Communities and Engagement

Project Aphasia Social: More than words

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Team Members of Project Aphasia Social

13 April 2020

Emojis as we know, are tiny and cute graphics that add nuances to our text conversations, tweets or Instagram posts. But for individuals living with Aphasia, emojis represent more than that. It could be the best means for them to reconnect with the social network and to better express their emotions to the world.

Aphasia is a common symptom observed amongst acute and chronic stroke patients and it primarily affects patients’ ability to comprehend and formulate language. It is common for those living with Aphasia to have limited ways of expressing themselves or be misunderstood. With Project Aphasia Social, life can be different. Just imagine – a grandfather is now able to communicate and understand his grandchildren, or a mother who can convey her feelings to her children.

That is the dream of Project Aphasia Social, one of the winners at the recently concluded Hack For Good 2020 on 21 March 2020, a hackathon organised by the Developer Student Club NUS.

The group, comprising of four undergraduates, Ho Bing Xuan (Computer Science), Tan Su Kee (Psychology), Yuan Sin Yi (Business Analytics) and Low Wil Liam (Civil Engineering), recognised that there was a lack of technological solutions available to bridge the gap between Aphasia patients and proper social communication.

“As we were doing research, we were rather surprised that there is little to none solutions developed to help mitigate their difficulties”, explained Bing Xuan.

Strongly motivated by the desire to empower Aphasia patients to return to meaningful engagement with the community through social media, Project Aphasia Social created an Emoji Board and Translator that allows users to structure their thoughts and formulate meanings by choosing simple and intuitive emojis that best fit their intentions. These emojis are then translated to complete sentences and subsequently posted under the user’s Twitter account.

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The emojis are translated to sentences and will be posted under the user’s Twitter account.

The group’s second solution was the Emoji Translator, which converts sentences into meaningful emojis for users to interpret. The Translator is developed in the form of a Google Chrome extension, which also helps users to simplify the webpage’s content to reduce sensory stress.

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Sentences are also converted into meaningful emojis.

Project Aphasia Social met with various technical challenges throughout the process, such as creating a database of emoji-to-word mappings, categorising the emojis and generating the sentences.

One of the key questions surrounding the project was the ambiguity of certain emojis that might pose as a challenge towards comprehension. User feedback is crucial for the success of the project, as the group mentioned that “Our focus has always been how Aphasia patients deal with the emojis rather than how we perceive them. As such, users’ feedback is the first item in our action plan ahead”. There is also a stronger focus on facial expression emojis, as research has proven that Aphasia patients can interpret them considerably well.

Overall, the project forged many firsts for the members of Project Aphasia Social. Bing Xuan, who handled the back-end implementation and delivery for the text-to-emoji functions, joked that it was his first time taking part in a hackathon with diverse team members specialising in psychology and business analytics, having participated in past events as a group of “tech guys”.

“In this way, we have a lot of insights that help us create a useful product”, Bing Xuan added.

According to a report by the National Registry of Diseases Office, there were 7,741 stroke episodes in 2017 and this number could further increase with the aging population growing in Singapore. Research conducted by the National Aphasia Association in the United States found that about a third of stroke cases result in Aphasia.

Looking ahead, the group hopes to implement their solutions widely across different social media platforms and reach out to individuals with Aphasia through a public API, as “real-world usage is the most important factor for improving performance”.

With the extended circuit breaker and social distancing measures keeping loved ones physically apart, the project could prove useful in helping patients with Aphasia to better communicate with the society at large, especially since virtual communication has become prevalent during this period.

If you are interested to find out more about Project Aphasia Social, check out the prototypes for the Emoji Board and Emoji Translator!


Writer: Lim Jun Kang, Year 4, FASS
Editor: Lily Chow
Photos: Project Aphasia Social