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New communications app is being developed for aphasia patients

Published: 29 November 2019

Being able to express oneself is important for everyone, but not everyone has the same opportunities. People with aphasia can often only express single words and are therefore excluded from more in-depth conversations. A new project at Luleå University of Technology will simplify and enable advanced communication for this group through the development of a new mobile application.

– If our prototype is successful, it will contribute to richer communication, increased participation and greater autonomy for people with aphasia, says Viktor Gardelli, associate professor of pedagogy at Luleå University of Technology.

Democratic right

People with aphasia often have difficulties to formulate themselves in speech and writing, and are often given insufficient time or opportunity to express themselves. Instead, they are often dealt with in a way that puts communication at a too basic level. This at the same time as the thinking ability in many cases is less affected.

– What is coming out is not the same as inside, but the reduced expression capacity unfortunately means that many with aphasia are isolated in society, says Ylva Backman, university lecturer in pedagogy, emphasizing that the project is basically about democracy.

– A classic argument for democracy is that there should be an opportunity to express one's opinions, unfortunately, this group are not able to do so. That their voices are heard is important both to society and to the individual.

Creates communicative tools

The work on the application, which goes by the name Dialogica, is based on a previous research project at the university funded by the Swedish Research Council. In the study, so-called philosophical conversations were held with people who have acquired brain injuries, including people with aphasia, and there were demonstrated great advantages with the form of conversation but also the need to strengthen the possibility of participation for people with aphasia. During the 15-month project period, the working group will successfully develop the prototype through continued philosophical discussions in close collaboration with aphasia sufferers and staff working with them. The finished product should, if everything goes as planned, be able to visualize the structure of a conversation and provide specific communicative tools for accessible and direct, but at the same time advanced communication in in-depth conversation.

Base in research

However, the researchers are careful to point out that Dialogica, in a first stage, should not be regarded as a context-independent communication tool.

– What is special about this project is that we can build the application based on previous research and knowledge in argumentation theory and this kind of advanced conversation. We can therefore tailor a tool that makes the specific aspect of communication simpler and which in turn may lead to new applications aimed at other more context-specific situations and areas, says Viktor Gardelli.

The project called When the words are not enough: advanced communication through technological innovation for people with aphasia was recently awarded SEK 1,9 million by the state administrative authority Vinnova and will run until February 2021. The goal is that the application will then be available on the market. In addition to Viktor Gardelli and Ylva Backman, Peter Parnes, professor of distributed computer systems, is also part of the project group.

In the work with the application, the group will use computer game technology for new applications, which is a research area under construction at Luleå University of Technology.

– By using the modern computer game technology we can make Dialogica more attractive from a user perspective within the project and the prototype can be made more easily available on more platforms. Modern video game engines make it easier to work with modern graphics in 3D environments and within the project we will experiment with different graphic 2D and 3D elements, says Peter Parnes, professor of distributed computer systems.

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