SPOKANE, Wash.--Spokane native and former New Orleans Saints star Steve Gleason is fighting to raise awareness about ALS. The WSU alum can no longer speak like many ALS patients. He types with his eyes, but it took him four hours to type a guest column for Sports Illustrated.
A WSU professor felt that was way too long and stepped in to help.
Gleason’s mother, Gail, also works at WSU. She helps students balance sports and studies. People on campus are acutely aware and concerned about Gleason’s battle with ALS.
The disease is stripping Gleason’s muscles and his ability to speak. He is left to rely on eye tracking technology to communicate.
“I heard him say ‘how can I think a coherent thought if it takes so long to get it down,’” said Gail Gleason.
WSU computer science professor David Bakken finds the system frustrating as well.
“Once they can only use their eyes these systems to do eye typing are just too expensive and frankly, compared to what the state of the art will support they're crappy,” said Bakken.
Bakken rounded up some of the best computer science students and formed a WSU Team Gleason Club. They work to create better communication technology for ALS patients.
They showed off their work in Pullman and demonstrated how goggles improve eye tracking and how predictive software can guess your next word.
"Our prediction software learns from you and it offers multiple predictions, words in advance also,” said WSU student Forest Clay.
The students said the software is faster and said it will be free.
"I'm just glad we get to do something that's going to make a huge difference in people's lives,” said Clay.
The group hopes to have a system ready for local ALS patients to test in the spring. The group was in New Orleans Monday night and will meet Gleason on Tuesday.
KREM 2 News will show you their meeting on KREM 2 News at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday.
In addition, an hour long documentary on Gleason’s life will be airing on the NFL network at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday. KREM 2 News shot some of the footage for the nationwide special.