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Two new handheld Tobii Eye Gaze devices for St Martin’s

The Saffron Rose 4 Rett Charitable Trust donated two new Tobii Eye Gaze handheld devices to St Martin’s School yesterday.

At the presentation was the head teacher Annabelle Felipes, representative from the trust Paul Borge, Minister for Education Dr John Cortes and Saffron Rose’s teacher James Martinez for the past three years.

The Tobii Eye Gaze machine operates Microsoft Windows and has an eye tracker inside, with this the user controls the machine and can do anything from playing games to selecting what they would like to eat as well as communicate how they feel and what they would like to do.

The new handheld devices are the size of an iPad/Tablet “are very light, portable and the idea of this particular design is that the kids can take them home or they can walk down the street with the new device,” said Mr Borge.

Previously the trust had donated other Tobii Eye Gaze machines but these were mounted on a stand and not portable.

“Originally the Eye Gaze functionality was built into the machine now what they have done is attend this piece of equipment to the tablet to enable the function to work,” said Mr Borge. The device has a battery pack attached via the Eye Gaze equipment and a speaker at the back to enhance the sound.

The new devices are £5,000 each.

Mr Martinez explained: “When I first started with Saffy [Saffron Rose] we were using the other machine and the charity brought over Susan Norwell who trained us how to use it. Then when we found out about these new portable ones for home purposes this is a lot better in terms of quality of life. You can take it out and about, while the other machine takes up a lot of space and weights a lot.”

In addition to the new device being portable Mr Martinez explains that it is easier to program too when combined with the new software the charity purchased.

“You can add words and it adds symbols to the word so when a child is using it they can see the picture and the word attached to it and they can understand better,” he said.

Mr Martinez demonstrated for Dr Cortes that Saffron would be able to select what she wanted to eat to what movie she wanted to watch just by using her eyes and this would then be communicated to her family or teachers.

Dr Cortes declared he was “impressed” by the device and said: “I am very grateful to Paul for the initiative and his commitment to carry on supporting this.”

“It is wonderful when you have members of the community contributing. This is true, there are politicians who think this is terrible and we should hide this or shy away because the Government should pay for everything.”

“Nobody can say the Government is not investing in education but this is adding value and I think it is great,” he added.

Ms Felipes said: “we had some children way back, 20 years ago or more, who would have really benefitted from this programme and it just shows you what modern technology does.”

She noted there is a difference in the children who use the equipment and also noted the enthusiasm of the staff to use the machines.

Rett Syndrome is a neurological disorder, which affects the grey matter of the brain, as a result a child with the condition starts to regress from the age of three. This means they lose their ability to walk, talk, use their hands and various other skills we perform on a daily basis.

The aim of the Saffron Rose 4 Rett Charitable Trust is to have every child who needs access to a Tobii Eye Gaze machine to have it.