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Pyramid member tries eye gaze technology to maximize communication

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

John, a nonverbal member at Pyramid, a day habilitation program in Springfield, Massachusetts, is finding his voice and independence. He is experimenting with a highly advanced augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC, device. The eye gaze and tracking software uses his sight and head movements to maneuver a mouse-like instrument to trigger a computer icon. When it does, an artificial voice says John’s message.

John, a Pyramid member, works with an outside consultant to learn about the eye gaze technology in the Kozera Conference Room at 60 Brookdale Drive in Springfield, Massachusetts.

John has cerebral palsy, a congenital movement disorder that affects his motion and voice. Although he frequently uses a two-sided low-communication board that operates without batteries, electronics, or electricity to communicate, he’s expressed interested in a more effective approach.

“Anything that makes people independent when communicating is wonderful,” said Brad Pellissier, Pyramid director. “We often make presumptions that when people can’t express their thoughts, they are less intelligent. That’s not the case, John just needs the means to communicate with assistance.”

To achieve success with the device, John works with two outside consultants. Although John appeared frustrated on the first try, he made significant progress.

Michael Clark, an assisted technology specialist who’s been working with Pyramid members for the past two years, said uneasiness is common and it’s a good sign. “You know you’re doing it well if you’re frustrated,” he said. “That’s the hallmark, because it’s hard to do. But, if we do it right, we give someone their voice back and the ability to get what they want and need.”

Once John becomes more comfortable with the device, he’ll be able to initiate conversation, without using any other body movements, access the internet and social media, and regain his independence.