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Cutting Edge Technology for Disabled Revealed

A system which allows disabled people to control a computer simply by using their eyes is just one of the cutting edge developments being unveiled at a conference in Glasgow this week (April 21-22).

The Technology for Living conference is being hosted by leading Scottish not-for-profit organisation Momentum which provides a specialist assistive technology service, Assist, for people with a spinal cord injury. At the conference experts from across the UK will hear about the latest technology which helps people with spinal injuries to lead more independent lives.

Assist is based at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, the only unit of its kind in Scotland and the innovative service helps people with spinal cord injury to reconnect to the outside world by using specially adapted computers. These computers can be adapted in a range of ways to make them accessible to people with spinal injury.

Assist’s location within the spinal injuries unit allows early specialist intervention so that patients receive assessment, rehabilitation and training as soon as possible following their accident.

The conference, which is being held in conjunction with the National Spinal Injuries Unit and MASCIP (Multidisciplinary Association of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals), will examine the latest developments in emerging technologies such as the ability of the eye to control a computer.

One of the initiatives under the spotlight will be Communication by Gaze Interaction (COGAIN), a project which develops equipment and software to allows people to communicate with their eye gaze only, using eye tracking techniques to improve the life of people with motor control disorders.

Other technologies being showcased include speech recognition, word predictive software and ‘Smart’ housing which looks at ways of incorporating assistive technology when homes are being built.

Garry Ryan, National Outreach Worker for Momentum’s Assist programme will be among the speakers. Assist’s outreach programme takes the Assist service to help people in their own homes across Scotland, following their discharge from hospital and is believed to be unique in the UK.

One of Garry’s clients is Scott Breslin, 20, who was left paralysed following an unprovoked knife attack almost four years ago.

Scott spent nine months is hospital and began working with Momentum’s Assist programme while he was a patient in the Southern General’s Spinal Injury Unit. He worked with Assist manager Geoff Orry who introduced him to voice recognition technology which allowed him to operate a computer by speaking commands.

Over the last year, Garry has visited Scott at his home in the Penilee area of Glasgow every week, providing ongoing training and support. Garry also assisted Scott to secure funding for a new laptop after problems developed with his existing computer. Scott is now using the technology to help him study for a core skills course through Reid Kerr College and hopes to go on to study psychology and sociology.

Scott said: “Before I was in hospital I had never used a computer and speaking to one felt a bit strange at first. Once I got used to that though I found I had much more freedom to do things for myself - I no longer relied on people to type for me.

“I now use the laptop for my college work, writing essays and accessing the Internet. I can also surf the net to keep up to date with things I’m interested in like football, fashion and music and I’m starting to use e-mail to keep in touch with other people. The support I have had from Momentum has definitely increased my level of independence.”

Also speaking will be Dr Donal McAnaney, Director of Research and Innovation, with Rehab Group, Momentum’s parent organisation, who will talk about assessing good practice in innovation.

Geoff Orry, manager of Momentum’s Assist programme, said: “People with a spinal cord injury are often in hospital for a lengthy period of time. The assistive technology that we support people to use at Assist is based on adapting computers to people rather than the other way round and helps people to realise the possibilities that lie ahead.

“We can utilise technology to allow spinal cord injured patients access to Internet and e-mail facilities direct from their bedside, helping them to keep in touch with what is happening in the world outside the hospital and with family and friends.

“Hosting this event will allow us to learn from and share knowledge with our international colleagues. By bringing together the leading specialists in the field, we will be able to exchange good practice and hope to explore ways of spinal units working closer together to exert influence on future assistive technology design.'

For further information about Momentum’s Assist programme, call Geoff Orry on 0141 201 2205 or log on to www.momentumscotland.org

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