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Helping people with aphasia engage with IT

City University London course helps people with aphasia gain access to technology
by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

A community computer course run by staff and students at City University London has helped people who have developed aphasia following a stroke to improve their IT skills and gain access to much of the technology society takes for granted.

The SPeech and Language Information Technology (SPLIT) course, which was celebrated at an event held at City last month, involved 18 people from the local community with students and staff from the Division of Language and Communication Science.

Aphasia is a condition that affects the brain and leads to problems using language correctly. Most commonly caused by a stroke - and often affecting older people - aphasia can result in difficulty remembering words to losing the ability to speak, read, or write.

Led by Dr Madeline Cruice, Tess Lancashire and Sukhpreet Aujla, during the SPLIT course people with aphasia worked one-on-one with City speech and language therapy students for up to two hours a week on how to engage with technology. People learned basic skills on computers such as using Word, writing emails, browsing the web, watching videos on YouTube, exploring Facebook and also talking to relatives on Skype. The team also ran drop-in sessions over the 10-week course to trouble-shoot and provide more learning time.

Speaking about the project, Dr Madeline Cruice, Senior Lecturer in Language and Communication Science at City, said: "The project was a fantastic success as it enabled us to get to know a lot of people with aphasia in the local community, while also highlighting the importance of a good quality of life and the services that Universities can provide to the local community.

"Many of the participants had never used computers or mobile technology before, and as IT is now such an important part of everyday life it was great to be able to provide a platform for learning at City University London that could benefit the community and people with aphasia."

"As the project is run by people with aphasia for people with aphasia, we avoided a lot of explanation and they already know where you're coming from as they've been there themselves," said Gareth Jones, one of the people with aphasia who took part in SPLIT. 

The celebratory event, organised by SPLIT leader Tess Lancashire, featured several guest speakers including Professor Cathy Price from UCL, who spoke about her research into aphasia and how she is investigating the causes behind it. She is using high definition brain scanning to improve models of how the brain produces language, enabling her to reduce inconsistencies and improve accuracy when diagnosing people post-stroke. Professor Price is now also collaborating with 50 hospitals across the UK to develop a clinical tool.

Other guest speakers included Dr Tom Balchin, Founder and Director of the Action for Rehabilitation from Neurological Injury (ARNI) Institute, which matches one of its 162 qualified instructors across the UK with stroke survivors to help with their recovery.

Paul Hunter, an artistic director of the Told by an Idiottheatre company, also spoke about a recent play he has devised and performed in. Titled My Perfect Mind, the play documents the autobiographical story of how acclaimed actor Edward Petherbridge suffered a stroke whilst learning the role of King Lear in New Zealand in 2007, and his subsequent recovery to perform with Paul in the play around the UK and Spain in 2013 and 2014. They are also due to take the play to New York this year for a further run.

Definition
Aphasia

Aphasia is the name given to a collection of language disorders which have in common that they are caused by damage to the brain

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