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 AT Program News
 News for and from the State AT Act Programs, the  Alternative Financing Programs, and their community  partners

March 2012 "iPad's Claim to AAC"   
In This Issue
Perspectives: Proloquo2Go & Prentke Romich
iPad for AAC: the Pros and Cons (and hopes and fears)
Wego Works to One-Up iPad
AAC Apps--Say What?
Apps Buyer Beware
App Resources for AAC
Is Your AT Regional Center Listed at Proloquo2Go.com?
iPad Funding Help
Proloquo2Go4Free?
Apple's iPad and 3rd party app developers are revolutionizing Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) technology and how people access it (and not everyone is happy). This edition of ATPN takes a look at iPad's claim to AAC, and the territory it never really set out to colonize. 
Perspectives: Proloquo2Go & 
Prentke Romich

Part One: Proloquo2Go Brings AAC Mainstream 

Graphic of business people looking through telescopes with earth and buildings behind them. The app story for AAC starts in April of 2009 with the release of Proloquo2Go from AssistiveWare, the first software application for AAC to run on a mainstream mobile device. The computer version, Proloquo, had been around since 2005, developed by AssistiveWare Founder and CEO David Niemeijer. Niemeijer, who was an agricultural and environmental scientist in the Netherlands, got drawn into assistive technology in the 1990s when a close friend became quadriplegic (the AssistiveWare logo was designed by this friend with the use of a Head Mouse and AssistiveWare software). With the release of the iPhone--and Apple's decision to allow 3rd party app developers for its products--the pressure was on Niemeijer to develop the 2Go mobile version.  


From the outset, Niemeijer's goal was to create an app that could be fully operational, including all necessary hardware (iPod Touch) for about $500, vastly undercutting the AAC dedicated device market (which can run more like $2,500 to $8,000). This accomplishment would turn out to be a game-changer in the industry. AssistiveWare has not released how many apps it has sold, but with 460+ ratings on iTunes alone, and the quake in social media it has provoked, its impact is clear. Indeed, at a presentation at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Orlando conference this past January, one special education director confessed (while standing before a screen displaying a student using Proloquo2Go) "It's wonderful how the iPad has enabled so many students to have a communication device who otherwise couldn't get one (because Medicaid wouldn't approve it)."

Today there are dozens of apps for AAC (for iDevices and beyond), ranging in price from free (or nearly so) to Proloquo2Go's now hefty-seeming $189.99 price tag (and others which exceed it). Apple made it easy to market and sell apps on iTunes, and now it can feel like everyone and their great aunt Martha has come up with something. The apps range in quality, features, and goals, and the need to sift, compare, and feature-match them for individuals is spawning new Web sites, charts, and tools (see sidebar article).

In January, ATPN had a chance to interview Niemeijer at the ATIA as well as listen to the enthusiasm and anxieties expressed by speech language pathologists (SLPs), occupational therapists (OTs) and others about iPad. Indeed, the iPad (and apps in general) was a dominant conference interest with sessions ranging from "AAC Device Decision-Making: 'Apples' (iPads/iPods) or 'Oranges' (Traditional Devices)" to "The iPad AAC Phenomenon: What's Not Being Said." ATPN found Niemeijer at his booth--and was startled by the weary forthrightness of this Dutchman wearing a backpack. It turned out to be a great opportunity to get his take on all the chatter.

ATPN: Proloquo2Go has been so successful. What do you think about the concerns out there that iPads will put dedicated devices out of business? 

David Niemeijer: [With Proloquo2Go] we wanted to reach all the people who do not get funded. So we had to go at a significantly lower price point. And I think that's what happened, that we've been serving the 95% of people who need this and don't get funding. It may have affected sales of traditional devices, but I don't think that much.... I think we've really opened up a new market rather than competed in an existing one.

ATPN: There's a concern, too, that iPads are in schools and so they're being used for AAC because it's so much cheaper and so there's pressure to make this work.

DN: I think there's some truth in that, but I think that in many more cases those schools were not buying any device [before the iPad]. Or it was there but generally [students] wouldn't use it because it was too heavy for younger children or too ugly for older children. So I understand the concern. But my impression is very much that this is filling an area that was not being filled. My impression is that Proloquo2Go or other apps are replacing light tech not high tech in schools. There are some schools that may be going to this instead of Dynavox, but I think it's more that many schools are now providing a service that they were supposed to provide that they were not providing, rather than that the right solution is being driven out by the wrong solution.

ATPN: At a workshop here an SLP mentioned there was concern that it would be bad news if Medicaid started covering iPads and iPods for AAC because it would make it so much harder to get anything else funded. They were advising professionals to get in front of the issue now by writing into Statements of Medical Necessity exactly why an iPad won't work if the request is for a dedicated device.

DN: I think the system just needs to change because it's a wasted opportunity to serve more people. But then there are the concerns that the system will decide this is a way to save money rather than serve more people, which is why we're not getting involved in it [the Medicaid approval issue]. Plus the concern that people will be pressured into making this work when there's a better solution.

ATPN: Which is really the big anxiety at the conference about iPads, the pressure SLPs are under to make iPad work because parents are buying them, and then finding they don't know how to make it work for their kid.

DN: Basically the rules of the game have changed. First it was the professional who was in control, the professional was the one who provided access. And now the parents have control. They can go ahead and make a decision [and buy an iPad]. And you know sometimes of course they come home with the wrong stuff. There are definitely issues with that. But with how the old system worked there was basically a small percentage of all the people who could have benefitted [by AAC technology] who were benefiting. And now a much larger percentage of people are benefitting.

Something I've learned in the last few years is that there are so few people specializing in AAC. There are states where there's like a handful of people for the whole state! Which means that special educators, OTs, SLPs, many without an AAC background are being confronted with, "Oh we bought this for our child. Can you help me?" Or the school says "We need this for our students, we saw 60 Minutes" [60 Minutes did a story last October on the iPad for communication and learning]. I think there are many more AAC users every year. I think more of them are using apps on iPads than going for traditional devices right now. And that means where there was already an imbalance between the number of AAC experts and number of AAC users, now that imbalance is growing very, very rapidly.

ATPN: One SLP mentioned that another issue with apps is that people choose them without understanding how language develops or with longer-range goals in mind. She felt core language was poor with Proloquo2Go and people go furthest with a system like Prentke Romich (PRC).

DN: And then why not bring PRC to iPad? Because in this country training and support has to be built into the cost of the device. And then there are people who may prefer another solution! Proloquo2Go 2.0 will address the core language issues [due out in April]. But I also think different systems work for different people. We use SymbolStix. There are people who say Dude! You have to use PCS! Or it has to be Widget! Yet there are kids and adults all over the world managing to do something good with all of these systems.

I'm an outsider to all of this. I'm not trained as an SLP or an AT specialist, but to me it's a kind of ongoing war between people who have strong ideas, professionals with strong opinions based on a lot of insight, when in reality there are good things about everything and everything is a compromise. Technology A might get 5% more out of someone than Technology B, but I don't think it's the technology that's the bottle neck [for people to have effective AAC]. That's just a distraction. The bottle neck is the fact that there are not enough professionals who have the knowledge to implement and teach AAC in an effective way. To me, when I go around places, everyone is struggling with that. And I think that you can take an app like Proloquo2Go or a PRC device/Minspeak system and give it to an experienced (versus an inexperienced) professional to work with, and I think it's that professional who is going to make the difference, not the device, not the language system.

And I think there will still be cases where a dedicated device is better, or a particular language system is better, but what I'm hearing from schools that I visit and preschools that I visit is that [Proloquo2Go] is making a huge difference for the majority of children they try it with, and that some preschoolers are actually going to regular ed. now because they have a communication system when they are two or three years old whereas in the past they wouldn't get something like that until they were like eight or ten, and they would be in special education, and that's a huge cost to society and to these individuals, not getting the opportunity early on to develop. So the impression I'm getting is that in many cases it works.  

ATPN: David, thanks so much for all your insights!

Part Two: Prentke Romich's Service-Centered AAC

Prentke Romich (PRC) is a traditional AAC company that has been doing business for 45 years, has a history of supporting and nurturing AAC research, and provides videos on its Web site that demonstrate individuals with complex communication needs enjoying spontaneous exchanges with the use of its devices. PRC's Unity Language system use symbols with multiple meanings (Minspeak) that sequence to create grammatical sentences and are arranged predictably to make use of an individuals's motor memory (for intuitive faster recall). In these ways PRC is different from what is currently available on mainstream consumer mobile platforms.

Recently PRC released the first in what it advertises will be a series of apps for iPad. To better understand how the apps revolution is impacting this pioneer dedicated device company, ATPN interviewed PRC's Director of Clinical Applications Russell Cross.

ATPN: What is the PRC strategy for developing these apps?

Russell Cross: At this point our aim is to provide apps that we hope will support people who are currently using our technology and using the Unity Language. The aim is to use that portable tablet platform as a teaching tool, as an electronic book, something to help you learn what your are doing with the device. So our target is to use the tablet technology as a way of distributing teaching and therapeutic materials.

ATPN: So your target is people already using PRC products?

RC: In the main, yes. Though we actually have heard that people have been downloading and using it with non PRC products and the reasons that sort of works is because what we're focusing on is language and vocabulary. And although the app has pictures and icons that are specific to the PRC product, the language isn't. So people are using this as a language development tool. And the same goes for the AAC Language Lab which is our Web-based location where we have lots of info about language and language development, where we have teaching ideas, and while it's geared towards people using PRC products, we do know there are a lot of people going there and adapting materials for whatever they're doing.

ATPN: Your approach to language--using symbols that can be used in specific ways to express grammatical meanings--is so sophisticated. And there's a learning curve to it, and so it's different from apps which use symbols with one meaning and/or text. I'm wondering what your reaction is to the apps and iPad phenomenon? And what the implications are for your company?

RC: This is a fundamental issue within AAC technology. Language is one of those things that we all use so intuitively that we imagine it is very easy. But the reality is that language is very complex, and when you look at it piece by piece, we do have to take some time to learn it, and translating that into technology or mechanical forms is actually a lot more complex than one might think. And the notion that you can download an app with 25 buttons and that will give you all the language you need because it's dead easy to do, is simply nonsensical, because that isn't the case. [Editor's note: see Apps Buyer Beware on the apps phenomenon subsequent to Proloquo2Go's release...]

ATPN: But for some the relief of being able to communicate at all looks like such a victory particularly when you haven't had access before.

RC: You're absolutely right because what you're putting your finger on is the notion of what is your measure of success? And the measure of success is very different in the world of mainstream consumer devices versus the world of the traditional AAC system. Sometimes we refer to this as "consumer AAC" or "over-the-counter AAC," because it's a bit like what we do if we have a headache. We don't necessarily go to see a brain surgeon or neuro surgeon, we go to CVS and buy some pills... and we have a whole selection to choose from, and either it works or it doesn't. ... And if your measure of success is previously my kid could say nothing, and now I download this app for $10 and he can say "I want a drink," and "I love my dad," and if he can do that very quickly, that may be a fit, depending on your measure of success.

For traditional AAC the measure of success is to have some form of interactive spontaneous conversation. We want our clients to be able to do what you and I are doing now, having a conversation over the phone. But for other people, that seems either too far away or not something they've ever considered. Because clearly there are people buying iPads and apps who have never come across the concept of AAC before. And when they find something that works, then that's great! I'm not going to quibble with that. But if it doesn't work than how do you help people look at other alternatives? And our job has always been to try and help those folks for whom regular technology does not work. Now, of course, with the new tablet devices, there are regular technologies that do stuff that they didn't used to do.

ATPN: Right, your field has just narrowed because of what the mainstream is now offering up.

RC: What we have to be very careful about is thinking that, oh my goodness, we're losing people here! But actually there's still all these other folks who need our stuff, who come to us and say, "Look, don't stop making your--whatever--because I can't use an iPad, I can't use it. People try to give me an iPad and I can't use it." So our job is not to compete with an iPad or Android or Samsung Tab. We can't build a 7 inch tablet for $500, that's never going to happen! But we can build devices that have specialized requirements and that build on the notion of help with service and support.

And so that's what we're doing with eBooks and the apps and the Language Lab [Web site] and specialized trainings, we're putting more of a focus on support. SLPs, they're literally having people knocking at the door, iPad in hand, saying What do I do? People have downloaded a solution that they wanted to work, nobody's doing this for a bad reason, everybody's doing this for a very good reason, they wanted to help their kid, and then when they get it, it works at a certain level, and all of these things will work for some purposes, but typically what happens is you want to do something else, you want to move on. And I think, that next question of who should I talk to, is an area where PRC and other AAC companies can be looking at. Can we offer help and support to people on AAC implementation?

ATPN: Where will I go next?

RC: Absolutely and folks really do discover that their kids tend to be smarter than people have thought, and then they say Oh this is great! However, what I've just got has taken me to a certain level but I want to move on from here and this thing that I currently have won't do that for me.

ATPN: Will PRC ever provide its system for iPad?

RC: Technically there's no reason why that couldn't happen. The bigger question for most of us mature AAC companies is how do we do it and make it so that people can get help and support. You could probably make an app that would do this, but there's still that question of who do I now talk to and where do I go for help? If we give it away for free, there will be no one to talk to.... Many of the AAC companies are built as much on service and support as they ever were on technology. 

Learn more about the stages of language development at PRC's AAC Language Lab Web site.
iPad for AAC: the Pros and Cons (...and hopes and fears)*

 

Graphic of a squirrel chewing on a nutshell.

The iPad phenomenon is a big topic. When it comes to AAC, in a nutshell, here's what ATPN has learned...

 

PROS: 

  • iPad+app=affordable accessible AAC. Schools are providing communication devices where before they weren't, families are buying it themselves (without waiting on schools or insurance). Simply put, iPad makes it easier for many more people to acquire AAC technology.
  • apps are easily customized, often by users and families (a huge relief to those who have felt dependent on professionals for programming devices).
  • the "cool factor," especially for teens, means better device adoption by users and better social integration (many report iPad functions as a conversation starter rather than stigmatizer).
  • multi purpose advantages. There are lots of reasons for "device adoption" by the iPad user (i.e. reasons to love it). For individuals with autism, this may be especially powerful. iPad is admired as an engaging learning tool beyond AAC.
  • ease of demonstration for professionals. iPad can hold multiple AAC apps, making demonstrating a range of options portable and efficient.

CONS:    

 

Lack of... 

  • insurance coverage. Medicaid/Medicare and private insurance are not commonly covering these devices as they are not "dedicated" for AAC.
  • training and support for implementing, learning, and using AAC apps (and most families admit that acquiring a system is often only half the battle).
  • time-limited trials for apps (Apple won't allow them), so no try-before-you-buy options (only "lite" options which are not full-featured).
  • durability and adequate volume for all environments (requiring purchasing accessories that can negatively impact the iPad "cool factor").
  • options for alternative access. Limited ways to adapt iPad for alternative access (switch scanning, yes). Also no infra red ECU functions.
  • touch screen sensitivity control is another reason iPad does not work for everyone.
  • hardware support and warranty (your iPad/Pod may get replaced, but you have to reinstall and reprogram apps if there's a problem).
  • research on apps (evidence of effectiveness just isn't there yet).
  • support for language development or solid AAC practice with some apps (which offer, instead, a "quick cheap fix" without growth potential for users to have spontaneous conversations).
  • LAM--software that tracks usage, monitoring progress to engage/learn the AAC method (which can prove to be critical for successful adoption).

Too much...

  • media hype (including social media). Many professionals report the hype has raised expectations beyond what is reasonable. iPads are sometimes seen as a veritable "miracle cure," particularly for autism. Can lead to after-purchase hangover.
  • acquiring without a proper assessment (to see if iPad can work for an individual).
  • pressure on SLPs and special educators to provide iPads or to make them work for children (by parents who have gone out and purchased them or by schools that have them already).
  • choice and distraction. An overwhelming number of apps exist to consider for AAC. Also, apps for gaming and social media and everything else can be distracting for the user learning an AAC method. 
iPhenomenon FEARS:
  • Medicaid will approve iPads/apps for AAC and make approval for expensive dedicated devices harder and harder to acquire by those who need them.
  • dedicated device companies will lose too much of their market to survive, and their decades of research, commitment, and know-how will be put at risk.
  • loss of availability of dedicated devices will make access to effective AAC harder for individuals who cannot use mainstream devices.
iPhenomenon HOPES:
  • mainstream awareness of AAC is going up, which is also raising awareness of and demand for AT in general.
  • expectations that technology is for everyone is becoming the new norm, putting new and positive pressure on hardware and software developers.
  • evidence of a cool-factor wrap-around effect?  Thanks to the popularity of high-tech everything, even dedicated AAC devices are a little "cooler" now. (For example, in a recent conference presentation video, 3rd graders were engaging a mainstreamed classmate about her Tobii Eye-Gaze system: "You have your own computer?! Can you get on the internet with that?")
For a good read on some of these issues, check out the white paper "Mobile Devices and Communication Apps" from the AAC-RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center). 

*Note: many of these points are true for other tablet devices and their apps as well.
New Product Spotlight:
Wego Works to One-Up iPad

Photo of two hands holding the Wego speech device which looks like an iPad.

 

The iPad is influencing a new generation of AAC devices. Last month Talk to Me Technologies released "the Wego" speech device as a direct competitor with the iPad for AAC. Wego marketing targets iPad AAC weaknesses. According to the company Web site the Wego...

  • is approved by Medicare, Medicaid and Private insurance [editor's note: approval applies to the dedicated version only and may vary state-to-state];
  • comes with a 3-year warranty;
  • comes with AAC research-based vocabulary files for different users and abilities (text or symbol communicators);
  • has voice output that can be heard in noisy environments;
  • includes training and support;
  • includes a tripod table stand and rugged carry case;
  • integrates accessible email, Skype, Facebook, internet, mp3 player capabilities within its communication software (available with the non-dedicated version);
  • allows for multiple access methods including scanning, eye gaze, head tracking, mouse, keypboard, joystick, etc.;
  • has a touch screen made from exceptionally tough, damage- and scratch-resistant glass;
  • has adjustable touch screen sensitivity options;
  • offers flexible, robust scanning features/capabilities including up to 8 switch inputs, auto scan, switch directed scan, block scanning, zoom scanning, row-column, column-row, etc.;
  • is "out of the box" communication ready.

Learn more at Wegotalk.com 

Quick Links 
Email Eliza Anderson
AAC Apps-
Say What?

 

a quickie orientation 

for the new initiate

 

Graphic of hands holding mobile device with app icons visible.   

 

AAC stands for "Augmentative and Alternative Communication." AAC apps are software applications for mobile devices that can help individuals who are non speaking or those whose speech is not usually understood by others. The apps generate speech when a user selects symbols programmed with words or phrases or when they are used to create text.

 

Types of AAC Apps

(and a few well-known examples)

 

Symbols/pictures 
representing a single meaning (select and sequence pictures to generate messages):

Text-based apps (use the alphabet to generate messages):

Combination apps (use both symbols and text):

Apps_Buyer_Beware
Apps Buyer Beware 

 Graphic of man with book holding up one finger, exclamation marks and question marks in the background.

 

In her blog at the Spectronics Web site, Jane Farrall sums up the current AAC apps phenomenon this way:

 

"Following on [the success of Proloquo2go], a number of other AAC Apps have been released upon the world. These vary enormously in quality and price[....] Many of them do not reflect good practice in AAC - and are incredibly overpriced for what they offer. They may not include any symbols, or don't let the user string together words to create novel sentences. Some of them crash frequently, or have very poor quality speech - despite their comparatively high price tag." 

 

Read more at Farrall's blog

App_Resources_for_AAC
App Resources for AAC

 Iphone graphic

1. Apps for AAC 
is a comprehensive and powerful Web site of iPad/iPhone/iPod AAC apps, offering filtered search and comparison tools. It is maintained 

by Will Wade, an OT at the ACE Centre, Oxford. Wade also reviews apps in his blog posts.

 

2. "iPhone/iPad Apps for AAC" is a continuously updated comparison chart of AAC apps courtesy of the Spectronics Web site (long-time AT vendor of Australia and New Zealand). It is maintained by Jane Farrall who has decades of experience as a special educator working with AAC. 

  

3. AAC Tech Connect provides free and fee-for-service tools for searching "quality" AAC apps (based on a defined criteria) and dedicated AAC 

devices. The AAC Apps Assistant may be sampled for free for 24 hours or 30 days if you are willing to provide feedback.

 

4. Apps for Speech-Language Pathology Practice includes links for sites reviewing apps, links to blogs about apps, and info on evaluation and implementation. Compiled by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

 

5. Boston Children's Hospital Feature Matching Chart for communication apps. This is a tool for professionals working to feature match an app to an individual's strengths and needs. Case study, chart example, and video of feature matching process are also provided.

Is Your AT Regional Center Listed at Proloquo2Go.com?
 
Cartoon owl on a branch winking.  
Did you know? The Proloquo2Go Web site has a state-by-state resources page to identify places to go see their communication app in action. Since submitting their contact info, one AT Regional Center in Boston reports a steady stream of calls from people who need AAC (augmentative and alternative communication). Many have heard about the iPad and Proloquo2Go, but not AAC in general. (Some have seen the 60 Minutes report.) One man's family went to the Proloquo2Go site because his doctor told him he needed an iPad (he has ALS). Thanks to the Proloquo2Go.com resource page, the family is now connected with an AT Regional Center operated by Easter Seals, and will learn about a full range of AT, including AAC solutions that can work for him as his needs change. The criteria for listing on the site is that the center has a device for demonstrating Proloquo2Go software (AssistiveWare can set you up with a demo copy for that purpose). 

Are your state AT Regional Centers listed at  Proloquo2Go?
iPad Funding Help
graphic of a bundle of bills and a stack of coins.
Step-by-step guide for approaching your insurance company for an iPad as AAC.

iTaalk.org's funding page Grant sources, raffles, giveaways, and scrappy suggestions for self-funding are available at this comprehensive page of iPad funding resources.

Founded by parents, iHelps raises funds for children with special needs to receive iPads and apps for communication, life skills, and social skills.

Danny's Wish is accepting applications for iPads for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders. Their goal is to raise $50,000 for 100 iPads for children most in need.

ACT Today! Autism Care and Treatment
provides grants between $100 and $5,000 to families with children on the autism spectrum (and they have funded many iPads). Families with more than one child on the autism spectrum are considered first. Grants are made quarterly.

Proloquo2Go4Free?
 
AssistiveWare Announces Proloquo2Go App Donation Program 

 

On January 26th, 2012, AssistiveWare announced a new Proloquo2Go App Donation Program, in partnership with Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region (in Illinois). The program is open to anyone in the U.S. who meets financial need requirements and has had an Augmentative Communication Evaluation by a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. 

"AssistiveWare believes Proloquo2Go can make a difference to many individuals with speech impairments, but as it may not always be the most appropriate solution it is important to partner with organizations such as Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region," the company reports in its press release.

Eligibility requirements: 

  • an adjusted gross income of under $55,000/year (minus $3,740 per dependent);
  • an assessment from a licensed Speech Language Pathologist stating that Proloquo2Go is appropriate;
  • ownership of an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad;
  • US residency;
  • last resort funding (all other sources exhausted).

(Note: a limited number of applications are reviewed per reviewing period from a random pool of completed eligible applications; depending on volume, the program may decline valid applicants for lack of funds.)

"We wanted to give back to the community but focus on those most in need," said David Niemeijer, AssistiveWare's founder and CEO. "Rather than giving away licenses through online giveaways, we wanted to ensure that we would reach those people for whom Proloquo2Go had been identified as the right solution but who do not have the funds to purchase it."

 

For more information email  

assistivetech@
AAC Device Loan Success!
Photo of the Lightwriter SL40
The Lightwriter SL40 by Toby Churchill
Last August an AT Regional Center in Massachusetts (operated by Easter Seals) hosted an open house. The event was designed so visitors could see a range of assistive technology and learn about different solutions for different challenges. One attendee was Julia, a woman who uses a power wheelchair, and travels to and from her own apartment on public transportation. Center Coordinator Kristi Peak-Oliviera had invited Julia to come by. Easter Seals, along with counselors at the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission, had been working with her on education and employment goals. Julia (who holds a BA and would like to earn her Master's in history) had recently become aware that her speech is less intelligible than is used to be--a new challenge to overcome.

 

"She came in excited about the iPad," Kristi reports. "She has always used speech to communicate, but had heard the iPad offers options for text-to-speech, and she was hoping it would work for her."

 

At the open house, Kristi set her up with the large touch screen and Julia worked to make a clean selection with her finger. She found, however, that with her limited range of motion and dexterity the iPad didn't work for her at all. She was visibly let down.

 

Seeing her disappointment, Kristi interjected, "But Julia, there are so many options for you!" Julia, she realized, was unaware of the full range of what was out there for AAC. Together they made an appointment for Julia to return for a private demonstration.

 

The outcome of that demo (as well as an AAC evaluation by Easter Seals) was a four week loan of a communication device that is radically different from the iPad. Instead of an icon-based touch screen, the Lightwriter SL40 Connect has a small keyboard and displays type on two screens. One faces the typist to aid with input, and one faces out for easy reading by others.

 

Julia is comfortable with a QWERTY keyboard (the same layout as her laptop computer)*, and found the Lightwriter's smaller keyboard worked well for her range of motion (plus built-in word prediction enhanced her speed). Other features Julia liked were the option to communicate using type with or without voice output, as well as the ability to record and store phrases she uses often to play at the touch of a button.

 

During the four week device loan period, Julia got a sense of how powerful the Lightwriter could be for her. For the first time in a long while she was able to make phone calls (which meant connecting with friends and scheduling her own doctor's appointments). Best of all, she was better able to manage her personal care attendants.

 

Today, Julia is waiting for her own Lightwriter SL40 which will be funded through MRC's Vocational Rehabilitation department. Kristi has been researching the best mount for Julia's wheelchair so the Lightwriter can swing out of the way during transfers. Julia is looking forward to mounting the Lightwriter, Kristi says, for communicating when she uses public transportation. She is also looking forward to transferring her cell phone's SIM card, and using the device for calls and sending text messages. "Working with Julia has been such a pleasure," she muses. "She can tell quickly what works for her and what doesn't. She just needed the opportunity to learn about and try what is available. Which is what the AT Regional Center is all about."

 

*Note: the keyboard of the Lightwriter SL40 can adjust between a QWERTY and ABC layout.

 

A version of this story first appeared in the MassMATCH FY2011 Annual Report.

Reminder: AT Program News makes no endorsement, representation, or warranty expressed or implied for any product, device, or information set forth in this newsletter or on its Web site. AT Program News has not examined, reviewed, or tested any product or device referred to in this newsletter or at atprogramnews.com. 
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