On Saturday 11 May, the Independent Living Centre WA (ILC) Community Allied Health Services (CAHS) Schools Team were announced as the winners for the NDS WA Disability Support Awards 2019 in the category of Excellence in Innovation.
The awards honour disability support workers who provide the highest standard of support to increase the quality of life and inclusion of people with disability.
Held at Crown Perth, the awards ceremony attracted more than 800 people from across the disability services sector and included the presentation of seven Disability Support Awards.
ILC’s CAHS Schools Team was nominated specifically for their work with The Engaging in Eye Gaze: Collaborating and Consulting with Schools Project.
The project trialled eye gaze technology in schools to demonstrate how this technology can support students with complex physical needs to learn, communicate and participate in recreation activities.
The project led to increased awareness amongst schools about how eye gaze technology can help to maximize students’ educational outcomes.
In addition, the project increased access to this technology in schools through the development of a range of free resources including videos and information sheets to support the use of eye gaze technology.
Eye gaze technology allows the user to control a computer or communication device by using the movements of their eyes.
The technology has the potential to benefit a range of people including students with complex physical needs who have difficulty pointing to or manipulating recreation, communication or learning materials.
Within the classroom, eye gaze technology has the potential to increase students’ participation in classroom activities, with examples including turning the pages and engaging with books, completing a painting with their eyes, engaging in play and recreation such as music or games, as well as giving access to vocabulary for communication.
Led by ILC Speech Pathologist Tanith Brien and Occupational Therapist Jen Blaxill, the project involved around 50 students from nine West Australian schools.
A range of clinics were provided onsite at schools to enable students who may benefit from its use to trial eye gaze technology. Support and training was also provided to schools who either own or hired eye gaze systems.
Ms Brien said that while eye gaze technology itself isn’t new, it is becoming more accessible and the trial within schools demonstrated its potential for supporting students in a range of ways as well as assisting teachers to assess students.
“All students have a right to access to, and participate in, education.
“This trial demonstrated that eye gaze technology can support lots of different students in a range of ways.
“For example, as well as supporting students to communicate and learn, the technology is a great tool for helping them to develop skills for play,” said Ms Brien.
“This technology can also assist teachers to assess a student’s knowledge and understanding when other methods such as writing, pointing or speaking an answer are difficult.”
The ILC CAHS Schools Team was nominated for the award by Burbridge School Special Needs Teacher Selvarani Bird.
“As a special needs teacher, I have tried to source appropriate communication modalities for students presenting with complex disabilities. Invariably the locus of control always appeared to rest with me or my staff because we only had the option of inferring student communicative intent from their unconventional behaviour, such as facial expressions, body movements and vocalisations, and nothing else.
“Students really did not have access to communication where they were in control and exhibiting their own independence,” said Ms Bird.
“ILC’s initiative in bringing eye gaze technology to our school opened doors and ‘eyes’ for both our students and staff. For the very first time we were able to see firsthand how capable our students are, when given the correct communication tools.
“Our students with complex disabilities may not be able to speak or even move their hands or bodies, yet they were able to communicate in a real and authentic way, by using this wonderful technology.
“The smiles and looks of pleasant surprise as students realised that they were making things happen on screen by looking at images or orientation towards auditory cues was a breakthrough for not only the staff but especially the students.
“The success of this trial prompted the school to keep rehiring the equipment throughout 2018 as we could see the value it was adding to students’ lives by enhancing and supporting their communicative abilities.”
ILC Chief Executive Officer Steve Glew congratulated the CAHS Schools Team on being the winners for this award.
“I am very proud to be a part of this organisation as I get to work amongst people who are so passionate about their work and about supporting people with disability to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.
“Our speech pathologists and occupational therapists are known for their expertise in assistive technology and for thinking outside the box to find the best solutions for individuals,” said Mr Glew.
“There were so many worthy nominees for this award and we are privileged to have been announced as the winner.
“I would like to congratulate the CAHS schools team and acknowledge their hard work and passion. I also offer my congratulations to the other award nominees and finalists.”
As part of the Engaging in Eye Gaze project a video series and information sheets have been produced to support the successful use of eye gaze technology in the classroom. These free resources are available at https://ilc.com.au/engaging-in-eye-gaze/
The project was funded through a grant from the Non Government Centre Support for Non-School Organisations.
For further information about how ILC can provide support for individuals or schools visit https://ilc.com.au/schools/or phone (08) 9381 0600.
ILC is a not-for-profit organisation whose vision is a community in which participation, living independently and inclusion are valued and supported.