Accessing resources which enable students with profound disabilities to communicate with others is a key part of the educational opportunities offered at Livability’s Victoria Education Centre in Poole.
“We all do better when we have things in our lives to talk about that become part of our story and experience. That’s what I want for our students,” says educational support worker Paula Allcroft. Paula works with Sam, who, like all VEC students, receives support and advice from the multi-disciplinary team at the school, to ensure he has access to the most appropriate technology for his needs.
For Sam, Eyegaze technology has transformed how he connects with others. Eyegaze allows some people who cannot use a keyboard to control a computer by directing their gaze at on-screen commands.
Working with tools like Eyegaze means some students can literally speak for themselves through the computer, join in lessons and access hobbies. “Sam can give a presentation at the front of class by himself. It gives him such a boost of confidence because he is able to take part – he can be like everyone else. So he can come in and say good morning, and communicate one to one, on his own,” explains Paula.
Music is a huge part of most teenagers’ stories, and Eyegaze has opened up this world to Sam – he can now find, listen to and share music with his friends. “Sam can change the channel on the radio and choose what music he wants to listen to,” says Paula.
Telling your own story, in your own words, is hugely liberating. “Everything took so much longer before Sam found his own voice,” says Paula. “You might take this for granted, but Eyegaze makes so much possible for our students. Sam can even butt into conversations and be a teenager now!”
Last year, VEC was delighted when Bournemouth University won a prestigious Times Higher Education Award for their development work with VEC staff and students. The team created a new Eyegaze application for sculpture called SHIVA, which enables users to create 3D design and print models, a fast-growing area of technology.