Eva Park Open Day
Staff and participants celebrate end of project at City
The culmination of the Eva Park project was celebrated at an event at City University London this week.
Bringing together staff from the Division of Language and Communication Science (LCS) and the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID) as well as participants from the project, the celebration included a range of talks from all involved and also demonstrations of the project itself.
Developed by the LCS and HCID team, Eva Park is an multi-user virtual world which enables people with aphasia - a language disorder which can lead to the loss of the ability to speak - to engage in conversation with support workers in a variety of virtual locations, giving them the opportunity to practise functional and social conversations and gain confidence. Examples include everyday conversations that most of us take for granted, such as ordering food in a restaurant, buying items in a shop or calling the police in an emergency.
Introducing the project to the audience, Professor Jill Francis, Associate Dean for Research in the School of Health Sciences, praised the amazing collaboration and levels of creativity between the two faculties.
Professor Jane Marshall, Divisional Lead of Language and Communication Science at City University London and project lead, then spoke about how the virtual world was created and announced results which showed that Eva can lead to significant improvements in the everyday communication skills of people with aphasia.
Other people also spoke about their experience as consultants, support workers and as participants with aphasia. All were very positive about their involvement in Eva, and commented on the benefits for their learning, communication and confidence.
Funded by The Stroke Association, the City team carefully created EVA Park from open-source software, guided by the input of five people who have aphasia following left hemisphere stroke using series of ten co-design workshops. As a result, settings were included that would enable specific scenarios to be practiced, with emphasis on the experience being fun and enjoyable. This also ensured that Eva Park is easily accessible and navigable by people with aphasia, who often have right-sided weakness following a stroke.
Speaking about the experience, one family member said: "When we go to church, he’s more confident in having conversations with people, whereas before he would hold back more. Now he’s been more spontaneous. Talking about sports etc and I know he’s been talking about the same topics in EVA Park. He’s had a practice so he’s extending what he’s talking about outside."
The team also ran an election narrative for a fictional mayoral election during the project, enabling participants to practice language associated with such an event.
Professor Marshall also spoke about the future research direction for Eva, with plans to create Eva Park Road Shows, online Eva Park open days, and online training for speech and language therapists. A key ambition is to create an on-going national Eva Park service, possibly run in collaboration with a voluntary sector organisation.
Speaking about the event, Professor Marshall said: “The event was a great success. It was fantastic to bring together most of the participants, support works and City staff who were involved at the various stages of Eva Park. The results have been really positive, and have shown that supported conversation within Eva can improve the everyday communication of people with aphasia. We’re currently looking for further funding opportunities and hopefully we can continue to offer such a service much more broadly in the future. We are convinced that Eva Park can make a significant impact on the lives of people with aphasia.”