Notes From Existing Communication Aids
It would be unrealistic to assume that what we were doing was entirely new and therefore it would inexcusable not to learn from the existing aides. In the course of research we explored two communication aides, the Touch Talker™ and the Liberator™. The information on the Touch Talker™ comes from Michaels experiences with it. The information on the Liberator™ comes from Denver Childrens Hospital where we were allowed some "hands-on" use and direct observation of actual clients using the aide.
Michael had been using a Touch Talkerä for eight years and we were given some very good information about his experiences with the aide by his family and his speech therapist [BH93]. The Touch Talker™ is a box with recessed button areas, speaker, liquid crystal display (LCD), and other necessary support equipment. The button areas are grouped in an ON/OFF area and a grid area for use in selection (all buttons are recessed). The ON/OFF area consists of two regular sized (½" square) recessed buttons, with no other provision for turning the machine on or off. The grid area is set up for two overlays (stiff plastic sheets controlling the number of buttons and the symbols above those buttons). The first overlay consists of eight large areas (with pictures pasted over them) which are supposed to act like large buttons for Michaels use. The other overlay is a full keyboard for the facilitator to use in programming the aide. The LCD lays flat on the box above the button areas. The speaker faces out the back, and there are additional controls for volume and viewing angle located in convenient places on the box. There were several problems with the system that were pointed out to us by the family:
The machine is extremely difficult to program because it requires words to be put in by their phonemes (the sounds that make up words). This and the voice quality problem have been corrected in the current versions of the Touch Talker™. The LCD provided for feedback to the operator is angled in such a way that a wheelchair confined operator cannot read it (regardless of the viewing angle adjustment). To make matters worse the text scrolls across the screen in a fashion the client, though literate, cannot read due to his disorder. Another problem with the LCD is that it scrolls the phonemes, not words; this problem has been correct in later versions of the aide. The complete text scrolls across the LCD in an uninterruptable fashion, and scrolls across slowly. This means that there is often as much as a five minute delay waiting for the LCD to catch up with what was just said. During this time no other communications can take place. This greatly reduces the aides usefulness in real-time situations such as spontaneous conversation. Note: for Michael to upgrade his Touch Talker™ to the current version, which alleviated the noted problems, would cost $3000.
Another aide we investigated was The Liberator™[TK93]. It consists of 128 keys with the same kind of overlays as Touch Talker™. It has the same problems with dead zones, ON/OFF button sizing, and touch typing that the Touch Talker™ has (see above). However, it has the choice of three quite natural sounding voices, and its output is based on a combinative symbol system (e.g. ME + WALKING Þ I want to go for a walk). It is programmed in a fairly intuitive manner; to add a new phrase you type in the words you would like to be said, spelled normally, and then assign the phrase to a key combination. It has a non-scrolling, fast, multi-line LCD display, and a miniature printer. We could not ascertain the usefulness of the printer. The aide is designed to be interfaced to MAC™ computers, supports many different client physical capabilities, and has a price tag of around $8000.
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