By: Chad Ruble
Fourteen years ago, my mom, Lindy Grant, had a serious stroke that left her paralyzed on her right side and with severe aphasia. Over the years, I noticed that people were phoning her less frequently. Certainly, some of her friends found it too difficult to adjust to speaking on the phone with a person with aphasia. But a big part of it was that society has moved away from using the telephone for day-to-day conversations. People were relying more on email, SMS, and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Because keyboards and traditional interfaces were extremely difficult for my mom to use, she wasn’t able to participate in the social media revolution. As more ways of communication appeared, people like my mom were shut out. It was ironic to me that some of the most isolated people who might benefit the most from social media were also unable to easily use it. She was a social media shut out, unable to enjoy the quick “ping” of a casual message during the day.
We wanted to make it easier for her to send quick social messages throughout the day in order to stay in better touch with – often geographically dispersed – loved ones.
We formed a two-person research and development team. I taught myself enough technology to try out some alternative messaging interfaces and tools. And mom was my willing and available guinea pig. We experimented with a few systems before finally landing on Tapgram.
In essence, Tapgram is a networked picture board that allows mom to use large icons to compose simple messages. Messages can be emailed or posted to Facebook. They also appear in her own Tapgram feed. With just a couple of taps, mom is able to let family and friends know what’s on her mind.
She can also share her own pictures and look at updated pictures of her friends and grandchildren. No fiddling with attachments – and she can send a simple picture-based reply to these messages.
The process of connecting mom and her friends via Tapgram has been extremely rewarding. Friends who live in other countries now feel that they are in better touch. When they visit or phone, they have a context that facilitates conversations. Interestingly, she has also had one of the best periods of improvement in her speech since the period directly after her stroke. While I certainly can’t say for sure that its due to Tapgram, its clear that mitigating isolation and increasing a sense of connection has been a huge plus.
We launched Tapgram as a free web-based service last year and have hundreds of users including stroke survivors, people with autism, as well as the elderly. The Tapgram mother-son R&D department is still busy making changes and dreaming up new ways of making messaging more accessible for all.
About the Author: