A Portobello teenager previously unable to communicate due to cerebral palsy has been able to unleash her creative side thanks to special “eye gaze” technology.
Greta McMillan, 13, spent years trapped in a quiet world with communication limited to a sequence of blinks – for yes and no – tiny facial expressions and small sounds.
But an incredible community fundraising response helped her family buy an “eye tracker” computer, opening up her chance to have a real voice.
And the determined Portobello High School pupil has now shown her creative talent. Greta has been able to develop her inner artist by producing a number of pieces of artwork that were exhibited at annual art walk project, Porty Art Walk.
The teenager, who is a wheelchair user and finds it difficult to use her arms and hands, has learned how “paint” using eye movements.
Prompted by a school enterprise project, in which pupils were making products to sell, Greta’s mum Thea tried to find a way for her to also take part.
Thea explained: “The pupils were making bracelets and suchlike, which was great but Greta can’t do that.
“Somebody suggested that she could maybe paint using a special website that luckily works with the eye gaze computer technology.
“All her creativity has been stored up until now and she just loves it.
Greta starts with a blank screen and the computer follows her eye movements.
As she lets her gaze linger the colours and thickness of the lines change allowing her to create drawings and paintings.
Thea said: “Until recently she wasn’t able to do anything creative but the eye gaze computer and this programme has allowed her to experiment.
“It was mostly geared for communication, so she would be able to talk but this is another great outcome for her creativity.”
The computer can see where Greta’s eyes are looking and track whether she is looking at individual words on the screen or phrases.
It has also given her the freedom to play instruments.
“My husband Ian is an architect and I am a design director, Greta’s sister is also very creative so it makes sense to see this side of her character flourishing,” Thea said.
And, unsurprisingly, she is hugely proud of her daughter’s talent.
“I know I’m her mum but I think her artwork is quite special – they’ve got real quality to them.”
The bright, abstract pieces were exhibited at the family home over the weekend, which was designed by Ian and Thea to accommodate Greta’s access needs.
And Thea said Greta receiving the computer was “life-changing”.
“It has been quite wonderful. She didn’t have a way of expressing herself before – she’s always been good at doing yes blinks but that is dependent on us asking her the right question. So it’s still a learning curve.
“It’s tricky but she is determined and she’s very funny and it’s lovely for us to hear her laugh.”
The Art Walk Porty project is an annual artist-led project run by volunteers celebrating the creative community of Portobello.
The 2017 event, which also runs next weekend from September 8 to 10, works with 80 artists over 52 locations.