1999 Conference Proceedings

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STRATEGIES FOR MAINTAINING LISTENERS' INTEREST

Rick Hohn, AAC Consultant
Motivational Speaker - Author - Artist
1125 Cottontail Road
Vista, CA 92083
Phone: 760-598-8336
E-Mail: rickstalk@juno.com

Background

One of the biggest challenges for AAC users is maintaining the interest of listeners. Many AAC users, myself included, have experienced frustration when people walk away without realizing that a message is being composed or they jump to the wrong conclusion. Strategies which prevent such breakdowns are an important aspect of being an effective AAC user. With input and recommendations from consumers DynaVox Systems Inc., added new features to the DynaVox 3100. These features when combined with various strategies are designed to decrease communication breakdowns.

This presentation will demonstrate strategies used to maintain the interest of listeners while highlighting the new features of the DynaVox 3100. For each strategy, different participants will be asked to act out, with the presenter, a communication scenario. To help recognize optimal applications a discussion will follow each act regarding the effectiveness of the strategy and explaining the DynaVox 3100 features used.

Composing Messages Out Loud with Speak on Entry

One of the problems with using an AAC device in conversing, especially with strangers, is that listeners became impatient and walk away. This occurs even when an AAC user says "Please be patient as I compose a message in my DynaVox. You will hear silence, so hold on please. Thank you!" Too often after composing a message the AAC user will look up to see the listener has vanished from sight.

After sharing this problem with the DynaVox developers and describing the need for auditory feedback to maintain listeners' interest, Speak on Entry was added to the DynaVox 3100. The Speak on Entry feature allows each word to be spoken as it is placed in the message window. This makes it possible for the listener to follow along as a message is being composed. Speak on Entry allows the AAC user to hold the listeners attention, especially when composing messages with word prediction or single word arrangements.

This is particularly useful when talking with strangers or with a listener new to speaking with an AAC user in a one-to-one situation. It is also extremely beneficial during telephone conversations. Instead of hearing dead silence and wondering if the AAC user is composing or have they become disconnected, a communication partner can listen to each word as it is being generated.

Cueing Listeners to the Communication Style with Stored Statements

There are many stored statements which cue listeners to how AAC users communicate. "Please be patient, while I compose a message to talk to you." is a cue that can be used often. The larger display on the DynaVox 3100 provides space for more buttons/messages. Instead of changing to another communication page or popup, AAC users have more direct access to stored statements which can be used in different situations.

For example; when using the Speak on Entry feature users can tell listeners "When my message is complete, my device will repeat it to you." This helps the listener to understand the message. Another cue would be to give the listener permission to guess what the AAC user is trying to say by telling them "Please feel free to guess if you think you know what I am trying to say so that we will have more time to talk."

But when a partner has a habit of incorrectly guessing messages a user can say "I am sorry, but I prefer you not guessing at what I am saying. Please wait until I compose my message." Some users find this situation intimidating. A user may feel the listener won't respect their wishes; even with the prior message, but will jump and run with the few words spoken. In such cases, Speak on Entry can be turned off with the following explanation "Please be patient as I compose a message to speak to you."

For the listener who reads a message off the screen prior to being invited the following statement works "I am sorry, but I prefer you to not look over my shoulder when I am speaking to you. It makes me really nervous." To invite a listener to read a message use "Please feel free to look over my shoulder to read my message." And if a user wants the message private and doesn't want anybody else to hear it they can explain "I have a secret. Please read my screen while I tell you." Participants in the audience will be encouraged to give other ideas for stored statements.

Quick Novel Conversation with Prediction & Searches

Much of what an AAC user needs to say may not be anticipated or like myself, some just prefer to converse freely by spelling their messages. Spelling each word can be slow and can lead to losing a listeners attention. Although word prediction on the DynaVox 2c has vastly increased this users typing, generic phrase prediction speeds up communication even more by guessing multiple words at a time. Phrases like "I don't think, he doesn't want, and could you please " as well as personal starter phrases such as "when you get a chance" make communicating quicker.

Furthermore, adding vocabulary search buttons to a word prediction page provides increased opportunities to access words and phrases. A topic based search with prediction set to on will generate vocabulary items related to the topic matching the sequence of letters entered by the user.

Responding to Interruptions with Chat Mode and Save to Verbal Cue

Sometimes, while composing a message or while creating written material an AAC user will be required to respond to an interruption. Since an AAC user will typically need to stop composing, save their work and clear the message window before responding, this can be annoying. And then to resume after the interruption, the AAC user will need to open the file, or start over if they erased their work. The Chat Mode feature decreases the frustration of this situation by opening a second message window. This enables a user to immediately respond to someone without changing the contents of the main message window. Then once the interruption has ended the user can quickly return to the original unchanged message.

Additionally, while talking to somebody a message can be saved to a Verbal Cue. Most AAC users would much rather spend time in actual conversation instead of doing preparatory work. Using Chat Mode lets an AAC user make quick comments while creating a longer more detailed message which can be saved to a Verbal Cue and used at an appropriate time during the discussion.

Fixing Mistakes with the Hit of a Button (Delete Word)

When asking someone to be patient while a user composes a message to speak, every second is valuable. Delete Word erases the word or symbol to the left of the cursor. This saves the user time and effort to erase a previous word rather than backspacing to delete character by character. This feature gives a user the cutting edge by allowing them to fix errors rapidly.

Summary

These strategies along with the new features give a DynaVox 3100 user an extra edge to maintain listeners' interest. Participants will learn through example how effective these strategies are for an AAC user.

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