I first came to learn about the work of the MJD Foundation through a $300,000 Social Innovation Grant they received from the Telstra Foundation. The grant enabled them to develop and scale a program that uses tablet devices as therapeutic and assistive communication devices for Indigenous people living with Machado Joseph Disease (MJD) in some of the most remote parts of Australia.
What is MJD? MJD is in a “family” of neuro-degenerative diseases similar to Huntington’s disease. This disease impacts Indigenous people around the world, but is particularly prevalent in communities in east Arnhem Land. Genetic and incurable, MJD robs people of their ability to move their muscles over 5-10 years from its onset – that means they will lose their speech, their movement, and eventually control of all bodily functions.
One of the many challenges for people with MJD is the inability to communicate. While some great assistive communication apps are currently available for people with little or no speech, none cater for the needs of Indigenous Australians, some of whom speak English as a second, third or even fourth language.
As part of Telstra hackathon, a team of us decided to build an app to help MJD Foundation clients better prepare for the impacts of this devastating disease by enabling them to record their own voice, in-English and in-language, for use when their ability to speak is lost.
What started as two-day challenge has developed into a longer term personal commitment from the team that includes my colleague Kevin Kondys from the Chief Technology Office and Natalie Falzon from the Telstra Foundation. We have worked closely with the MJD Foundation and their clients to develop a prototype that we will continue to test and refine.
Powered by the Telstra Foundation and now Telstra employees too, this innovative program demonstrates the power of digital connections to increase independence and social inclusion of people impacted by disability.
The Telstra Foundation is one of the many ways Telstra delivers on its mission to create a brilliant connected future for everyone. Our investments demonstrate the power of technology to deliver social change and community connection to some of the most socially excluded groups in Australia.Promoting Indigenous wellbeing is a priority investment area for the Foundation. We currently have two significant partnerships totalling over $5 million in support of this objective. These partnerships, with the MJD Foundation and with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, are exciting proof points of what can be achieved when great ideas connect with technology.For more information about our Indigenous Australian wellbeing partnerships see www.telstrafoundation.com
Jackie Coates, Telstra Foundation General Manager
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