I recently had the opportunity to attend an EVA Park Open Day at City University, London where I was introduced to a fun private virtual world for people with aphasia. EVA Park was created at City University London and is funded by the Stroke Association.
After an explanation of how Eva Park works and a presentation which included information about research findings, I was given a headset and access to the virtual world on a PC. I had my own computer character/avatar and learned to navigate my way around the world using the Page Down, Page Up buttons and arrow buttons on the computer keyboard. It took me a few minutes to get to grips with the control buttons and I did make a few navigation errors.
I managed to find my way to the coffee shop where I met four other people (represented by their own computer characters). I was able to hear them and they could hear me. I also discovered that I could write messages to them. I then abruptly exited the coffee shop without saying goodbye (as I pressed the wrong buttons on my keyboard and took flight! ). In a way, this added to the fun. Everyone I met in the world was a real person represented by their own computer avatar.
We later made our way to the tree house, where I got to practise sitting down on the cushions on the floor and standing up. This took a little while to master as there was a time lag, likely due to the large number of users at the time. We all sat in a circle and Jane came to explain some of the virtual activities that users can do in the tree house such as having group discussions.
There are many different places to discover in Eva Park such as the tree house, coffee shop, restaurant, fruit market stall and the beach. All of these places provide potential opportunities for people with aphasia to practise functional communication. This became much more apparent to me when I met a user with aphasia called John (represented by his own computer avatar). John gave us a tour of the house and although he had some word-finding difficulties, he did a really good job.
As I am very much involved in the use of technology in speech and language therapy, I certainly enjoyed my experience using Eva Park and I began to think about the many ways it could be used to work on a range of communication goals such as improving word-finding skills, verbal expression and functional communication tasks such as ordering a coffee.
Project team members are continuing to gather feedback from speech and language therapists and people with aphasia. As Eva Park is a new project, the best way forward remains to be decided. It could potentially be used in SLT clinics, in clients’ homes and beyond. I’m certainly looking forward to using it with my clients with aphasia.
For more information about this exciting project visit: http://smcse.city.ac.uk/eva/