We live in a world of modern technology and artificial intelligence where new inventions and the increasing desire to revolutionise the way we live are part of the norm. Although technology can often have a harmful effect on health, in this story its social and inclusive benefits are undeniable.
Pauline, who is approaching her 40th birthday later this year, moved to Howbeck Community Home when she was 18 years old, which is now one of our supported living homes. Based in Doncaster, Pauline has cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia. She is fully wheelchair-bound, has only extremely limited movement in her limbs and has minimal verbal abilities. To help Pauline move around and communicate she uses assistive technology: a motorised wheelchair operated by a head-controlled switch and a computer with specialist software for people with disabilities.
This is not the first time Pauline has had a computer to support her but in the past it was much less sophisticated, and it was without assistive technology. 3 years ago, Pauline was having issues with her old computer and so our staff in Doncaster got in touch with the Assistive Technology Department on the NHS Trust. The outcome was, as John puts it, “pretty special”. John is a support worker who has been supporting Pauline for 14 years now, he likens Pauline’s equipment to that of what Stephen Hawking had. Nowadays, the computer is fitted to her wheelchair and when switched on for her she can control the cursor by facial recognition. Pauline moves the cursor on the computer screen by head movement. For instance, she can hover the cursor over the screen icon for 4 or 5 seconds which then enables her to turn on the TV, adjust the volume, and so on. Just like an Alexa, it is remote control based.
Pauline can open and close doors, operate her lights, turn the electric fan and TV on and off – as John aptly puts it, “she can channel hop to her heart’s desire.” Undoubtedly the new computer has transformed her everyday living situation, giving her more independence, but it has also altered her life in ways you couldn’t imagine. Outside her bedroom window lies a wishing well where her mother’s ashes rest. Previously she used to have to ask staff to open and close the blinds for her so that she could see out to the well. Now she has the independence to open the blinds herself and look at her mother’s ashes at any time. In short, she has more opportunity to do what she wants, when she wants. For Pauline, it’ not just support, it’s happiness.
Pauline’s computer can be customised so that words and phrases can be written up. While the computer already has a lot of built-in words which Pauline can select and then will be spoken out – such as everyday phrases ‘I’m happy’ or ‘I’m sad’ – she also requires more personal, specific phrases so that she can communicate directly with her friends, family, and staff. So, as people come and go at the service John can reprogramme her computer so that she has the relevant names on there to use when she wants. Understandably, Pauline likes to keep her computer up-to-date. She will sit with support staff and discuss what she has done or is going to do that week. The staff will then write up Pauline’s story for her to copy onto her computer which she can then playback to her friends and family by hitting a specific icon. We think this is a perfect example of how assistive technology can help people to achieve the best possible quality of life.
At Walsingham Support, we get to know each person really well, designing practical innovations that enable personal choices, improve life skills and strengthen links with family and the wider community. We also recognise that every individual is unique and we will work hard to help you make the most of your skills.
Support workers hold monthly themed parties at Pauline's service home. With her assistive technology she can interact more. At the Talent Show, for instance, Pauline’s computer was set up so that she could make funny comments about the staff’s performances and could then vote who was the best performer on the night. There is a more serious side too though. Pauline enjoys helping and her computer now gives her the verbal skills to assist in any way that she can. An example is that when Pauline thinks someone might be unwell, or requires assistance in any way, then she can call on staff to help.
When we asked Pauline how much she enjoyed her computer from 1 to 10, she answered with a resounding 10!
We aim to support people to live as independently as possible. This wonderful story was brought to us by John. Why did he want to bring it to light? “To inspire people. To show that anything is possible. It is a perfect example of how you can include people who have communication problems.”