Research and impact | By Shamim Quadir

City Research: Language and technology collaboration at City named among ‘Nation’s Lifesavers’ in new campaign

A team formed by a collaboration of City speech and language and human-computer interaction academics is being recognised for its exceptional contribution to promoting the use of technology to help keep the nation healthy.

Academics from City’s Centre for Language and Communication Science Research (CLCSR) and Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design (HCID) have been named as one of the ‘Nation’s Lifesavers’, the top 100 individuals or groups at universities whose work is saving lives and making a significant difference to health and well-being.


They have been named as part of Universities UK’s MadeAtUni campaign, which brings to life the impact of universities on everyday lives.


Co-led by Jane Marshall, Professor of Aphasiology and Stephanie Wilson, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, the collaboration has developed numerous technologies to help people with the language disorder aphasia.


Aphasia is a complex disorder of language and communication caused by damage to the brain, usually caused by stroke. People with aphasia may have difficulty speaking, reading, writing or understanding language. It is estimated that about a third of people who have a stroke are affected and there are currently over 350,000 people in the UK living with aphasia. Many will experience social isolation, reduced well-being and poor quality of life as a result of the condition.   


To help, the researchers have developed technologies such as EVA Park, led by Professor Marshall and funded by the Stroke Association and The Tavistock Trust for Aphasia. EVA Park is a multi-award winning project that is investigating the use of an online, interactive 3D world that allows users to take part in virtual interactions that mirror activity from their everyday lives such as visiting the hairdresser or meeting people in the park. It has already been shown to be a ‘safe’ environment that supports users’ language and communication skills and it is currently being trialled as a service, which could in the future be adopted more widely across the UK. The latest peer reviewed article from the project is published in the journal, Aphasiology.

Julian Galpin, a retired software designer who has aphasia participated in the study and says:

“When I first started here [with the EVA team] a year and a half ago, I could not really speak much at all and for some unknown reason I used to find it much easier talking through [EVA Park] or to people on there. It was much better because it is low stress. It was really very good.”


Another project from the collaboration is the Inclusive Digital Content for People with Aphasia (INCA), led by Professor Wilson in association with the Stroke Association and Dyscover; and funded by the EPSRC.


Launched to mark World Poetry Day 2019, the MakeWrite app forms part of the project and was co-designed by people with aphasia for people with aphasia.


Although the term aphasia covers a range of language problems experienced after a stroke, a common challenge is being unable to find the words the person would like to use to communicate.


Drawing on the themes of constrained creativity and ‘Blackout Poetry’, MakeWrite enables users to choose a piece of text, redact or erase some of the text, arrange the remaining words and then share the text with friends or via social media. It can be used by anyone with a love for words and language.


Given the dearth of online resources and creativity apps available to people with challenges such as aphasia, MakeWrite opens possibilities for greater digital inclusion and access.

Professor Stephanie Wilson says:

“We believe the MakeWrite app will help people with aphasia overcome the challenges they face in creating digital content. We are grateful to have had the valuable input of people with aphasia who consulted with our research team in co-designing MakeWrite and making it a reality.”

Ian Davey, who has aphasia and co-designed the app, says:

“I feel that the app we have produced is an important tool for speech therapists. The app enables the patient to put the words into verse to widen their vocabulary as they recover from a stroke or brain damage.”


The app is currently available for free download at the Apple Store.


The work from the collaboration has also culminated in the CommuniCATE aphasia clinic located at City.  It helps clients with aphasia through a variety of evidence-based services using both familiar and novel computer technologies. It also provides training and support to NHS clinicians.