Image courtesy of Jil Wright, Flickr.com
I can’t quite believe how much time has flown by since my last blog post. I now have a backlog of blog posts that I want to share but I acknowledge that the winter months were barren, to say the least.
One of the issues that I have been grappling with recently is how to make research accessible. And I don’t mean just ‘easy-read’ accessible. How do we really get to the nitty-gritty of all our research-specific terminology and make it truly meaningful to people who don’t do research but might be interested in it. I had great fun with my PPI group last month unpicking some of jargon that I’ve been inflicting on them… but more of that soon. One of the other things that I promised my PPI group in return for their invaluable advice and insight on my project, is access to current research and innovation. I identified a paper concerning new and emerging AAC technology and summarised it for my PPI group. I also made a rough and ready video that they could watch as some of the group have limited literacy (https://youtu.be/sngSV5TZJpc). They were happy with my attempt so I thought I’d share it here so others might be able to access it too. Please get in touch if you do share it, or get any feedback on it, or if you have any feedback on it. I’m also interested to find out how others have made research accessible to a non-specialist audience.
New and emerging access technologies for adults with complex communication needs and severe motor impairments: state of the science. Susan Koch Fager; Melanie Fried-Oken; Tom Jakobs and David Beukelman. Journal of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (2019). Published online.
The aim of this research paper is to describe some of the patient-centred research which is supporting the development of new technologies to help people who have communication difficulties.
Patient-centred design, in this research paper, is described in terms of 4 stages:
- early involvement of the AAC user in designing a new product
- the development of prototypes (models of the new product)
- Ongoing development and improvement of the product design
- Evaluating the final product with reference to the person using it
The design of each of the new technology products was inspired by an individual, described in a case study. ‘Case study’ is a term used in research to describe an individual and their circumstances.
Movement sensing technology picks up the movements and activity of individuals wearing a device. For example, wearable fitness monitors can track the number of steps that people take each day and the types of activity that they carry out i.e. running, cycling, walking, swimming. Invotek Inc (https://www.invotek.org/) is a company which is using a similar type of technology to develop a switch to help people to access augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Some people cannot control all of their movements. The technology described in this research paper aims to use movement sensors, like those found in activity watches, to tell the difference between controlled and uncontrolled movements. Only the controlled movements are detected and used to activate a switch.
Image of the movement sensing switch
Brain-computer interface (BCI), as described in this paper, is a type of switch that detects electronic brain activity (brain waves) to activate switches. This technology may be of value to people who have limited or no control of body movements but who have good thinking and spelling abilities. BCI is currently used to help people spell out words. The person using a BCI would need to wear electrodes on their skull which detect brain activity. Letters may flash up on a screen in front of the individual using a BCI. When the target letter appears, it can be selected by thinking about selecting the target. The electrodes detect the brain activity and activate a switch to select the letter. BCI technology is not currently widely used outside of research studies. Research about BCI is exciting and promising but is unlikely to be usable by large numbers of people until it has been further developed.
Image of a person wearing the BCI electrodes cap
Multi-input strategies in this paper is, more specifically, using an eye-tracker alongside a switch to increase the speed of target selection. Some people can find using an eye-tracker difficult especially when trying to select small targets. Lighting, the position of the user and the condition of their eyes can all affect people’s ability to use an eye-tracker alone. A prototype (model) has been developed that allows people to access their AAC using more than one switch. The person described in this research paper used eye gaze to select the area of the screen that the target letter appeared in and then a switch to choose the letter.
Images of an eye gaze system and a range of switches
Supplemented speech recognition (SSR) is a computer software that can support unclear speech by suggesting words when someone with a communication difficulty cannot be understood. The person with the communication difficulty has to train the software so that it can learn to link their speech patterns to words. When a listener cannot understand what is being said, the speaker can speak into the software, type the initial letter of the word they are trying to say, and the software will predict what the target word could be. The speaker can then select the word they are trying to say from a list of options available on the software.
Image of the SSR unit
Supplementing access with partner input is done by using an app that both the AAC user and their conversation partner have access to. The SmartPredict app allows the conversation partner to make suggestions to the AAC user about what they might be trying to say. The AAC user will see these suggestions in their predictions list and be able to select or ignore them as they wish.
Image courtesy of RECR on AAC, Pennsylvania State University
“The goal of these new and emerging technologies is to increase the ability to access technology, reduce fatigue, and improve satisfaction with communication[…] Although the technologies described in this paper are promising, there is more work to do.” Page 9, paragraph 6
Four of the five case studies described in the paper are people who have acquired communication difficulties as adults.