The team behind the technology helping support students with disability to learn, communicate and partake in recreational activities has been recognised at the National Disability Services WA Disability Support Awards 2019.
The Independent Living Centre Western Australia’s (ILC) Community Allied Health Services (CAHS) Schools Team took home the Excellence in Innovation category at this year’s awards on Saturday 11 May.
Recognised for their project, Engaging in Eye Gaze: Collaborating and Consulting with Schools, the technology allows the user to control a computer or communication device by using the movements of their eyes.
With the potential to increase student participation in the classroom, the technology can help students turn pages, engage in books, do some painting, get involved in music or games and improve vocabulary for communication.
The project also included the development of a range of free resources including videos and information sheets to support the use of eye gaze technology.
The project was led by ILC Speech Pathologist Tanith Brien and Occupational Therapist Jen Blaxill and involved 50 students from nine Western Australian schools.
“All students have a right to access to, and participate in education,” Ms Brien says.
“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.
“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.”
Special Needs Teacher at Burbridge School, Selvarani Bird, nominated the ILC CAHS Schools Team.
Ms Bird says the initiative has opened doors and ‘eyes’ for both students and staff.
“Students really did not have access to communication where they were in control and exhibiting their own independence.
“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.”
Chief Executive Officer of ILC, Steve Glew congratulated the CAHS Schools Team.
“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,” he says.
“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.
“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.
The awards were held at Crown Perth, attracting more than 800 people from across the disability services sector and included the presentation of seven Disability Support Awards.
State Manager of NDS WA Julie Waylen says the WA Disability Support Awards celebrate the significant contribution of individuals and teams who support people with disability to achieve their goals.
“They demonstrate the very real difference that people working in this sector can make to the lives of people with disability and the communities we live in.
‘’This year we received more than 100 nominations, an outstanding number which demonstrates the passion and dedication at the heart of the disability services sector and its focus on people with disability and their quality of life.’’
This year’s winners were:
- Excellence in Home and Family Support Award – Anna Wright, Senses Australia
- Excellence in Improving Employment Opportunities Award – Valued Lives Microenterprise Project Team: Geraldine Maddrell and Jorden Garnaut, Valued Lives Foundation
- Excellence in Innovation Award – CAHS Schools Team: Alison Senior; Jen Blaxill and Tanith Brien, Independent Living Centre WA
- Excellence in Regional Support Award – Joint winners Cyril Yeeda, Far North Community Services and The Carnarvon Team: Daniel Norrish; Phillip Braun; Ceilidh Christey; Janelle Mathews; Greg Rose and Alishea Laing, Avivo
- Excellence in Advocacy and Rights Promotion Award – Janis Turnbull, One2One
- Excellence in Supporting Social Inclusion Award – Ryan Honschooten, VisAbility
- Excellence in Leadership Award – Tony Chorley, Activ Foundation
"The Awards build on the long-term commitment of the WA disability services sector to offer solutions and develop creative strategies with an unwavering commitment to deliver better outcomes for people with disability," Ms Waylen says.
"Over the past 11 years, the Awards have celebrated this remarkable approach in its finest form."