1998 Conference Proceedings

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Barry A. Romich
Prentke Romich Company
1022 Heyl Road
Wooster, OH 44691
Voice/Message: 330-262-1984
FAX: 330-263-4829
Internet: bromich@aol.com 
WWW site: http://www.prentrom.com

Prentke Romich Company is the world leading manufacturer in the areas of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and computer access. The PRC headquarters is routinely the site of many developments that are having an impact on the lives of people with disabilities in these areas. Being shared during this session are new products and services and product updates introduced since the 1997 CSUN Conference. Also to be presented will be a summary of research and anecdotal observations that is useful in guiding clinical activity in the areas of AAC system selection and implementation.

PRC communication aids feature Unity(R), a method of coding vocabulary using short sequences of multi-meaning icons. Unity promotes transparency for faster communication through the use of a continuous cognitive process. Unity is clearly the AAC system of choice for a great number of people who rely on AAC. Unity is based on the previously developed Words Strategy and was developed in part under a grant from the United States Department of Education.

The 80/20 rule often is used to describe certain phenomena. An example for a teacher might be that 80% of the problems come from 20% of the students. Or for a business that 80% of the sales come from 20% of the customers. There's actually no connection between the 80 and 20 since they are describing different items, but the coincidence of their summing to 100 helps people remember the relationship.

The 80/20 rule for language is more like the 85/15 rule. Over 85% of what we say is said with far less than 15% of the words, actually more like 1% or 2%. This is a well known phenomenon. The vast majority of what we say every day can be said with a vocabulary of just a few hundred words. However, we occasionally use other words less frequently. If we were to cat uency of use, those groups might be called:

For those who would find it helpful to have a visual representation of 85,15 and 2:




For people who rely on AAC, it is important to distinguish between core vocabulary and extended vocabulary. For effective communication, access to the core vocabulary must be automatic. Yet access to extended vocabulary must be provided.

In AAC there are three commonly used language representation methods:

Each method has particular attributes relative to core and extended vocabulary. Consequently, it is unlikely that the most effective method of representing both vocabulary categories, core and extended, will be the same. Spelling is good for extended vocabulary because any word can be spelled, if the user has the necessary skill. Spelling is not so good for core vocabulary. While it can be automatic, spelling is slow because so many letters need to be selected to communicate meaning. Word prediction has been used to reduce the number of selections required, but the research clearly shows that, for most people, using word prediction is no faster than spelling one letter at a time. This is true even for slow selection techniques, such as scanning.

Single meaning pictures are good for extended vocabulary. It is possible to teach a single meaning for a particular picture. Single meaning pictures are not so good for core vocabulary, where most words are abstract and are not good picture producers. A review of the list of core words reveals that few are nouns and only some of the nouns are object nouns, the only words that are obvious picture producers. Because of the frequent use of core vocabulary, systems us exclusively tend to be implemented on dynamic display technology and require cumbersome and slow navigation from one screen of pictures to another.

Semantic compaction (Minspeak(TM)) is not so good for extended vocabulary since infrequently used multi-meaning icon codes may be difficult to remember. However, semantic compaction is good for core vocabulary. Codes used often are easily and quickly accessed.

These attributes can be represented using the following AAC language representation method efficacy matrix. This matrix is further supported by various research and outcomes studies and observations.

AAC Language Representation Method Efficacy Matrix

Method Good for Extended
Good for Core
Spelling YES NO
Single Meaning Pictures YES NO
Semantic Compaction NO YES

So this consideration of core vs. extended vocabulary, language representation methods used in AAC, and their attributes would suggest that the ideal AAC system is one in which all three methods are available. This would allow access to each of the vocabulary categories using the best method for the individual and the type of vocabulary, core or extended. The Vanguard(TM), a Minspeak communication device available from Prentke Romich Company, is the first and only AAC device to offer all three methods.

Vanguard also is the first and only AAC dynamic display device to include the communication power of Unity®. The Unity aspect of Vanguard offers fast and efficient access to core vocabulary, resulting in powerful, spontaneous communication.

Simultaneously, the dynamic display aspect of Vanguard offers access to less frequently used activity vocabulary. Dynamic display devices have been available for many years, but the people who use them generally have not achieved rates of communication that begin to compare with those of people who use Unity and Words Strategy. It is clear that, for most people, the ach for accessing the frequently used vocabulary of everyday conversation. Yet the dynamic display does have appeal for accessing the infrequently used vocabulary that relates to particular activities and topics. Vanguard is the only AAC device to include the best of both worlds in a single system.

Minspeak has been enhanced through dynamic display technology in various ways. First, icon prediction is implemented by shading the icons not useful for completing a sequence. Second, icons can be embellished or changed to be more concrete. For example, many abstract words can be represented by pictures that can be explained to and learned by the user. Also, the word "tent" may be stored under a sequence of two icons containing images of a house and a mountain. When the house is selected, the mountain can change into a tent, leaving no question as to the word stored there. Third, icons that terminate sequences can show the word(s) that will be retrieved at that location. While this feature is worthless to the user who cannot read, it can be valuable to support people such as the SLP, teacher, family member, or others. Fourth, an icon buffer retains the icon sequence used for the most recent selection. This can be powerful in teaching automatic use of the system.

Physical access to Vanguard includes manual pointing using the touchscreen (keyguard optional), single and multiple switch scanning, and wireless active headpointing. In addition, Vanguard can be operated using a Microsoft mouse and compatible trackball, proportional joystick, and other interfaces.

Vanguard infrared remote control allows people who use this AAC device to have wireless computer access and environmental control. It can learn the codes of remote controls from TVs, VCRs, stereo systems, and others. It also knows the One For All X-10 commands and can operate the EZ Phone.

BUILLD(TM) for Unity Vanguard Version is a package of therapy materials intended to facilitate the implementation of Unity Vanguard Version with children.

Unity Condensed Version is a 128 location program which uses sequences that are predominantly two icons in length. It allows easy transition to the full Unity 128 Version.

AlphaTalker(TM) II has replaced AlphaTalker in the PRC AAC product line. It is complemented by the inclusion of Unity for AlphaTalker and BUILLD for Unity AlphaTalker.

In the area of computer access the presentation will include HeadMaster 2000 and updates to the Infrared Receiver, KeyREP(R) (rate enhancement package), WiVox(R) (speech output), and WiViK(R) (Windows Visual Keyboard).

Those who read this paper and are not in attendance at the conference are encouraged to contact PRC for current product literature.

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