for a short press and one for a long press and you can temporarily configure these actions to perform unique functions in specific apps.
Meza offered as an example one of their clients is an avid reader.
“So she has a reading mode where she can (swipe through) pages, he said. “But also she reads a magazine that it is not that accessible. So we created custom gestures to move up and down … and get out of the app.”
The Tecla can take up to two proximity switch devices or, alternatively, can take a joystick or be plugged into a motorized wheelchair and use its joystick.
Meza said a new model being released later this year will allow the ability to switch between multiple mobile devices.
The Tecla Shield comes with a 90-hour battery and can also plug into the wall. It is designed to work with Apple devices running iOS 9.0 or higher and Google’s Nexus and Pixel devices, running at least Android 6.0. Meza said other Android devices from other manufacturers may however have compatibility issues.
The Tecla Shield sells on its website for $458.16 and the Tecla switch, joystick and wheelchair kits sell for $655.07, $669.51 and $722.03, respectively.
However, through Bell, the Tecla Shield is available for $200 if purchased with a premium smartphone plan.