[CAPTION] Residents living at Durbanville Quadriplegic Centre, like Brenton Swartz (pictured above), have a new level of autonomy thanks to state-of-the-art voice-controlled technology. Although they have little to no control over their limbs, they are now able to perform simple daily tasks using their voice to ‘wake up’ their Voice-Activated Quality of Life (VoQol) system, known as Alexa. In the past residents would need to call a carer for help; now they just ask Alexa to switch on the light, change the television channel or call for assistance.

Speaking at the official launch of the VoQol project yesterday, 19 September, Lowri Williams, Programme Manager at the QuadPara Association Western Cape (QAWC) said: “To our knowledge, this is the first installation at a residential facility in Africa. It may seem like a small thing that we take for granted, to switch off the fan when the room reaches the right temperature, but for someone who is physically disabled from the shoulders down VoQol gives them a new level of autonomy, expanding the number of daily tasks that they are able to perform on their own. The completion of such a project really demonstrates how we can assist quadriplegics and paraplegics to reach their full potential.”

Installation of the VoQol system has recently been completed at three residential facilities in Cape Town, with financial support from donors, including Rotary Club of Claremont. A total of 51 rooms were fitted with the devices at Turfhall Cheshire Home, Durbanville Quadriplegic Centre and Eric Miles Cheshire Home. The technology relies on WiFi and can be used to control the sound or channels on a TV, switch on a fan or a light, and call for assistance.

“I can get a cricket update and then 20 seconds later switch back to what I was watching before, which sounds insignificant, but it makes a big difference in my life,” says Anthony Ghillino, General Manager of QAWC who is a C4 quadriplegic (paralysed from the shoulders down).

Another resident, Graham Clarke suffers from locked-in syndrome as a result of a stroke. Talking about the new technology he says: “I love my independence and the [VoQol system] does just that. I can control several devices that have been connected. It is very empowering.”

Speaking at the launch event Malcolm Dodd, President of the Rotary Club of Claremont says, “It is heart-warming to see the effect that this technology has had on the residents here and at the other two facilities. Not only does it really empower them with the ability to control things on their own, it also alleviates the burdens placed on their carers to continuously help them with simple tasks throughout the day. This is the kind of life-changing technology that can improve quality of life.”

With the first phase of the project completed successfully, QAWC are seeking funding to install more devices at Eric Miles Cheshire Home where 32 residents do not have access to the technology yet. For more information, visit http://qawc.org/projects-and-services/voqol-project/.

For more information on Rotary Club of Claremont and the various community projects and initiatives they are involved with, please visit https://www.facebook.com/RotaryClubofClaremont/.