2002 Conference Proceedings

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Gail Gegg Rosenberg, M.S., CCC-A
Director, Special Needs Education
Interactive Solutions, Inc.
6448 Parkland Drive
Sarasota, FL 34243
Phone: 941-753-5000, Ext. 3303 or 888-463-0474, Ext. 3303
FAX: 941-752-3669
Email: grosenberg @info-isi.com
Website: http://www.isi-icommunicator.com

Technologies that provide communication access solutions have been in development and in the marketplace for many years. However, it is often difficult to find precisely the right technology to meet the needs of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Communication accessibility, independent communication, and improving language and literacy levels for many persons who are deaf or hard of hearing led to the development of the iCommunicator™ system. This revolutionary speech and voice recognition technology, offers independence to end users in most natural communication environments across the age span. It has applications as an advanced assistive technology to provide an interactive solution to communication accessibility problems in educational, workplace, and public access environments. Although originally developed as a communication solution for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, this interactive assistive technology offers widespread application to other potential users, such as individuals who are speech or voice impaired and those who experience difficulty processing information and multitasking. (Refer to Table 1.)

In order to use this system successfully, candidacy criteria considerations have been developed to ensure the appropriateness of the recommendation of this technology by IEP and Assistive Technology (AT) teams, rehabilitation counselors, and other decision-makers responsible for proposing assistive technology solutions. Candidacy criteria considerations include user characteristics and skills that should be considered to determine the appropriateness of this communication access technology for specific end users. The most important consideration is that there be a positive match between the end user needs and the capabilities of the iCommunicator system. It is important to note that these considerations apply to student and adult users, but that there is a strong developmental component that must be evaluated for the younger users.

Candidacy criteria considerations for use of the iCommunicator are displayed in Table 2. Special communication needs of the intended user; age-related factors; cognitive level and collateral skills such as attention span and divided attention ability, the ability to learn and remember new procedures, the ability to troubleshoot or problem-solve must each be considered in determining the appropriateness of this technology. In addition the individual’s language level, metacognitive and metalinguistic skills, and primary mode of communication are critical concerns. The individual’s reading comprehension level and collateral skills; psychosocial factors such as motivation and the intended user’s level of responsibility and maturity; computer literacy; task analysis of the place and purpose of use (e.g., content, delivery style, location of use); user supports, and the need for any peripheral devices are additional user-specific essential elements to be evaluated. Finally, the technology must be recommended by the evaluation and/or planning team. Evaluation and planning teams could include assistive technology evaluation teams, rehabilitation evaluation teams, IEP or transition planning teams.

In addition to recommending the technology as a communication access solution, training and support components and requirements for successful use must be included in the plan. Careful review of the candidacy criteria is a proactive means to judge the appropriateness of this technology to offer compliance with regulatory accessibility requirements, such as the IDEA, ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998.

The iCommunicator is a fully integrated system that operates on a high end laptop and presents information in three streams in real time – speech to text, speech to sign language, and speech conversion to computer-generated voice – to provide accessibility for persons with special communication needs. Easy options are available to enable the user to receive a clear speech signal by coupling his/her personal amplification device with the system using specially designed cords available from device manufacturers.

The iCommunicator is not intended to replace sign language interpreters, but to foster independence, self-regulation, and self-advocacy in its end users. Accompanying this underlying premise in the development of the iCommunicator, was an important focus directed toward improving the literacy level of persons using the system. The rationale for the specific sign language presentation mode (i.e., English word order) will be discussed as it relates to enhancing literacy skills. More specifically, to support an individual’s ability to improve communication and literacy skills, the use of s+v+o structure enables individuals to learn the English language.

The iCommunicator has unique end user and speaker features that support the application strategies necessary to enhance communication, education, and self-esteem. The system translates spoken language to real time on-screen text or video sign language. The system is also capable of translating speech to computer generated speech, whereby the system speaks the on-screen text, using the selected speaking voice. Other unique end-user features that allow the system to be customized to meet educational, workplace, social, or other needs include a specially designed note this/say this box, quick say keys that may be pre-programmed, an onboard electronic dictionary, personalized color themes and font sizes, and viewing through either the standard Windows-like mode or a custom mode. These features allow the system to be used independently in a variety of environments, as well as a classroom learning station. Through a systematic training approach, speakers can easily achieve 90% accuracy or better when using the system to communicate with persons who face unique communication challenges.

Research is currently underway to determine the effectiveness of the iCommunicator in outcome areas such as: reading comprehension, speech recognition and auditory skill development, speech intelligibility, vocabulary development, social-emotional growth perceptions, written language, and small group learning applications. Currently under development is an end user skills list that may be used to develop treatment or service plan goals and objectives. In addition, the system will be 508 compliant by the end of 2001.

When the iCommunicator is determined as the right technology for the right end user for the right reasons and implemented in the right way, positive outcomes have been achieved in multiple application environments. It is a proven technology to achieve communication access solutions.

Table 1. Summary of end user needs and opportunities related to the capabilities of the iCommunicator system.

Population End User Needs Related to iCommunicator Capabilities

Auditory processing disorder

  • Need for notetaking assistance due to difficulty multitasking
  • Need for text display due to difficulty applying metalinguistic and metacognitive skills necessary for message comprehension

Deaf and hard of hearing

  • Need for sign language to augment oral communication in various settings
  • Need to improve literacy skills
  • Need for voice output to communicate in one-on-one or group settings
  • Need for notetaking assistance due to difficulty multitasking
  • Opportunity to improve speech recognition and speech intelligibility

English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

  • Need for written English to augment oral presentations
  • Need to improve English literacy skills
  • Opportunity to hear playback notes and stories to learn the English language
  • Opportunity to improve speech recognition and speech intelligibility

Learning disability

  • Need for notetaking assistance due to difficulty multitasking
  • Need for notetaking assistance due to dysgraphia
  • Need for visual augmentation due to visual processing deficits

Low Vision

  • Need for increased font size
  • Need for high contrast schemes
  • Need for voice output

Physical impairment

  • Need for notetaking assistance due to difficulty multitasking
  • Need for voice output
  • Need for portable assistive technology that will accommodate peripheral and/or alternative devices

Severe language impairment (developmental or acquired)

  • Need for notetaking assistance due to difficulty multitasking
  • Need for visual augmentation to (re)learn metalinguistic and metacognitive skills to enhance comprehension
  • Possible need for voice output

Speech or Voice Impairment

  • Need for voice output device
  • Opportunity to improve speech recognition and speech intelligibility

Table 2. Summary of iCommunicator Candidacy Criteria Considerations for indepent use.

Consideration User Characteristics and Skills

1. Age of user


2. Cognitive level

  • Ability to learn and remember new procedures
  • Ability to troubleshoot and/or problem-solve
  • Attention span
  • Divided attention (i.e., ability to divide attention among windows displayed, the speaker, and other visual displays in the environment)

3. Language level (receptive and expressive language skills) and primary mode of communication.

  • Language processing ability
  • Vocabulary level
  • Language comprehension level (e.g., ability to chunk information, use tag words as meaning clues)
  • Ability to derive meaning using contextual clues

4. Reading comprehension level

  • Word recognition level (i.e., at least second grade level)
  • Spelling ability
  • Grade equivalent/Standard Score
  • Visual processing speed

5. Motivation to use the iCommunicator


6. Responsibility and maturity

  • Self-discipline
  • Patience with using this type of technology
  • Perseverance, ability to see the big picture, and ability to handle frustration
  • Appraisal by both teacher(s) and parent/caregiver

7. Computer literacy

  • Keyboarding skills
  • Ability to navigate the Windows system
  • Need for external mouse or other peripherals

8. Classes/workplace where system will be used/purpose for use

  • Content (e.g., core subject area, fine/performing arts, foreign language, performance/hands-on, speech-language therapy)
  • Delivery style (e.g., primarily lecture, highly interactive, small groups)
  • Amount of use per day
  • Availability of back-up plan for when iCommunicator is unavailable

9. User supports

  • On-site and off-site staff support
  • Technical support
  • Resources (batteries, transporting to classes, cart, case)
  • Family

10. Recommendation of Evaluation and/or Planning Team


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