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Assistive technology: 'I have difficulty speaking and I use my iPad as a communications device to speak'

I don’t like to think of what my life would be like without the use of assistive technology, writes Anne O’Brien.

Anne O'Brien Disability activist

Prior to having a stroke Anne O’Brien was an entrepreneur and ran her own catering business. As a result of her stroke, Anne now has aphasia, which affects her language ability, and is a wheelchair user. Anne is an assistive technology (AT) user and attends Enable Ireland Kerry Adult Services four days a week.

I DON’T LIKE to think of what my life would be like without the use of assistive technology. I use several different types of assistive technology in my life. A lot of the technology I use will be familiar to most people – my iPad, Facebook, a magnifying glass.

For some people they are tools that can make life easier or more entertaining, but for me they are absolutely essential to my independence. Assistive technology can be anything from my power and manual wheelchairs to my iPad with communication applications.

My iPad is a communications device

As a result of my stroke, I have aphasia which means that I have difficulty speaking and I use my iPad as a communications device to speak. I have an aphasia application with specific pictures and words to help me to communicate with others.

I also have a Go Talk Now application that allows me to speak sentences as a communication aid. With the help of this piece of technology, I am able to present disability presentation workshops to others.

I attend Enable Ireland Adult Services in Tralee four days a week, where they have a specific staff member who is trained in the use of assistive technology. This person has developed a sign-in and schedule station for all adults using the services to access themselves using their own assistive technology devices, such as switches.

A switch is an assistive technology device that replaces the need to use a computer keyboard or a mouse. I can sign myself in and check my own daily schedule. This is important to help me maintain independence over how I spend my day.

I also use my iPad for browsing social media and I love to keep up with my family and friends in America and Ireland using Facebook.

Technology allows me to be independent

Source: enableirelandat/YouTube

I ran a catering business prior to having my stroke. Assistive technology and other supports means that I am able to adapt to my current situation by continuing to attend community groups, socialise and develop my creative and business skills.

I attend a social creative community group in the Tralee Women’s Resource Centre once a week and, with the help of a volunteer, design and make my own cards to raise funds for Enable Ireland. I use visual aids that help me do my art project.

I have adapted from being a right handed person to a left handed artist using these simple assistive technologies. I have a standing board to position my art in front of me and a magnifying glass to assist me to see detail in pictures and writing.

Assistive technology allows me to be as independent as possible. It means that I can get involved and play a greater role in my community. I am very grateful for the opportunity to access and utilise all the technology on offer.

The FreedomTech Assembly that’s on today 16 November in the Aviva Stadium is a really important event because it will highlight the important role that assistive technology can play in the lives of people with disabilities and older people. Providing everybody with access to the right AT, with the right training and supports in place, is essential to enable people to live as independently as possible.

Anne O’Brien is an assistive technology (AT) user and attends Enable Ireland Kerry Adult Services. FreedomTech is a partnership between Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) committed to developing an effective AT service in Ireland. 

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About the author:

Anne O'Brien  / Disability activist

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