Stroke survivor gets voice thanks to assistive technology

By Ryan Young, 11 July 2016 , Comments

Blinking was the only way stroke survivor Rachel Rohrlach could communicate for 25 long years.

During that time she tried a range of assistive technology options that didn’t work for her but now Rachel has found a new option that is set to give her a whole new lease on life.

Last month Rachel and her advocate travelled for seven hours, from the tiny town of Bundarra to Parramatta, to meet speech pathologist Alana Bain and occupational therapist Kathy Prasad.

They carried out an assessment on Rachel to see if she would be able to successfully use eye gaze technology to operate a device that would communicate her messages.

Rachel Rohrlach sitting in her wheelchair smiling as she successfully uses eye gaze technology at Northcott

“By using her eyes, Rachel was able to access the computer and with practice, we hope she will be able to spell out messages which will then be spoken out loud,” Kathy said.

“This was a very emotional moment for all involved.”

Alana said Rachel will now be able to take her assessment report to her NDIS planning meeting so her goal to independently communicate can be supported.

“She is also hoping to get money in her plan so that the local speech pathologist can support her to trial and learn how to use the device to its full potential,” Alana said.

To find out more about the work Kathy and Alana do, we asked them a few questions. Here are their responses.

What does an assistive technology assessment involve?

We chat to our customers about what they want to achieve and what their skills and abilities are.

We also provide recommendations about what equipment may help them to meet their goals. This could range from something as basic as an adapted keyboard, to something more complex like eye gaze computer control.

Why do some people go without the services and support you provide?

Sometimes customers may not know about our services, they may find it hard to secure funding for the costs associated with getting an assessment or there may not be services where they live and travel can be too expensive.

Also if someone has had a bad experience with technology in the past this may be a barrier to them getting more support.

What are the consequences of not being able to communicate?

Not having a way of communicate would be extremely isolating and frustrating. Imagine what it would be like to not being able to talk independently to anyone for one whole day, and then in Rachel’s case, multiply it by 25 years.

Why do you enjoy your role?

We enjoy assisting people so they can reach their potential. We like providing ideas and suggestions to our customers so they can develop new skills to achieve their goals.

It’s also great to work with people who have a variety of needs that require us to sometimes think outside the box to find solutions.

Seeing the smile on a customer’s face, when they are able to communicate something independently after so much struggle, is also rewarding.

Why do you think it is important for everyone to be able to communicate?

Communication is the foundation of all human relationships. It includes using symbols or pictures, speech, writing, sign language, body language, gestures and more. Our ability to communicate allows us to form relationships, learn and spread knowledge.

Daniel Webster, a famous politician and author, said “If all of my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would regain all the rest.” 

Northcott Speech Pathologist Alana Bain and Occupational Therapist Kathy Prasad are proud and passionate supporters of the rights of people with disability to communicate. They are pictured here standing and smiling

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