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Staplehurst man with multiple sclerosis learns to talk with his eyes thanks to device created by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust

A newly-framed photo of Tony Wright and his dad Gordon sits pride of place on Tony's mantle piece in Staplehurst.

To a casual visitor this may seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but to Tony, 58, who has had multiple sclerosis for more than 25 years, it is evidence of the difference a new communication system has already made in his life.

Tony and carer Richard demonstrate how to use Eye Talk

Gordon recently passed away and Tony, using his eyes and a device called Eye Talk, was able to tell his carer that he was thinking about his dad and wanted to see a picture of him, and subsequently get it framed.

Tony's speech has deteriorated to the point that carer Richard Wood finds it hard to understand him, and previous communications tools had been difficult to use and left Tony frustrated.

This meant he often struggled to express thoughts and make independent requests.

Eye Talk was developed by Nicola Fairburn, a specialist speech therapist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.

It allows people to use their eyes to point to letters, without having too many choices at once. With the help of an assistant they can spell out words and sentences.

Tony Wright and carer Richard Wood demonstrate how to use Eye Talk
Tony Wright and carer Richard Wood demonstrate how to use Eye Talk

Tony can't move his hands to write or type, but his head and eye movements are reliable.

Being the first person to receive Eye Talk, since May Tony has gone from using it spell one word, to devising sentences.

Richard, who has been with Tony for eight years, said: “What he wants to say may not be the most important thing in the world but it’s important to him to be able to say it.

“It means he is less isolated, he can really communicate and make his views known.

"Tony was so much more comfortable when he had that photo in his lap."

"When I first met Tony he could say anything he wanted, but slowly his capacity to speak became less and less."

"He's very much a people person, before he could spend a whole day on the phone, but as his voice capacity lessened unfortunately people tended not to phone up as much."

Villagers in the street who would want to chat to Tony found they couldn't communicate with him before, but now when they spot him using Eye Talk, they try to guess what he's saying, and it becomes a game, Richard said.

Tony has also been able to share memories of his earlier years, from buying a racing greyhound with his friends, to watching the Mary Rose, the famous ship which sank in the 1500s in battle, being pulled from the Solent in the 1980s.

Nicola works with the Kent and Medway Communication Assistive Technology Service and developed Eye Talk while services were restricted during the pandemic.

She said: “It is very portable which means it’s useful to use outside the home.

“People get quite skilled at it and can have detailed conversations. It really unlocks the world to them, they can make decisions about their care as well as more day to day issues such as what to eat or drink.

“I have always been very passionate about communication and supporting people to be engaged in conversation and it is great to work in a team that is so dedicated to doing just that.”

Eye Talk can be downloaded for free from the trust’s website here.

To keep up-to-date with all the latest developments with your local hospitals and other health stories, click here.

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