John Pierce wins Telematics grant for aphasia website

Congratulations to Aphasia CRE Postdoctoral Researcher John Pierce, who has received a grant from the Telematics Trust towards projects delivered via information technology.

Pierce is the founder of ‘Aphasia Therapy Online’, a website providing free multilingual rehabilitation activities for people with aphasia who may not be able to access other software. Aphasia is a communication disability primarily affecting people who have experienced a stroke or head injury; around 120,000 Australians are estimated to live with aphasia.

A speech pathologist, Pierce’s interest in aphasia began whilst working in hospital rehabilitation.

“Communication is so important... there's really no part of life that doesn't [require it]. I could see how much aphasia was impacting made it a compelling area to try and work in.”

Wanting to address a gap in their treatment, he taught himself to code JavaScript, starting the website in 2013.

“It was fairly new and expensive to have an iPad then and not many people had them...a lot of the aphasia software that people would use to help with their therapy was also expensive,” he says.

“I thought, it shouldn't be that hard to make some software to help them...It was harder than I thought, but it fills the gap for a lot of people.”

Around 40,000 people with aphasia and speech pathologists now use the website, which is maintained through donations and in Pierce’s own time. Volunteers have translated the content into several languages (Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Urdu), allowing people with aphasia from diverse communities to access affordable treatment.

“There's aphasia software out there and most of it is in English. There's not a lot of options, paid or free, for many other languages,” says Pierce.

“The other problem is that in Australia, when speech pathologists have bilingual stroke survivors who have aphasia, it's hard to rehabilitate language when you don't speak that language - even with an interpreter, it can be extremely difficult to provide a big enough dose of therapy and to source materials in that language.”

Pierce plans to use the grant to translate the website into Mandarin, Vietnamese and Greek, the top three Languages Other Than English (LOTE) used in Victoria.

“A lot of the funding will be used to employ bilingual speech pathologists who can advise on the adaptation of the site, as well as certified translators and interpreters, but it's not just a matter of translating the words across into another language - it has to be adapted for the particular grammar, context and vocabulary that people with aphasia have in those languages,” says Pierce.

Used predominantly in English-speaking countries, the website is now gaining traction worldwide, making it even more relevant to offer translated content. Pierce is passionate about helping as many communities as he can.

“Not everyone speaks English at home, so why should everyone have aphasia therapy in English?”

Learn more about John Pierce and his website.