Due to complications in childbirth, Gleison Fernandes de Faria, known as Gleisinho, was born with cerebral palsy. This permanently compromised his fine motor skills, speech and balance.
Gleisinho studied at his town’s Association of Friends and Parents of Disabled Children (APAE), in Itauna, Minas Gerais, Brasil and, as a high achiever, attended a regular high school. Fond of computers from a young age, Gleisinho decided to study Computer Science at the University of Itaúna, and he timely graduated.
Towards the end of his studies, during all of which he had been wearing a helmet fitted with a pointer to use the computer, Gleisinho decided to develop a more appropriate tool for people with similar functional limitations. From his early tests, many in the form of primitive keyboards, he finally reached a design which he presented as his term project, in the form of a device he named Combinatorial Iconographic Keyboard.
The idea behind the Combinatorial Iconographic Keyboard, or TIC from his spelling in Portuguese, was to allow for the user to type any letter, number, symbol or computer command by using only nine buttons, which would have to be activated in pairs. So any combination of pressing two different buttons in sequence would produce a character. The keys would be larger, with greater spacing between them, to accommodate individuals with poor coordination, including those using feet or stumps, allowing them to type and use a computer like anyone else.
Despite receiving the highest score in his term project, Gleisinho found a hard time taking the invention off the paper. He even managed to build a fully functional prototype, which required a special software written by himself to properly function on a computer, but he did not get any support to carry the project forward.
Things started to change for better when, in April, 2013, during Reatech (a fair focused on assistive technology held annually in São Paulo), Gleisinho met the founder of Geraes Tecnologia Assistiva, from Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, a startup company focused on electronic innovations for people with disabilities. Being from the same State and just 60 miles apart, a partnership seemed a natural consequence of this encounter, and one year later, at the following Reatech edition, a new and improved version of his design was released to the public.
With revised design and enhanced features, TIC had great impact at the event. It didn’t take long for new ideas to arise to improve the device and expand its capabilities. One of the immediate demands was to include the possibility of controlling the mouse with the same device. The other was to make it usable for individuals unable to perform large enough active movements to reach the panel keys.
After another year of development, came along Key-X (TiX in Brazil), a much improved version of TIC. Key-X works just like TIC for typing purposes but in addition also replaces the mouse. It also has a much thinner and lighter design, and introduced touch-sensitive keys instead of the mechanical switches, which allows the users to set them without force, requiring only a slight touch. Despite this feature, it is still robust and may also be triggered even with their feet.
Furthermore, the most important feature of Key-X in relation to his antecessor is that it can optionally be controlled by any external adaptive switch, meeting the demand for using the apparatus by those with more severe functional limitations, such as quadriplegics. In this operating mode, the buttons take turns lighting up, and the user activates the external switch when the light associated to the intended button is on, instead of physically touching the panel.
All these features have made Key-X a innovative, unprecedented assistive product, providing a powerful, yet intuitive solution to serve people with a wide range of physical and motor disabilities, allowing them to use computers and mobile devices to their full extent, including internet browsing, access to social networks, use of text editors and even games.