Eye Talk aid helps Tony find his voice

Tony Wright, in a wheelchair, with carer Richard Wood. Richard is holding the Eye Talk device and using it to help Tony communicate
Tony and carer Richard using the device

Published on 25 September 2020

A man who has had multiple sclerosis for more than 25 years has finally found his voice thanks to a device developed by East Kent Hospitals’ specialist speech therapist Nicola Fairburn. 

Tony Wright finds it tiring and difficult to communicate verbally because of his multiple sclerosis and has had limited success using different communication methods with health staff, friends and his carers.

It meant he mainly relied on answering yes or no to questions and often struggled to express his thoughts and opinions. 

But thanks to the Eye Talk device created by Nicola, who works with the Kent and Medway Communication Assistive Technology Service (KMCAT) adult team at East Kent Hospitals, he is now able to say much more.

Nicola said: “Tony has a huge personality but he’s found it really difficult to express himself before using the Eye Talk resource.

“Other methods are more complicated and have not really worked for Tony. But with Eye Talk he has really found his voice and it is wonderful to see.

“One of the first things he used it for was to ask to watch the horse racing on TV, and he was also able to share a joke with his carer.” 

Richard Wood, Tony’s carer, said the aid was hugely important for Tony’s wellbeing.

He said: “What he wants to say may not be the most important thing in the world but it’s important to him to be able to say it.

“It means he is less isolated, he can really communicate and make his views known.“He was able to ask to sit outside when we went for dinner recently.”

Before using the device, Richard would have had to anticipate that Tony might want to and then ask that specific question – he would not have been able to make the request independently.

The KMCAT adult team, part of the medical physics department at East Kent Hospitals, work with patients with complex disabilities across Kent and Medway. This includes people with brain injuries, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities. 

Many rely on alternative methods of communication such as computers with eye gaze technology, as well as paper-based aids including alphabet charts and symbol books. Physicist and author Stephen Hawking was one of the most famous users of the technology.

Nicola joined the team last year after working on the wards, and developed Eye Talk while the service was restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Eye Talk allows people to use their eyes to point to letters, without having too many choices at once. With the help of an assistant they can spell out words and sentences. 

Nicola said: “It is very portable which means it’s useful to use outside the home.

“People get quite skilled at it and can have detailed conversations. It really unlocks the world to them – they can make decisions about their care as well as more day to day issues such as what to eat or drink.

“I have always been very passionate about communication and supporting people to be engaged in conversation and it is great to work in a team that is so dedicated to doing just that.”

Eye Talk can be downloaded for free from the Trust’s website: www.ekhuft.nhs.uk/acat