Home Speech-Language Pathology AAC and the Digital Divide. Access and Money

AAC and the Digital Divide. Access and Money

by Landria Seals Green

Old fashioned census device

Photo by Pargon

(This post originally appeared on the SLC Therapy blog)

I am the first to raise my hand or nod in agreement when and if the question “Do you think current top of the line AAC devices are cost prohibitive?”

Absolutely they are! They have always been. A lot of things are expensive…

As a consultant and evaluator of Assistive Technology, I was and still am excited about how the world is moving to create technology devices for people with disabilities. I am impressed with the Apple iPad, iTouch, and iPhone products. I am excited about the Android apps. I am thrilled with Tablet touch screen computers. I am enthusiastic about the technology reaching the consumer level.

I just wish someone would just say that the iPad, iTouch, and iPhone were created for all consumers. If they were completey geared towards people with special needs..challenges seen in Motor Access, Visual Access, and Hardware flexibility would not be present. Do I own Apple products? Yes! Do I use them in assessments? Yes Do I recommend them? Sometimes.

I am glad that so many useful apps are being created. I am saddened that training is not a component. The apps for AAC seem to present to consumers as a magical button to families and make the non-tech SLP an AAC expert. It looks visually welcoming and more socially acceptable than a larger dedicated speech generating device. The apps meet the demand without quality assurance or review…consumers are screaming for the tool that will work for their family members with communication impairments. It is our job as a profession to impart knowledge, training with whatever tool is being recommended.

Along with challenges of motor and visual access is the economic access. Insurance is nonsupportive in reimbursement or paying for non speech generating devices. Most people want and should be able to use their medical benefits. Not every family can afford to purchase with experimentation and hope that this new app will get Johnny talking!

Sure the medical insurance panel community should step into this century. At the same time, we need to have more reasons for recommendations than “it works”. They need data…and so should SLPs and other AAC Consultants. I’m amazed at the number of professionals abandoning sound analysis and sacrificing that last $700 a family has to use an iPad. Let’ make our analysis look like a true evaluation with a process map that will actually get the person talking. If the iPad is the recommendation, so be it! But give them a plan to actually get talking.

Last Christmas the Hollyrod Foundation accepted donations for the iPad and the Proloquo2Go. It was/is a wonderful program. I gave and was happy as an SLP that the child’s SLP had to be listed and actually be part of the planning of the device.

Here is a link to a white paper by AAC-RERC discussing AAC apps and mobile devices.

My utopia wish:

  1. Develop an affordable AAC device using the One Child Per Laptop mode.
  2. Insurance Panels allow people to use their benefits for durable medical equipment suitable in this century.
  3. Stop the cool AAC app and focus on quality control and letting parents know what the apps are capable and incapable of doing…and asking parents “Does this app work with the communication vision you have for your child?”
  4. Apple donates iPads to families as learning tools as a way of saying Thank you to a market they did not think of when they created the iApple family products.

Landria Seals Green,M.A., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and Executive Director of SLC Therapy. Mrs. Green enjoys her work as an assistive technology consultant.

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Deborah L. Bennett April 13, 2011 - 7:24 am

I think Dr. Alan Brightman and others that have worked on access issues for people with disabilities at Apple would disagree that they did not think of this market when creating their products. I encourage you to look into the history of Apple’s Worldwide Disability Solutions Group, which began in 1980 with a mission to ensure Apple products were accessible to adults and children with disabilities of all kinds. Many creative innovations came from this dedicated group of amazing people.

Landria Seals Green April 13, 2011 - 11:03 am

Ms Bennett,
Thank you for commenting! I must say I am vaguely aware of Apple’s Worldwide Disability Solutions Group. But, I must point out that most major tech companies have a disability arm internally (i.e. Google). Maybe historically, this group was strong and influential within Apple. As a consumer and one who thinks of access for people with disabilities, I’m not sure and cannot see their mark of influence in the hardware itself when I look at the latest models and resurgence of the Apple product. Maybe recommendations from the Disability division within the organization did not heavily weigh from the product development and production side in this particular season of heightened popularity. For example, basic access privileges would have provided a USB port to link and utilize access switches for those without fine motor dexterity and with visual scanning needs…the first edition iPad did not have this capability. Yes, the software and apps created for those with special learning needs are wonderful. Still, the machinery (hardware) is not completely accessible to those who require true accessibility options outside of picture enlargement. I will not even detail the lack of portability and transference of data across platforms. Yes, I am quite critical when you I view it through the lens’ of economic and accessibility divides…commonly termed as the digital divide.

Shirley Morganstein April 13, 2011 - 1:02 pm

Thanks so much for posting this. Definitely needs to be heard.

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