Finalist category: Accessibility Award
Accessibility Award, Finalist, 2019
MakeWrite, designed by the INCA Project at City University, London, uses novel technology to make the world a better place for people with aphasia by enabling them to engage in creative writing.
Creative activities allow people to express themselves in rich, nuanced ways and have benefits for mental well-being and self-esteem. However, people with language impairments such as aphasia face challenges in creative activities that involve language, activities that many of us take for granted. (Aphasia is an impairment that affects people’s ability to use language; their speech, comprehension of speech, reading and writing may all be affected).
By the age of 75, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men in the UK will have had a stroke. Of those who survive, approximately one third will have aphasia. The Stroke Association reports that 357,000 people in the UK are living with aphasia, while the National Aphasia Association in the USA reports that at least 2 million Americans are living with the condition. It is more common than Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, but few people have heard of it (https://www.aphasia.org/aphasia-faqs/). While aphasia varies in how it impacts language, many people face considerable challenges with reading and writing. Our work is directly addressing this challenge and enabling people with aphasia to be creative. This technology also has potential for people with other language impairments: the Office for Disability Issues estimates that 2.2 million people in the UK are living with a communication impairment.
MakeWrite is an iPad app that uses the idea of constrained creativity to reduce the barrier to being creative with words. It was inspired by the concept of redacted poetry where a would-be poet sources words from an existing text to create something new and unexpected. With MakeWrite, users select a source text, automatically redact it to erase most of the words and arrange the remaining words to create a new piece of creative writing. They can then share their creative work via social media.
Aphasia can mean that a person is no longer able to find the words to express themselves through speech or writing and can have difficulties in understanding what others around them have said or written. Aphasia can therefore have profound implications for communicating in all manner of situations, including online communication. While much of the technology for people with the condition focuses on rehabilitation or compensation for lost language skills, MakeWrite is uniquely focused on enabling creativity. It is pushing the boundaries of technology for aphasia. Specifically, MakeWrite broadens access to digital creativity for people living with aphasia, empowering them to participate. Their aspiration is that this, in turn, will enhance the digital presence of people with aphasia, an impairment that is too often invisible.
MakeWrite was co-designed with people with aphasia. They were actively involved throughout the process in 4 main ways:
- Collaborative usability testing of social media tools
- Four people with aphasia participated as co-designers in the creation of MakeWrite.
- The project team includes Tess Lancashire, a stroke survivor who has aphasia. Tess is employed to provide a user voice and offered advisory input throughout the development of MakeWrite.
- A creative writing workshop was conducted in collaboration with a community aphasia group.
MakeWrite was released on the App Store on World Poetry Day (21st March 2019) as an app for the iPad, available for free download. In the next year, the team plan to develop a version 2, port to android for use on tablet computers, and translate into other languages. In the medium term, their vision is to create a suite of related apps that also use computer-supported constrained creativity to enable people with aphasia to engage in creating digital content.