Technology enhances and changes lives for people with disabilities

Today I read this wonderful article in the Guardian about the effect that Proloquo2Go and an iPad has had on the life of a man with autism. I know the effects of this software as I also use one of the apps from the same company, and it is incredible.

A speech pathologist friend told me that not long ago – maybe 5 or 10 years ago even – technology like this was incredibly expensive. Upwards of $10 000 for a box that was programmed to speak various words that could be put into phrases. My friend also told me of the hours she would spend setting each one of these up every time one of her clients got one.

Now I have an iPad and an app that cost $100. Yes, there are free apps  but none have the capabilities of these apps. In the version I have, I type and it speaks. I have used it to do speeches for me and to take part in conference calls. Admittedly, I don’t use it as often as I should, as it takes practice to have a conversation, both from the person typing and the person listening! I keep challenging myself to use it more often. Let’s call it a thought in progress.

The voice I use is called Rachel. She’s a bit posh, but she’s English. If I really wanted to, I could spend the time and money getting my own voice synthesized…but would I really want to listen to myself?!? Did you know that Stephen Hawking has chosen to stay with the choppy voice with the US accent that we all recognise him with rather than go to something smoother? Why? Because we all identify him as having that voice!

When I say I have an iPad, that’s not actually true. I have two iPads and an iPhone and it’s on all three of them! Why two iPads? Well, when I bought the first one I really didn’t think I would use it that much as I had an android tablet I loved, so I would ONLY use it for this app and bought the smallest size. Yeah, no. I quickly ran out of space. I now keep that iPad at my bedside to use in all the hours I spend in bed and I have a BIG memory iPad that goes everywhere with me. Plus a bluetooth speaker and bluetooth keyboard and we’re away!

The change for me is not so huge as it is for the man in the Guardian article. I know that, at the moment, if I wait and rest, my speech will come back. For him, this is his only way to communicate. 

Not being able to communicate is way worse than being in a wheelchair. I needed to return something to BestBuy. Ian was meeting a friend in the mall, so I said I would go by myself and catch him up. My speech failed and I was reduced to the slow slurring speech that I have posted in previous videos. I was treated extremely poorly by the counter staff who refused to refund my purchase. I left in tears. Ian returned the next morning with the same item and was refunded immediately. I often reflect on what it would be like if this was my constant daily experience with everyone.

Through a closed Facebook group for people that use these apps, I have met a number of people like Kevin. Their stories of how they feel liberated to finally be able to communicate thoughts and feelings are amazing. Without it, they are reduced to no communication, pointing or single words that they use for functional things. 

The app that Kevin uses, Proloquo2Go, allows people to build picture boards on themes. These boards then allow them to communicate complex ideas. Look at the detail that one person created on this one board. Amazing and life changing!



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