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‘With technology, sky’s the limit’: How smart devices can help people with disabilities live independently

SINGAPORE: As a digital artist, Mohd Sayfullah knows that getting known online is important. That’s why he mentions his Instagram art report when introducing himself to others – except that it’s not an ordinary greeting.

Sayfullah communicates with an iPad because he has a speech impairment.

A few taps of the finger on the device are all it takes to conjure up a male voice programmed to say, “My name is Sayfullah. I’m turning 18. I attend the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore, CPAS school.

“I’m a junior lab artist. I make digital art with Microsoft Powerpoint. Follow me on my creative and digital art journey on Instagram at artbysayfullah.”

Sayfullah was diagnosed with spastic paraplegic cerebral palsy, which leads to moderate uncontrollable movements of the upper extremities. Because of his speech impairment, it was difficult for him to communicate with the people around him.

Sayfullah's iPad

With Sayfullah’s iPad, an Augmentative and Alternate Communication device, he can better communicate with the people around him. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

“Whenever we had a conversation, it is between us, yes, mother and son, I can understand him,” his mother and supervisor Mdm Fadillah told CNA. “But what if there is another person who wants to have a conversation with him?”

Once, while attending an event at Jurong Bird Park, Sayfullah was asked his name and age. Even though he answered, people couldn’t understand him and asked the same question three or four times, Mdm Fadillah said.

Sayfullah was frustrated by the repeated questions and Mdm Fadillah had to step in to answer.

“I have to be the third voice,” said Mdm Fadillah. “I find that as time goes on it becomes more and more difficult for people to understand his language and I have to be there all the time to answer him and speak for him. I have to do something there. “

They started with picture cards to help Sayfullah express his thoughts. But the cards were bulky and as Sayfullah’s vocabulary grew, they realized they needed a better communication system.

After deciding that an iPad with special software would best meet Sayfullah’s needs, they turned to SPD, a local charity that supports people with disabilities.

THE INSTALLATION PROCESS

Tech Able, an assistive technology center, offers a range of devices that help people with disabilities and work with their customers to find a suitable solution for their needs.

It is a joint initiative of SPD and SG Enable and is located in the Enabling Village. The center includes an assessment center, a library of auxiliary equipment and a smart home and office technology showcase.

Here Sayfullah and his mother met Sarah Yong, the clinical director of the SPD’s Specialized Assistive Technology Center.

“When Sayfullah first walked in, you could see that he was a young man with a lot to say,” said Ms. Yong. “Can see it in his eyes – he really wanted to hire people. And he did speak orally, but it was very difficult to understand. “

Through her interactions with Sayfullah, she learned that he spoke the language “fairly well” and therefore needed a tool with a “robust” language and vocabulary system. They also opted for a device with voice output so that Sayfullah could interact with people around him.

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There were other considerations. Would he use it with his hands or his eyes? Would he need a switch? Where would you position the device?

“We also had to think about him and how we would train him,” said Ms. Yong.

“Initially, a person can be prescribed with the communication device, but years of non-communication with people may make them unaware they actually have something to say.”

With that in mind, they decided on an iPad with software that would allow Sayfullah to choose his words from a variety of options before playing them back as a full sentence.

Since Sayfullah had to use the computer, the specialists also tried to equip him with an alternative mouse that met his needs.

Customers are usually referred to them through hospitals, schools, friends or caregivers, or walk-ins, Ms. Yong said.

“So we’re going to look at the referral information and then think about the best team of assistive technology professionals and specialists that would do the assessment.”

Tech Able interior

The people behind Tech Able hope to raise awareness and acceptance of assistive technology among people with disabilities. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Tech Able’s 18-strong assistive technology team is multidisciplinary, Ms. Yong said. This includes occupational therapists, speech therapists, engineers and an educator.

“We believe in this interdisciplinary team because it really allows us to assess the customer from many different angles and look at many different aspects so that we can come up with a very good solution,” she said.

The reviewers will examine the strengths, weaknesses and preferences of the clients. They then evaluate their language and motor skills, their environment in which they use the technology and the tasks they would have to perform.

Types of assistive technology

Tech Able’s devices can help people with physical disabilities, sensory disabilities such as deafness and visual impairment, intellectual disabilities, and autism, said Ron Loh, director of Enablers Development at SG Enable.

The Enablers Development team works with organizations on projects to improve accessibility at work, in schools or in transport. This could include installing wheelchair ramps or placing tactile designs on the floor for the visually impaired.

The challenges faced by the disabled community are “very diverse” and it is important to use the most appropriate solution, Loh said. This means that Tech Able’s reviewers do not insist on the “high-tech” or most innovative technology, but on the most affordable and accessible device for the customer.

The Quha Gyroscopic Mouse

With the Quha Gyroscopic Mouse, a person can use any part of their body to control their computer cursor. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Some examples of assistive technologies available from Tech Able are the Quha Gyroscopic Mouse, Phonak Roger Pen and Mylink, and Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.

The gyroscopic mouse can be attached to any part of the user’s body, e.g. B. on the head, wrist or foot, so that people with physical disabilities can access the computer without using a conventional mouse.

The Phonak Roger Pen and MyLink is a wireless microphone and receiver. The pen-shaped microphone can be pointed at any sound source and transmitted to the user’s hearing aids. It can be used remotely, allowing the hard of hearing to hear better while minimizing background noise.

Augmentative and alternative communication tools help people who have difficulty communicating with others. It can take the form of picture communication books or customizable software in smart devices, just like that used by Sayfullah.

Before customers make their purchases, they can borrow the device for a small fee, Mr. Loh said.

For those who may need financial assistance, SG Enable offers an Assistive Technology Fund that provides grants of up to 90 percent of the cost of the device.

“We believe that through the appropriate use of assistive technology, the barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities can be significantly reduced, whether it be during their work, study or in their daily lives,” he said, adding that Tech Able is more as has supported so far 1,300 people with disabilities due to their technical assistance needs.

The Roger Pen and Mylink

The Roger Pen and Mylink help hearing-impaired people pick up sounds that are transmitted to their hearing aids. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Such devices have made a huge difference for customers like Sayfullah.

The iPad has boosted his confidence, said Mdm Fadillah. “He can call people, including strangers. He can clearly state his preferences. And when we go out, I don’t have to be the third voice anymore. “

When asked if she saw a situation in which Sayfullah could live independently, Mdm Fadillah said: “Absolutely.”

While she still has to push him around in his wheelchair, she hopes that at some point he will be able to use a motorized wheelchair to get around on his own.

This will allow him to be independent, “move for himself, speak for himself,” she said. “He wants to be like a normal teenager and watch movies himself.”

As assistive technology specialists, the challenge is to help individuals “maximize their potential,” said Ms. Yong.

“(It’s about) realizing the potential, considering the possibilities and really considering their dreams so we can help the client really maximize their potential, do what they always wanted … with technology is the sky is the limit. “

In this video you can find out more about Sayfullah’s language course:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct the number of people on Tech Able’s technical technology team after the organization changed the information provided to CNA in the interview.