Technology has enabled this teenager with cerebral palsy to find her voice
Ganga has severe motor limitations and cannot move her limbs or fingers easily. Her eyes do all the talking for her. Whether it's asking for a cup of tea or sharing a cheeky joke, her ability to communicate with the world around is not impaired by severe cerebral palsy.
Enabling her to do this is an eye tracking technology that has helped her break out of the limits of her disabilities and learn more about all the world around her.
Ganga was about four years old when she came to live at of Shishur Sevay, a centre for orphan girls, with and without disabilities in Kolkata. "She could not even roll over", says Dr Michelle Harrison, Founder, Shishur Sevay. "She only had her eyes and they followed everything going on. She wanted to interact with everyone, and she wanted to be in the classroom with the others, focusing on the teacher."
This lively curiosity led Dr Harrison to look closely into different assistive technologies that could enable Ganga to learn more.
Ganga wanted to communicate and I wanted to understand what she wanted, what she was thinking. We tried adaptive keyboards, head pointers, and other communication aids. She just didn't have the finger coordination or the head control to use them. - Dr Michelle Harrison, Founder, Shishur Sevay
Dr Harrison then found out about the eye tracking technology of Tobii Dynavox, which enables people with disabilities to communicate through their eyes. Tobii Dynavox is among the leading global providers of eye-tracking and gaze interaction-based Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices that help anyone with significant communication challenges communicate more effectively.
"Education and self-expression are among the basic activities that can be limited by cerebral palsy", says Kunal Naik, Founder-Director, WTMB, the India partner of Tobii Dynavox. "It's difficult to learn to read or write when it's impossible to hold a book or control a pencil. With eye-gaze technology, students can write by simply gazing at a keyboard on a computer screen. They can turn pages in electronic books with a glance. Thanks to new and empowering technologies, students with CP now can learn and express themselves with relative independence."
Be it history, geography, nature or the daily news, the eye tracker is enabling Ganga to explore the world around her by simply gazing at the computer. She has learned to surf the web without having to use her hands or fingers. Her life has even been the subject of a photographer's portfolio and she has been featured in an exhibition.
"The technology has opened up a world of possibilities for children for whom other assistive technologies that need fine motor control are not an option", says Purba Rudra, who is a member of the team at Shishur Sevay. "Since we got this, it has changed the way Ganga and the other children with disabilities here are able to communicate. The technology gives the options for her to choose what she wants to say".
The eye tracker is user-centric and needs just a half to one-day training on software for caregivers, says Naik. "For users, it would depend on the cognitive levels."
Currently the technology is being used at All India Institute of Physical and Medical rehabilitation (AIIPMER), Mumbai, Asha Ek Hope, a Mumbai NGO and All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH) in Mysuru, to name a few.
Like Ganga, this technology is helping to change the lives of many other people with disabilities in India.