The revolution in digital technology which many of us take for granted, including access to devices such as smartphones and iPads, has largely excluded many people with conditions like aphasia, which is a difficulty understanding and using language.
Now a pioneering collaboration between the aphasia support group Speakability, NHS Tayside and the University of Dundee is working with patients to provide better access to this vital digital world.
The `It’s Not One Thing’ project will see people with aphasia working with therapists, educators, designers and rehabilitation engineers to design an accessible iPad workbook. The project has been made possible by funding from the charity Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS). Aphasia can affect people who have suffered a stroke, and the charity works with speech and language therapists throughout Scotland.
“People with aphasia, which is a difficulty understanding and using language and a common consequence of stroke or head injury, are often excluded from using digital technologies,” said Helen Gowland, Chair of Speakeasy, the Tayside Speakability.
Laorag Hunter, Speech and Language Therapist working for NHS Tayside, added, “This means missing out on major benefits that have transformed the lives of able communicators in recent years. Our pilot work shows that through learning to use an iPad, people with aphasia had increased independence and effectiveness. They gained a sense of satisfaction with the acquisition of new skills, had increased communication and greater social capital. The aim of this collaboration is to make both the learning materials and the workshop model widely available to benefit people living with aphasia.”
Existing manuals that explain how to access technology often do not match the communication support needs of people with aphasia, making it impossible for them to acquire the skills to use it. During the workshops all participants will work together to co-create resources that make the use of iPads within reach for people with communication and cognitive impairments following stroke.
Rolf Black, an expert in accessible computing from the University of Dundee, said, “Learning to use digital technology offers multiple benefits and needs more than one approach to teaching, hence the name of our project `It’s not one thing’.
“Research has shown that this technology has the potential to enable people with aphasia to compensate for difficulties in understanding, recalling of words, reading and writing, enabling them to communicate with greater independence.”
CHSS Chief Executive David Clark said, “CHSS has worked with speech and language therapists throughout Scotland to help provide digital aids to communication for people with speech and language difficulties (aphasia) after stroke. These can make a huge difference not just to their ability to communicate, but to their self-confidence, independence and whole quality of life. We were very pleased to provide financial support for this project and look forward to helping translate the results into improved services for people affected by stroke.”
Laorag Hunter adds about origin of the project, “The Scottish Government’s ‘Right to Speak’ programme has been a trigger to our partnership project. Right to Speak is a £4million, three-year project to improve the provision and care for individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in Scotland. Our work will make resources available to more people with aphasia so they can learn to use digital technology to aid their communication and enjoy the many benefits that come with such proficiency.”
The project group, including people with aphasia, will be at the School of Computing at the University of Dundee on Thursday June 12th.