2001 Conference Proceedings

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Alice Wong & Dick Stein
Cerebral Palsy Center for the Bay Area
4500 Lincoln Avenue
Oakland, CA 94602
Phone: (510) 531-3323
E-mail: awwong@cpcoak.org, dlstein@cpcoak.org

This session will describe a variety of sequential computer-based activities designed to promote and increase the use of high and low-tech AAC systems for persons with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI). Participants will explore more than thirty (30) computer-based AAC activities in 9 curriculum areas designed to improve the userís overall communication skills, including discrimination, classification, problem solving and early literacy.

Over the past ten years, computers have come to play an increasingly integral role in the education of individuals with severe speech and physical impairments due, in part, to the following reasons: (a) computers can be accessed by anyone who can consistently and reliably move any part of their body; (b) computers provide access to learning through multiple accessibility features; (c) lessons can be self-paced and users can learn independently; (d) computers can simulate the features of many AAC systems; (e) computers provide consistent, non-judgmental and positive feedback; (f) computers can provide a multimedia learning environment, (g) software can be adapted to address users at different levels of ability, knowledge and skill; and (h) activities can be individualized based on the userís interest and cultural background. Additionally, computers are non-threatening, fun to use and self-esteem building when users achieve success through easy-to-master activities. If users are paired or work in small groups, computers can provide opportunities for turn taking and socialization that are, in turn, important communication skills.

Computers are ideal for the purpose of providing access to a communication system, since many of the features and techniques used to communicate with a dedicated AAC system are easily simulated on a computer. For instance, BoardMaker(TM) software (Mayer-Johnson, Co.) and DynaSyms(R) (DynaVox Systems, Inc.) are often used to make non-electronic communication boards and books. The same graphic symbols can be used in authoring software such as Speaking Dynamically Pro(TM) (Mayer-Johnson, Inc.) to create computer-based communication activities. A person who is learning the communicative meaning of picture symbols can use a touch sensitive computer screen (Touch Window(R) by Edmark(R), Inc.) to touch picture symbols and receive voice feedback on the meaning of the symbol.

Many AAC devices use dynamic display screens with a branching feature. When the user, for example, touches a menu item, such as, social conversation, the computer branches to a page that contains messages used in social settings. This environment can be readily simulated on a computer. In most cases, the access method used for the high tech AAC system is the same as that used to access a computer.

The activities we will present in this session were created using authoring software that includes IntelliPics(R) and IntelliTalk II (R) (IntelliTools, Inc.) and Speaking Dynamically Pro (Mayer-Johnson, Inc.). During the session, we will present and describe more than thirty (30) computer-based AAC activities in nine (9) curriculum areas. The specific sequential goals of these activities are:

  1. to increase the userís knowledge and skills of computer input devices, for example, a switch, alternative keyboard or touch screen;
  2. to increase the userís understanding of "cause and effect" concepts;
  3. to improve the userís ability to discriminate colors, shapes, photographs of people and objects, picture communication symbols, letters, numbers and sounds;
  4. to increase the userís sorting and grouping skills;
  5. to improve the userís classification skills;
  6. to improve the userís ability to identify colors, shapes, photographs of people and objects, picture communication symbols, letters, numbers and sounds;
  7. to improve the userís listening skills;
  8. to improve the userís ability to sequence and recall information;
  9. to improve the userís problem-solving skills;
  10. to increase the userís understanding of position, direction and quantitative concepts;
  11. to improve the userís phonics skills; and
  12. to improve the userís reading and writing skills.

Most of the activities we will present are generic and will thus serve as models to a large number of professionals. It should be noted that some activities might be more or less difficult within a curriculum area as they are based on the userís needs, interests and ability level. The session will conclude with the results of interviews conducted to examine the satisfaction and perceptions of 15 individuals with SSPI who used the computer-based activities on a regular basis for over six months. Following is a sample of interview questions the participants will be asked. Were the activities helpful to you? If so, how were they helpful? Do you think you learned from using the activities? Did you like using the activities? Why? Were the activities age-appropriate for you? If so, why? If the activities were not age-appropriate, what made them inappropriate for you? Are you better able to access the computer now? Have you increased your ability to identify letters, colors, numbers and sounds? Was there anything about the activities you did not like? If so, what didnít you like and why? Please describe suggestions that would improve the activities.

Finally, some preliminary data will be presented on the number of study participants who advanced from one curriculum area to the next and the number of participants who advanced through multiple levels of the curriculum.

Concluding comments will be shared followed by time for questions and answers.


IntelliTools, Inc.

IntelliPics ģ V.1.2, 1994-95

IntelliTalk II (C) 2000

IntelliKeys ģ 1993-95

Overlay Maker ģ V.2.2b, 1992-95

Novato, California

Don Johnston, Inc.

Discover:Switch ô 1996

Wauconda, Illinois


DynaVox Systems, Inc.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

TouchWindow ģ

Edmark ģ, Inc.

Redmond, Washington

Mayer-Johnson Co.

BoardMakerô V.3.3.2 1990-95 by Dennis L. King

Speaking Dynamically Proô V.2.0.1 1990-97

Solana Beach, California

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