Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

Wanted: AAC Role Models

Filed under: Living with a disability — by at 6:57 pm on Thursday, April 21, 2011

On my recent trip, I was very grateful for my iPad and the newly acquired ability to communicate with anyone:

  • While waiting at the Dallas airport for the delayed flight to Austin, I chatted with Steve who was also on his way to South by Southwest (SXSW).
  • My first night at SXSW, I had supper with my friend Todd Jordan. It was one of those meals when more talking than eating took place.
  • Wandering the SXSW Exhibit Hall, I had a nice chat with Patti Hosking from BlogWorld Expo.
  • While waiting for the airline customer service rep to arrange an accessible hotel for my unscheduled stopover in Phoenix, I was able to tell her I was not deaf; there was no need to communicate via notes to me.
  • Exploring the 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN) Exhibit Hall, I was able to ask questions about a particular device on behalf of a friend.
  • After my CSUN presentation, I ordered celebratory iced mocha and then tweeted:
    GlendaWH: Scored an iced mocha. Loving my ipad and proloquo2go! #csun11 17-March-2011
  • At the Holiday Inn, I was able to arrange for the accessible shuttle to the airport.
  • And the list continues…

When I had realized how much more I was able to interact with people not fluent in Glenda-ish, the questions struck during a quiet moment at CSUN. How had I travelled and attended conferences before my iPad? How much had I missed out on by not having a communication device? Who had I missed interacting with? What opportunities had I missed? How different might high school and university have been? Might I have been successful in finding a job after graduation?

Yes, previously, I used my alphabet card and typed many notes for communication. Those methods worked for brief encounters. But, they didn’t facilitate on-the-spot, in-depth conversations.

I then realized that CSUN is likely the first time I had seen others using various communication devices. I am nearly 45 years old, with a significant speech impairment, and this is the first time I have seen this is kind of device in action? How is that even possible? Something is definitely wrong here.

Prior to CSUN, my exposure to communication devices, to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) consisted of:

  • In elementary school, Randy was several years older than me and had cerebral palsy perhaps a tiny bit more involved than mine. At one point he tried a large, clumsy “voice box” with a very limited vocabulary. He soon went back to his large alphabet board.
  • In university, Carla was voiceless due to a car accident. She used some kind of small device with which she laboriously typed messages onto a small screen.
  • More recently I have briefly met AJ Brown who is also voiceless and uses a Light Writer device. Sign language is her primary means of communication.

That was it!

Of course, there had been the occasional attempt by counsellors and therapists to get me to use such a device, but I was not interested. I was scared people would stop trying to understand me when I did talk. I didn’t want to be stopped from having my own voice from being heard. And, I wasn’t keen on lugging around yet something else that made me different.

One reason for my lack of interest in using such a thing was I hadn’t seen others communicating in that way. For a skill set that relies heavily on observing and learning how others around us communicate, I didn’t have anyone using a device to watch and learn from. Nobody on television or in the public eye communicated in that manner.

Where were my role models?

That was until I became aware of physicist professor Stephen Hawking who uses a text-to-speech synthesizer to give lectures. And, last year, when movie critic Roger Ebert, who loss his jaw, and subsequently, his ability to speak, to cancer, his interview on Oprah further opened my eyes and my mind to the possibility of using a communication device.

The launch of the iPad combined with the Proloquo2Go app came along at the right time for me. The iPad’s coolness factor also prompted me to give the device a try for communicating.

The key here is that the idea didn’t come from a teacher, counsellor or therapist, but rather from a desire within myself – a desire for a way to communicate with those beyond the limited number who understand and who are willing to try to understand Glenda-ish. That desire plus my initiative to identify, for myself, individuals who I could relate to in terms of communication needs – to identify role models – plus the launch of the cool iPad created an opportunity for me to embrace using a device for communication.

I am grateful for that opportunity and for the changes in my life it has made in such a relatively short time. I strongly believe that for young people with speech disabilities and for adults who lose their ability to speak to experience the full benefits of communication devices (suited to their individual needs), they need similar role models to guide them and teach them to communicate in this way.

For this to occur, successful individuals who use communication devices need to become more visible, in the public eye, on television, in advertising, in education – everywhere! I’d love challenge those who are in positions to make this happen to, indeed, make this happen. Let me know how I can be of service.

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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Comment by marylee stephenson

April 21, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

Glenda gets it just right — as usual! Partly I think that there is reason to be irritated if not outraged that earlier in life there was so little in the way to communicated more broadly — but a lot of that had to do with the primitive state of technology. ON the other hand, it might have been more sophisticated earlier if this had been a higher priority for inventors, marketers, etc.

Then I’m struck with how there seems to be some kind of wave of quite astounding communications “supports” “aids,” whatever. And of course, Glenda is ever watching out for the latest advances and using them to their maximum. And I think the wave will continue, perhaps become a tsunami. Glenda will be surfing the maximum edge of the curls!!!! And being the role model she so would have been glad for when younger. A role model non only for persons with communication impediments, but for those of us who need to be more aware and educated about these difficulties. We need to “normamlize” them inside ourselves and among our friends, family, and community at large.

well, maybe I’m over the top here, but I hope readers will get my point — I can be pretty abstruse at times!

best to everyone!

Comment by Sue

April 22, 2011 @ 7:59 am

Glenda, I thought of you and your iPad this past week. There had been recent news stories about a teenage boy with autism who was unable to verbally communicate. Now, with his iPad, he can talk to people in his school, and he said that he felt a part of society and his school. I can’t seem to locate the news article on any of my local news sites (must be having a bad google day!). I did find, however, that apparently the iPad has turned into a very useful tool for those with Autism, and parents.

I don’t know if he was using Proloquo2Go, but his mother said that he didn’t want to use the (very expensive) AAC tools until he got the iPad. Along with the size (and expense, or lack thereof), there was the oh so obvious coolness factor… students walk up to him to talk about it and… he talks with them!

I was really impressed at the difference in the young boy, before and after the iPad. Even cooler was that I saw that technology being used, before. By you! So I knew exactly how much freedom that small device can provide.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Comment by Leslie Porter

April 22, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

I am appreciate of your article. I have a 15 year old daughter who has athetoid cp as well. We have read your book and she could so relate to many situations. She has had an ECO 14 device for years but getting her to use it has been difficult. We got an Ipad and P2go last year or so but she is so reluncant to use it so she sticks with talking to close friends and family and being quiet in new settings. Just last week she said she would like to “talk more” but I think having the Ipad as a viable option to her speech (which new people have a hard time understanding as you well understand) would really help but she needs safe opportunites and role models to get to a point she is comfortable using this.
Any suggestions?

Comment by Jesse the K

April 22, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

Excellent points. What’s frustrating to me is how long the technology has been available, and yet two things presented its adoption: funding (too expensive) and interface (too clunky).

Last fall I attended an assistive technology fair at my local University. There were students and presenters who were completely ignorant of the iPhone and iPad apps now available. Several AAC hardware booths were staffed by pleasant and ill-informed young people who seemed to have never met someone like you, and (sadly) didn’t understand why a mass-market less-than $1000 box would make a huge difference in a person’s life.

Comment by Simon Cox

May 11, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

Hello Glenda,

I recently downloaded your book and got a copy in the mail. I would love to have a chat with you sometime.
We have a newsletter dealing for the clients of our programs and would love to include your article on using the Ipad as an ACS device. Can we have your permission to do that? IS there a charge.


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