As her grey-blue eyes move ever so slightly, Joellan Huntley’s determination to be heard becomes immediately clear.
Unable to speak or move her body because of catastrophic brain injuries she suffered in a car crash when she was 15, the Nova Scotia woman made headlines last week when her family revealed she had used the latest eye-gaze tracking technology to speak to them for the first time in 21 years.
During a news conference Tuesday at a rehabilitation centre in a rural corner of Nova Scotia, Huntley shifted her eyes as she looked at her computer tablet when a reporter asked her speech language pathologist if the technology had improved in recent years.
“Yes,” Huntley said through the computer.
Her mother, Louise Misner, said Huntley made an incredible breakthrough on Christmas Day when the family was visiting the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S.
Misner said when she commented on her daughter’s new outfit, Huntley responded by using her eyes to point to an image of a short-sleeved shirt on the tablet.
It wasn’t much of a conversation, but it marked a huge milestone for Huntley because she had, for the first time in two decades, expressed herself without any help.
“Her whole world is going to open up now,” Misner told reporters. “She knows now what she has to do. Technology renews itself every six months. She’ll just keep getting better and better.”
Misner said her daughter, having at first selected the image of the short-sleeved shirt, then changed her mind and switched to an image of a long-sleeved shirt.
“She was correcting herself,” Misner said, as her daughter looked on from a reclining wheelchair. “The technology has grown, and it has caught up with her, and now she can shine like that Christmas star.”