Communication is essential to everyday life.
Think about all the different ways you communicate daily and the frequency. It’s hard to imagine not being able to do things that come so easily to most of us such as writing a work email, sending a text, or filling in your name on a form. However, this is the reality for people who have aphasia.
Aphasia is a communication disability that can affect a person’s ability to understand a conversation, speak, read and write.
Aphasia can be caused by stroke, head injury, tumour or infection that results in damage to the brain’s language centre. As different brain conditions can cause aphasia, there is a wide range of variability in the severity and the types of communication affected.
Aphasia can significantly impact someone’s quality of life and mental health. As a result, living with aphasia can alter relationships with family and friends, make it harder to do everyday tasks like shopping, and impact someone’s ability to work.
Recently, Bruce Willis shared that he has aphasia.
Aphasia does not impact someone’s intelligence but their ability to communicate, meaning many people with aphasia do not return to work because of the difficulties they encounter reading and writing.
To assist people living with aphasia, Monash Health speech pathologists Jenny Walsh and Grace Schofield, partnered up with students Eliza Cripps and Tim Harris from the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering (MIME) and Monash Young Medtech Innovators (MYMI) to create Project QWERTY.
Project QWERTY combines clinical expertise, tech skills, and lived experience of aphasia patients to create a unique, customisable website that allows people with aphasia to independently work on their writing skills outside of speech therapy sessions.
“This website allows people with aphasia to practice typing and spelling words that are meaningful to them, such as the names of friends and family or even their own personal details so they can independently fill out the paperwork when they go to an appointment,” says speech pathologist Jenny Walsh, a co-creator of Project QWERTY.
Speech pathologist Grace Schofield who also worked on the project, says the website is easy to use and very practical. She recently used the website to help a patient practice words that enabled them to continue running their own business.
“Some people will use the website as a tool to ultimately enable them to return to work by targeting words that are unique to their workplace. Others may use it to access an online newspaper or even footy scores. It’s all about giving people with aphasia independence to live their lives.”
The project was funded through the Healthcare Innovation Summer Scholarships (HISS) and supported by Monash Health, MIME, MYMI and volunteers.
Central to the development of Project QWERTY was the involvement of clients of the Monash Health Community Speech Pathology rehabilitation program whose lived experience of aphasia provided advice on the design features and content of the website.
In conjunction with the tireless effort of volunteers Will Holt and Rob Angelone, this collaboration has resulted in a high-tech and simple-to-use solution to this communication disability.
More about Project QWERTY can be found at Project QWERTY.
Main image (L-R): Jenny Walsh, Grace Schofield, Will Holt and Tim Harris.