Affordability and AAC

Money sign and hand with cross-through


Photo by Neubie

Affordability and augmentative communication are two terms that typically do not ever appear in the same sentence, unless in the negative context (i.e. ‘augmentative communication is not affordable’). This belief is one that is generally accepted as the reality of augmentative communication, and assistive technology in general.

The major alternative/augmentative communication (AAC) device makers have long claimed innocence under the argument that it has been their own research and development dollars that have gone into producing these devices. To that end, they need to keep their prices high in order to maintain a high quality product. Although that argument does have its merits, one has to wonder whether a $3,000 or $4,000 communication device is really a justifiable price. In fact, such costs impede any single user from purchasing such a device out-of-pocket. Instead we, as clinicians, and our clients rely on insurers and grants to subsidize the costs that we incur.

Considering all of the years that AAC technology has been out of reach of the mainstream computer market, it is incredible to see that only in the past year or so, some brave companies have stood up to say ‘We have a communication solution that’s also cheap.’ With the advent of such personal computing devices as the iPad, the iPod and tablet PC’s, someone made the realization that AAC doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive anymore.

One can trace the emergence of today’s low cost computing to the surge in popularity of the netbook (those adorable 9 or 10 inch computers that seemed to go mainstream almost instantly). With some very capable low cost touch-screen computers out there, it makes a lot of sense for individual users to put together their own AAC systems for around $500 or $600. The process to create your own device involves buying a touch-screen tablet PC, iPad, or other device and then the associated communication software. The best part of such systems is that they are not dedicated communication devices, meaning the user can access programs aside from the communication software on the system. Whether it is the adult stroke victim or the autistic child, having a variety of applications available (e.g. email, games, word processing, etc.) in addition to communication software is great thing to provide a client with true accessibility.

Of course, there are drawbacks to creating your own AAC device. Such systems would not be paid for by any insurance company, as they are not dedicated devices. In addition, for less tech- savvy users, it may be a bit of challenge to tackle technical issues with your hardware and software coming from different places. Lastly, even $500 may be too much for many individuals paying out-of-pocket. That being said, most of us are already accustomed to paying premium prices for modern computing technology, so the price of a netbook or an iPad seems like a drop in the bucket.

As a software developer and clinician, I know both the technical issues involved with AAC as well as client needs. I feel strongly about providing my clients with communication solutions that work for them, and a lot of the time that means something easy, portable and practical. As speech-language pathologists working in the domain augmentative communication it is our obligation to provide education to our clients regarding all of the options that exist. Do-it-yourself AAC devices may not be for everyone, but they certainly fill a major gap in the market of devices currently available.

José A. Ortiz, M.A.CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and software developer in Brooklyn, NY. He currently works as a clinician providing Spanish-English services in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation facilities and autism education programs. José is also the owner of PAL Software Designs LLC, a software company that creates products for language professionals. Jose is a dedicated advocate for bilingual education and accessibility to augmentative communication. You can read more from José on his blog.

Comments

  1. This is a great post. I think you are also brave to “stand up” and say your opinion on the affordability of AAC (though your argument is balanced). I think this has been a bit of an elephant in the room for the past year or so.

    I always thought devices (and software) to be overpriced, but at this point, frankly, paying $250 for a GoTalk 9 is pretty absurd, since that’s half an iPad.

    • Thanks Sean. We have definitely seen a lot of really interesting consumer technology come out recently, that is easily adaptable for AAC purposes. It is going to be interesting to continue to watch and see where the market for augmentative communication is by this time next year. I think we will see lot of consumer-oriented devices coming out which will drive down prices even further.

  2. Chelsea Sarci says:

    Thanks for the piece—I wish there was a comprehensive list of products in order of price and features sort of like a chart that determines what is most price effective and what features are lacking etc. Any thoughts anyone?

  3. Jennifer Martucci says:

    Great post Jose. Well written and non-biased perspective. It’s really important for our clients and families to know all their options when researching AAC systems and what’s available. With todays modern technologies, AAC systems are so much more readily available and accessible which is very exciting for potential and curent AAC users!
    Let’s hope the trend continues, it will be interesting to see how cost is affected…

  4. TextSpeak TS-04 is just $529. This is by far the lowest cost keyboard based AAC device available and allows direct typing from a wireless or large key keyboard. In my case I suggested the Large Key version and it worked out just perfectly. This is a pretty low-tech solution, but was perfect for my needs and the price was so low we just used a credit card to purchase. they are at textspeak.com or enablemart.com

  5. The link for textspeak was at http://www.textspeak.com/