Twitter levels playing field for adults with no speech

Monday, 24 August 2015

A group of Australian researchers who first met on Twitter, are now exploring how Twitter can help people who have experienced stroke, cerebral palsy, autism, motor neurone disease and traumatic brain injury to find a voice.

Findings from an initial part of the study have indicated that people with communication difficulties have positive experiences with Twitter in a number of ways.

Lead researcher and speech pathologist Associate Professor Bronwyn Hemsley, based at the University of Newcastle, said the team's initial findings indicated Twitter can help people with communication disabilities share information and feel more included.

"We are seeing that Twitter can not only provide a 'voice' for people with communication disabilities, but also an 'audience' - and this helps them to feel empowered and in control of their own lives.

Associate Professor Hemsley said many people with communication disabilities who use assistive technologies already knew how to make their communication short and succinct and therefore, tended to flourish on Twitter.

"Often, people with little or no functional speech find that listeners try to finish their sentences for them or speak on their behalf. They're used to crafting short messages carefully. Where other users might be at a disadvantage by 140 character limits, people who struggle to speak might have had lifelong practice in making every word count.

"In many ways, Twitter might level the playing field, liberating users from stereotypes and enabling self-advocacy," she said.

The research team will soon embark on the second phase of the three-year project, investigating the benefits of online Twitter training, how networks develop and how people with communication disabilities experience Twitter over a six month period.

Adults with cerebral palsy, stroke, autism, motor neurone disease, or traumatic brain injury can contact Associate Professor Hemsley for further information or to take part in the study/Twitter training. Contact via email – or Twitter handle @bronwynhemsley and hashtag #TweetReach.

Speech pathology week commences today (Monday 24 August 2015), with Twitter discussions happening across hashtags #SPweek and/or #Talkwithme.
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