EYEGAZE: Winners of the Fraser Coast Education Alliance award for Educational Futures and Technology Jane Webb and Sereta Uitenweerde from Maryborough Special School.
EYEGAZE: Winners of the Fraser Coast Education Alliance award for Educational Futures and Technology Jane Webb and Sereta Uitenweerde from Maryborough Special School. Clare McKay

Life-changing technology programmed by local teachers

IMAGINE not being able to communicate how you were feeling to the outside world until you reached teenage years?

This was the reality for two students at Maryborough Special School until their teachers Sereta Uitenweerde and Jane Webb changed their lives.

It was a challenge Ms Uitenweerde and Ms Webb tackled head on to provide their students with the best chance to learn and improve their quality of life.

The dynamic duo both received the Fraser Coast Education Alliance's Educational Futures and Technology award for implementing 'Eyegaze', the ground-breaking eye tracking software to enable those students with profound physical disabilities to communicate.

Using the Eyegaze technology, Ms Uitenweerde and Ms Webb specially designed a program themselves within the application to help the students select simple options by using their eyes to communicate how they were feeling.

"The technology has an inbuilt function where you can make up a customised board and buttons," Ms Webb said.

"We started off with saying 'hello' when he arrives in the morning and then progressed to the student tells us how he is feeling.

"Now he can elaborate with a more complex board, the other week he told us he was feeling sick and the next day he went to hospital with a tummy bug and virus.

"He can also now tell us if he is hungry or wants a drink."

This seemingly basic communication is more interaction with the world than Ms Webb's 10-year-old student with cerebral palsy has ever had in his life.

"As he improves and gets better we are hoping he can make sentences and have more complex communication," Ms Webb said.

The innovative educator explained her campaign to improve the quality of life for her students will not stop with her award.

 

Winners of the Fraser Coast Education Alliance award for Educational Futures and Technology Jane Webb and Sereta Uitenweerde from Maryborough Special School.
EYEGAZE: Fraser Coast Education Alliance Educational Futures and Technology award winners Jane Webb and Sereta Uitenweerde from Maryborough Special School. Clare McKay

"The student in Sereta's class has a mobile Eyegaze and we would love to raise money for the boy in my class to also have a portable one, at the moment he can only use a desktop one in the classroom," Ms Webb said.

Although the pricetag on the portable technology is hefty, the machine would mean her student could practice more regularly and able to communicate all the time.

"It would just mean a whole new world for him," she said.

"A whole new life."

Ms Webb has been a Hervey Bay local for 12 years, and a teacher at the special school for three, changing paths from a 20 year international physiotherapy career.

"I used to work with all the students in my class as a physio before I was a teacher and I just loved the kids so much and could see the potential in them and I went and did the teaching qualification," she said.

"For sure, this is the most rewarding job I have ever had.

"These kids, the four of them in this classroom are non-verbal, physically impaired and are unbelievable driven to achieve.

"They each have their own great, funny personalities and it is inspiring working with them and their parents.

"I just love it."

The award judges said the teachers had worked hard to find a solution to unlock their students' potential and had opened up a world of knowledge and communication.

"It was a massive surprise to win, absolutely thrilling," Ms Webb explained.

"It was a shared award between me and the student, it isn't just me, he is a champion.

"The delight on his face when he was able to communicate... I will never forget it.

"Sereta has been a real mentor to me.

"Thank you to all the people have really supported me in what I have been doing here.

"I couldn't do it on my own."