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Hannah moves towards independence

Finding innovative, technological solutions to support students to become as independent as possible is something that is done well at National Star.

With the help of the Student Technology team, first–year student Hannah is preparing to drive a power wheelchair using eye gaze technology.

Wheelchairs are a common sight at National Star, with more than 100 students relying upon them to get to their lessons and out and about in the local community. How each wheelchair is controlled and manoeuvred depends on the student’s ability. Some students use their hands to operate joysticks and tray mounted switches, while others rely upon head or foot switches.

Hannah currently relies upon a manual wheelchair, which requires a member of staff to push her wheelchair to move her around. But like other young people, she is desperate to be more independent and less reliant on others in every aspect of her life.

Hannah has mastered the art of using her eye movements to control her communication device and talks to her friends and family by controlling an electronic communication device using eye gaze technology. By looking at a complex grid of cells on a screen, she can make choices and express her feelings to others.

Having become disillusioned with other wheelchair control systems, including proximity switches positioned close to her jaw, Hannah was giving up hope of ever being able to take independent control of her own wheelchair.

However, with support from Product Design Graduate, now Assistive Technology Technician, Maizie Morgan, Hannah is beginning to learn how to control a wheelchair using eye gaze technology.

Using Drivedeck, a smart platform which allows students to sit in their own manual wheelchairs while they develop skills in independent driving, Hannah is exploring how to control her wheelchair using eye gaze technology. This clever piece of equipment provides a fun, safe and secure way for Hannah to learn how to drive and manoeuvre her wheelchair.

Now Hannah, who is excited for her wheelchair driving sessions each week, looks set to be one of the first people in the UK to trial an eye gaze control system for power wheelchairs, after Maizie tracked down an innovative company in the USA pioneering the technology.

When asked about how she felt about driving her chair independently, Hannah zipped through her eye gaze to say: ‘It is amazing, and easy peasy, lemon squeezy’ with a big smile.

National Star’s Occupational Therapy team, which includes technology specialists like Maizie, invest time and expertise in helping students to develop independent driving skills. This enables young people with complex disabilities to get out and about without relying upon others for the first time in their lives.

With support from donors like you we can invest in more specialist equipment to enable this life–changing work. Find out more about National Star’s Occupational Therapy programme

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