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Using Technology to Communicate

Nisarg Thakkar, a Marianjoy volunteer and patient, is a user and champion of the Tobii® Eye-Gaze. The technology helps him to compensate for the leftover communication and mobility challenges he experiences due to a previous brain tumor. In addition to quadraparesis and ataxia (conditions affecting motor control), Nisarg found his voice and speech were affected.

Now 28 years old, Nisarg has been a Marianjoy patient for five years and a volunteer for four. He first learned of Tobii from his speech therapist, Stephanie Bay, who recognized how he might benefit from it. Nisarg tried working with older dictation software for months, but Bay realized Tobii might be a better fit. Nisarg, himself, realized he was better able to access the computer using his eyes and hands, versus relying on vocal commands. He also found it improved his overall ability to communicate. “It’s very helpful and user-friendly,” says Nisarg. “It’s just like a computer, but better.”

“Tobii can be used for work purposes, like word processing, but it can also be helpful for social interaction,” says Bay. “It has audio and visual functions which enable it to do things like play music, display pictures, and send emails. These are important components of an individual’s interaction with society,” she adds.

As a Marianjoy volunteer, Nisarg uses Tobii and iPhone® technology to input data for various clinicians. He has a degree in science and engineering science, and he is especially adept at data entry using Microsoft Excel®, Word®, and Access®. Now, he is taking his final class towards earning a certification in Desktop Database Proficiency.

Just as he has been helped, Nisarg is striving to improve the lives of others with disabilities through technology. In addition to volunteering at Marianjoy, he has demonstrated Tobii and iPhone capabilities to heads of companies to promote disability accommodations in workplaces. In college, he transitioned from volunteering in the Key Club to the Kiwanis Club. Last September, he joined Project STARFISH, a Marianjoy AbilityLinks partner that serves as a platform to create job experience for underserved job-seeker populations, especially veterans and people with disabilities, including visual impairments. He also shares his insights at ITKAN (The IT Knowledge and Abilities Network) meetings, an organization that provides networking opportunities and strategies for professionals with disabilities in the technology field.

Nisarg has been recognized for his dedication and contributions to the field of technology with an award of “Fifty for the Future®” by the Illinois Technology Foundation. “Tobii technology has changed my life,” says Nisarg. “I am better able to express myself and work more efficiently. Thanks to Tobii and Stephanie Bay’s training, I can make a difference in the world. I want all people with disabilities to have the same opportunities I have had, and I am working towards making that happen.”