Improving communication

Julianna Perez

Three Villanova seniors are working to make communicating easier for Frank Kineavy, ‘16, affected by spastic cerebral palsy, which renders him unable to walk, speak and write. Through their engineering project, Harry Baker, William Turbett and Brian Eyring teamed up with Team Gleason to improve the technology that Kineavy communicates with.

As a result of the research conducted by Baker, Turbett, and Eyring, they were able to collaborate with Team Gleason and provide Kineavy with a device that vocalizes the words Kineavy selects on a keyboard. Team Gleason is an organization founded in honor of New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who suffers from ALS. 

Previous to this project, using a keyboard was virtually impossible for Kineavy, who had to rely on pointing to words and letters on a piece of paper to communicate. 

“With the spasms that accompany cerebral palsy, Frank tends to drag his fingers across the words and letters, making use of the keyboard difficult,” senior  Kathleen Funabashi explained, who is observing the group for her senior Communication project.

 The device provided by Team Gleason, however, comes with a cover that will be placed on top of the keyboard so that Kineavy will not press multiple keys while creating a message. 

The idea for this project came from Greg Hannah, who contacted the engineers about conducting this research for their senior project. Hannah is the Assistant Director of Disability Services for the University, and has known Kineavy since 2006. Hannah was contacted by Robert Morro, Vice President and Facilities Management, about helping Kineavy. Morro also shared his thoughts with George Simmons, the Dean of Engineering, who liked the idea and asked Hannah to propose the project to rising engineers. 

Baker, Turbett, and Eyring were the three seniors who began the project. They spent the semester researching and concluding that there was an easier and more advanced way for Kineavy to communicate with others. 

 “This project is not just about Frankie, but about how to bring together people of various disciplines and create, imagine and inspire.” Hannah said, reflection on the project.  “By bringing various people to the table to attempt to provide a more efficient communication system for Frank, we are engaging in disability advocacy, awareness and understanding for people of all abilities and this can and will go beyond a few students completing an assignment for their degree. Our network just became larger, stronger and limitless, which is ultimately we want for everyone and ability to live without limits.”

The group will present their research after this semester, and hope that next semester, the project will continue to aid communication abilities of those with disabilities.