Friday, June 14, 2013

Hands-free Chromebook?!

Wanna see something really cool? I mean seriously, seriously cool?

We're talking cool like

Picture of Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days.
The Fonz

Yeah that cool. 

First, check this out.

Picture of a Samsung Google Chromebook closed.
Samsung Google Chromebook

It's just your run-of-the-mill Samsung Google Chromebook. If you don't know anything about Chromebooks, check out this little piece by Mariella Moon with Digital Trends on Chromebooks . You might also want to check out this article by +Dan Ackerman with CNET at

Now, do you know what this is?

Picture of an Origin Insturments Head Mouse Extreme.
HeadMouse Extreme

It's the HeadMouse Extreme by Origin Instruments. As it's name says, it's a mouse you can control with your head, or perhaps more formally, it's and input device that allows you to use your head to control the mouse pointer. 

This little thing

Picture of an Able Net jellybean switch.
AbleNet Jellybean switch

is just a simple switch. Now, keep in mind that just about any switch can be used in place of this little one. I am using it as my model here because it's what most people typically think of when they thing of switches. 

So here's the awesome trio!

Picture of Rock super group Rush-- Neil Pert, Geddy Lee, and Alex Liefson.
Rush, in case you had no idea

And here's the equipment 

Picture of the Chromebook closed with the Head mouse extreme positioned above it and the jellybean switch to the right of teh chrome book.
Chromebook, HeadMouse Extreme, and Jellybean hanging out together

OK so they're not as impressive all separated and disconnected. However, when I plug the switch into the HeadMouse Extreme, and then I plug the HeadMouse Extreme into one of the Chromebook's USB ports. . . 

Photograph of the Chromebook open with the HeadMouse mounted to the top of the screen and the jellybean switch next to the computer.
Chromebook with HeadMouse Extreme and Jellybean switch
I get Voltron a hands-free method of controlling my Chromebook. 

Add in Google's Input Tools extension, and I have a means to type via a virtual keyboard. The virtual keyboard is nice in that it's small and movable, so when I use the HeadMouse Extreme to type, I don't have to move all over the screen to type. I move my head to move the pointer to the key I want to press, and I press the switch to press that key. Just like that, hands-free control!

Screen shot of a google doc open and the on-screen keyboard being used to enter text into the doc.
On-screen keyboard from Google Input Tools

So why is this important? 

Well, it allows anyone with a disability requiring this type of access to be able to access the Chromebook, giving them another option for technology access. Just as people without disabilities may decide to use a Chromebook as a quick and easy web access tool, so might people with disabilities. The same as people want access to tablets, they also want access to things like Chromebooks, so why not facilitate that?

Interestingly, less of the hat-tip goes to Google for this one than to Origin Instruments for the design of their HeadMouse Extreme. It doesn't require installing additional drivers or software to get the unit to work. It's true plug and play. That type of forward-thinking makes the device truly useful. Now, I'm not saying Google doesn't deserve any praise. They certainly do in making their Chrome OS work with HID (Human Interface Device) compliant USB devices. The same appears to be true of the Android OS and it's ability to accept a mouse (and thus something like a HeadMouse Extreme). 

And contrary to what some may say, you don't have to have access to these devices solely to use them as assistive technology. You can have access to them just to have access to them. Heaven knows the manufacturers make them so that they can sell as many units as they can. If I want to play Fruit Ninja like everyone else does, why shouldn't I? With accessible hardware like this, it becomes easier and easier for people to truly exercise choice, getting the products they want and accessing them as they are able. 

You can find some nice, easy to follow info on HID compliant devices from  at,

You can find information on the HeadMouse Extreme from Origin Instruments Inc., at

You can get more info about Google Input Tools from Google at

The cool picture of Rush comes from J. Russ' blog "The Freedom of Music"