New tech helps people with aphasia write their own story

Students from the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering (MIME) and Monash Young Medtech Innovators (MYMI) have teamed up with Monash Health speech pathologists and their patients to develop technology to assist people living with aphasia to communicate.

Combining tech skills, clinical expertise and a lived experience of aphasia has resulted in Project QWERTY, a unique customisable website that offers a high-tech but simple-to-use solution to a life-changing health care problem.

Project QWERTY allows people with aphasia to improve their written skills and can be used on a tablet or desktop device for greater independence and access to rehabilitation.

Aphasia is a neurological disorder and communication disability which can affect the ability to speak, read or write language. Currently, there are 140,000 Australians living with aphasia which can range from mild to severe. Cognition can remain intact.

Notably, Hollywood celebrity Bruce Willis recently announced that he was suffering from aphasia.

Aphasia can be caused by stroke, brain tumour or brain injury with 38% of stroke survivors impacted by aphasia. It can have a significant impact on all areas of a person’s quality of life.

“This website allows people with aphasia to practice typing and spelling words that are meaningful to them, such as the names of friends and family or even their own personal details so they can independently fill out the paperwork when they go to an appointment,” says speech pathologist Jenny Walsh, a co-creator of Project QWERTY.

The project was funded through the Healthcare Innovation Summer Scholarships (HISS), supported by MIME and MYMI, along with support from Monash Health and their volunteers.

Speech pathologist Grace Schofield who also worked on the project says the website is easy to use and very practical. She recently used the website to help a patient practice words that enabled them to continue running their own business.

“Some people will use the website as a tool to ultimately enable them to return to work by targeting words that are unique to their workplace, others may use it to access an online newspaper or even footy scores. It’s all about giving people with aphasia independence to live their lives,” she says.

June is National Aphasia Awareness month.