In Australia there are over 1.2 million people living with a communication disability (ABS, 2015).
A communication disability can come in many different forms, it can be long lasting or short term and overcome with early intervention - but like many disabilities, the symptoms can range from a slight delay in speech through to being unable to use words to communicate.
Thankfully, a large variety of communication aids are available in Australia to help children and adults communicate more effectively, and most importantly have their wants, feelings, and needs heard.
For many people living with a communication disability and having to navigate the waters that are communication aids, and assistive technology can be very overwhelming, and comes with daily trial and error, and sometimes successes.
For Rayna and Jalen, this has been their reality.
Jalen, Rayna’s son has cerebral palsy and together, they know firsthand what a communication device can do to dramatically change the life of someone living with disability.
“My son Jalen can’t use his word, use a pen or a paper, or a keyboard. And after a full day of using his power wheelchair and joystick, Jalen can tire quickly. So, when I heard about new assistive eye gaze technology for communication, I jumped at the opportunity for Jalen to trial it,” Rayna said.
“As a parent, all I ever hope for is for my children to become independent, like ordering their own groceries, going to the shops and messaging their friends, and family.”
Jalen uses a Tobii Dynavox I-Series communication device. This device is enabled with built in eye gaze technology, meaning kids like Jalen and adults alike, can use their eyes to press icons, and buttons and navigate the screen, to ultimately be able to ask the device to talk on their behalf and live more independently.
Not only can this device be used as a communication tool, but it also includes many applications just like a mobile phone.
It can be used to play games, access the internet, and communicate with friends and family —giving a voice to someone who cannot communicate verbally.
Abi, Speech Pathologist from CPL explains how people can also access social media and the internet using the device, and just like a mobile phone, people can call and text using the device too.
“This Tobii Dynavox I-Series is an incredibly versatile device that is suitable for all ages. Not only does it set kids up for future development, but it enables adults to live a full life full of independence and allows them to access things that you, and I can, but may normally be deemed as inaccessible for people living with a communication disability,” Abi added.
Since using his new device with eye gaze technology, Jalen’s personality has flourished and continues to shine each, and every day.
Jalen's mum said Jalen has been able to have open ended conversations at home. I love watching him interact and play with his sister, hearing about his friendships at school, and listening to him share his opinions and express his interests. He even tells me about his new girlfriends (plural).
“Everyone can see more of his personality and who he is now because he can say more. He can even order his own McDonald’s! Best of all. He has shown the kids at school that he is just like them.
“Jalen now calls for his dad across the house and gets his message across, rather than playing an ongoing guessing game with him - not truly every really knowing what he really wanted without using yes/no answers. Since getting his new device, I now know exactly what he wants, what he feels and how he is thinking because he can use his words to tell me.
“Jalen is a cheeky teenage boy who loves cracking jokes, drawing, playing video games and being creative. His communication device has opened a whole new world for him, and we can’t wait to see him grow into an independent adult,” said Rayna.
Abi said Jalen started his journey using a PODD Communication Book, and how it has been incredible to watch his development and see him now using technology to communicate.
“The technology has advanced so much, so even if someone trialled a device with eye gaze 10 years ago there is no reason why they shouldn’t give it another go. The technology has changed so much it’s incredible. Even Jalen’s old device to this one now is light years ahead - it’s amazing.
“These devices give people living with disability a voice, an opportunity to be heard and to live a life building friendships, and connections, and most importantly gaining further independence,” Abi added.
Eye gaze software is a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), enabling people with disability to communicate easily and independently. The inbuilt technology tracks movement of the eyes by a light and triggers an action from the movement in relation to the screen.
The devices are fully customisable to the persons voice, age, height and movement.
For families like Rayna, this communication device has been a complete game-changer that has resulted in her young, bubbly, teenage boy becoming more confident, self-assured, clever and witty.
Being able to communicate is everything to everyone regardless of their ability and every person should be able to voice their needs, emotion, and wants.
If you would like to find out more about Assistive Communication Devices and find out what options could be suitable for your individual needs, contact CPL – Choice, Passion, Life to further discuss your Speech Therapist support requirements on 1800 275 753.
There are many great things about communication devices, but there is no denying they can sometimes be expensive to access. The good news is funding for such devices may be available through the NDIS. Find out more about Assistive Technology funding through the NDIS here.
Find out more about Assistive Technology funding through the NDIS here.