Communication is taken for granted by the average person. He can enter a store and ask for a coke.He can say ‘excuse me’ and be allowed to pass. He can express his anger when treated unfairly. For some, though, it is not so simple. A stroke patient, an accident victim, a child born with a genetic disorder may be cut off from human communication due to his inability to speak.
Technological advances have enabled innovative devices to be used to provide the patient with the ability to communicate. He may use his finger to point on a communication board. He may touch a selected square on a touch screen or he may type on a keyboard to make his needs, his thoughts and opinions known to others.
In1997, with financial assistance from Israel’s National Insurance Institute, Ezer Mizion opened a loan center to lend out highly specialized Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) equipment.
But what if his cognitive abilities are on par with his peers and he has many thoughts inside his head that he would like to share with others. He may have strong opinions on what is currently being discussed. Yet the standard communication devices cannot be used. He cannot point on a communication board or type on a keyboard because he is not able to extend his arm or maneuver his fingers to do so. Should he remain, his thoughts imprisoned, locked away from the outside world, unable to even express a simple need for a drink of water?
In response to their needs, Ezer Mizion is expanding its services to include a Motor Accessibility Unit.
With additional funding from the National Insurance Institute, systems and accessories to make alternative communication devices more accessible to those that are not only speech impaired but also mobility challenged were purchased at a cost of over $250,000. These accessories enable people with significant motor impairments to communicate using special accessibility solutions. The solutions significantly improve quality of life and provide these people with greater independence and active participation in daily life.
In recent years, there has been notable progress at many levels in the use of AAC equipment and speech generating devices in Israel.
The most dramatic development is in the area of controlling the computer by eye tracking (eye gaze systems). The system of gaze control is an independent system that enables a person to have full control over the computer by moving his pupils.
In ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is characterized by the patient’s progressive deterioration, the ability to use a computer regresses as the disease intensifies. Therefore, it is necessary to find the means of accessibility that is appropriate for each stage, so that the patient can continue using the computer and maintain his communication with those around him.
In addition, other accessories may be called for, such as: dynamic support for the forearms, a smaller keyboard, use of an IPad, and use of a mouse operated by head movements, etc.
With the expansion of the inventory, it is now possible for a patient to borrow this highly specialized equipment and exchange them for others as needed throughout the stages of various illnesses and conditions.
Ezer Mizion occupational therapists perform patient evaluations for computer accessibility in the patient’s home. With disease progression, options are given for a renewed evaluation by Ezer Mizion’s occupational therapist, and based on the new recommendations, to exchange the accessibility accessories, so as to match physical function at any given time.
Obtaining an eye-tracking system is conditional on an evaluation of suitability by professionals approved by the heads of Ezer Mizion’s Accessibility Unit. Devices are loaned for a limited period of 3 months, because of the waiting list for these devices.
Loans are all made free of charge following submission of a security check as collateral and a monthly credit card charge to cover insurance for the duration of the device loan period.
Ezer Mizion’s Communication Aids Lending Center is open: Sun., Tues., and Thurs. from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Mon. from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tues. from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. by appointment only.
by Debbie Ben-Tal, OT,
Director, Accessibility Unit
Ezer Mizion Communication Aids Lending Center