By Elton Gomes
You may have heard of the popular proverb—”eyes are the windows to the soul”—a new innovation aims to effectively render verbal communication unnecessary, by enhancing the communicative abilities of the human eye. An advertising agency has partnered with a non-profit organisation to produce a guide that will help patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Motor Neurone Diseases (MND), communicate by simply moving their eyes.
Advertising agency TBWA’s India branch came up with the concept of developing an eye language after one of their employees provided care for an ALS patient at home. The advertising agency developed the world’s first eye language guide known as Blink to Speak. The language guide is aimed at helping patients who are unable to make hand gestures, to communicate simply by moving their eyes.
The non-profit orgnaisation Asha Ek Hope foundation, along with TBWA India, launched the guide on April 19th. The non-profit organisation said that the guide is free of cost and can be downloaded via their website.
Asha Ek Hope foundation for ALS/MND and NeuroGen Brain and Spine Institute and TBWA has launched the world’s first eye sign language book “BLINK TO SPEAK” This Guidebook is free of cost for all patients & you can also download by clicking on the link https://t.co/FfyHF7GFWE pic.twitter.com/PVp1FHJFm3
— Asha Ek Hope (@AshaEkHope) April 19, 2018
Here’s what happened
Communicating with ALS patients, and those suffering from other neurological disorders, has always been problematic, as patients tend to lose their ability to speak, instead, using their hands to communicate.
Although there are now various electronic communication devices available in the market that can help both caregivers and patients communicate, these devices generally come with exorbitant price tags. Moreover, some caretakers might find using such devices tedious, and might not know how to use them effectively.
A cheaper and effective mode of communication was therefore, the need of the hour, and that is where TBWA India stepped in.
“The idea came to us when one of our team members, Geet Rathi, was caring for an ALS patient at home. The patient’s body was giving up slowly, and he was in the last stages of ALS,” Parixit Bhattacharya, Managing Partner, Creative, at TBWA India, told the Better India.
Bhattacharya added how Rathi spoke to the patient: “She ended up talking to him through the blinking of eyes. She would write common messages on the curtains of the room and the patient would point to the pertinent one with his eye.”
Rathi then conceived the idea to create an eye-language guide book, and Bhattacharya brought on board a team to fully develop the entire language, with the help of Dr. Hemangi Sane.
Dr. Sane is the founder of Asha ek Hope foundation, one of the largest organisations for ALS and MND patients in India. Dr. Sane gave inputs to TBWA India on what other messages could be added, as reported by the Better India.
The team came up with 50 eye movements. These movements were assigned to everyday messages that patients would want to tell their caretakers or anyone around them.
Geet Rathi, creative director at TBWA India, spoke to Qrius about why such a guide is such a crucial necessity. “When a language like this is embedded in their (patients with ALS) minds they don’t have to rely on any expensive assistive technology and are free to express what they want,” Rathi told this reporter. “Blink to Speak is a language that’s extremely easy to learn. It can be learnt slowly starting with 5 actions a day. Simple and relatable eye movements have been used.”
Explaining about keeping eye movements to a minimum, Rathi added, “No combination is required for them to do more than four movements together. Sometimes the caregiver may not understand the eye movements due to loss of muscle or facial disfigurement, and hence, if the user repeated the message twice or thrice, it won’t be confused with another message.”
Why is this important?
In 2017, the Guardian reported on a scientific breakthrough called eye-gaze technology. Devices fitted with eye-gaze technology use cameras, infrared technology, a computer screen, and a speech generating device, in efforts to help MND patients communicate.
Although a significant breakthrough, the eye-gaze technology can be cumbersome, and undoubtedly expensive. On the other hand, the Blink to Speak guide is affordable, and can easily accessible to all. What is more, patients at Asha Ek Hope can avail the guide for free.
“It’s important for an ALS patient to be able to communicate effectively as they are already going through a battle with their bodies. It can help them to be much more happier,” Rathi said.
In addition to making patients happier, the guide can provide hope, and a much more convenient life for both patients and caretakers. Patients will now be able to communicate effectively, whereas caretakers or guardians can learn a new type of language and much-needed life-skill.
Blink to Speak was developed due to the collaborative efforts of Parixit Bhattacharya, Dr. Hemangi Sane, Geet Rathi, Sagar Jadhav, Arshia Jain, Chinmay Raut, Priyanshi Khemka, Sneha Iyer, Apurva Desai, Chinmay Patil, and Ganesh Deherkar.
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