2002 Conference Proceedings

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Maximizing Communication Potential via a Wearable VOCA

Mary Sagstetter
MaryKay Walch
AbleNet Inc.
1081 Tenth Ave S.E.
Mpls, MN 55414-1312

The benefits of voice output communication have been clearly demonstrated in several research studies in addition to numerous anecdotal accounts of educators who have provided both single and multiple message VOCAs (voice output communication aids) to individuals with significant disabilities.

The research points to several compelling benefits of voice output communication, even if an individual doesn't understand the message. In one study, using a voice output communication aid resulted in increased interaction between peers (Meisel, 1994). In another, students rated an individual with a disability significantly higher on an attitude scale when the individual used a voice output communication aid (Gorenflo and Gorenflo, 1991). A study by Fernandez (1996) indicated that both peers and staff members are more likely to talk to a student who does not speak when the student can initiate the dialogue with the help of a voice output communication aid. Research by Soto, et al (1991) suggests a preference for voice output. When given a choice, the communication aid user preferred the system with voice versus one without.

A voice output communication aid can provide many advantages to individuals with significant disabilities. Voice output communication can be easily understood by both familiar and unfamiliar listeners. As a result, the user will have greater opportunities for participation and interaction in the widest variety of settings. Voice output communication provides practical advantages as well, like being able to communicate to others at a distance, in addition to making it easier for many to experience the benefit of social closeness as they interact via voice.

The current range in size, shape and weight of available voice output communication aids can make mounting and accessibility for use by individuals who are ambulatory quite difficult, thereby limiting their options for engaging in spontaneous voice output communication in the widest variety of situations and environments. If the ultimate vision of an augmented communicator would be to have "a voice" anytime and anywhere; educators will be challenged to effectively assist ambulatory VOCA users achieve this goal using current technology.

Other potential users of voice output communication aid technology include individuals who have behavioral challenges and might benefit from a VOCA as a verbal mediator to help manage their own behaviors or individuals who are primary verbal but might benefit from a VOCA to aid in information recall. The configuration of current VOCAs has made it difficult to experiment with the benefits of voice output for these types of individuals.

Three small wearable VOCAs were provided to three different classrooms of educators serving students from elementary to post secondary age. Participants in the trial were asked to use the communication aid with any students they thought could benefit from the unique features of this type of device. Educators were asked to pay close attention to the opportunities and challenges they faced in effectively using the VOCAs in a variety of settings and to experiment with strategies to overcome any barriers they faced.

The results of this informal trial period will be shared via case examples within an elementary, secondary and post-secondary setting where students were using a wearable voice output communication aid for the first time. Participants will leave with an understanding of the unique benefits of a wearable VOCA and specific strategies for maximizing optimum use in a variety of situations.

Fernandez, L.(1996). An experimental study of non-verbal students who use a voice output communication aid. Unpublished Master Thesis, California State Polytechnic, Pomona.

Gorenflo,C. and Gorenflo,D., (1991). The Effects of Informational and Augmentative Communication Techniques on Attitudes Toward Non-Speaking Individuals. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research. Volume 34,19-26.February 1991.

Meisel, C.(1994). Increasing Interactions with voice output communications systems. Unpublished Master Thesis, San Francisco State University.

Soto, G. (1997). Teacher Attitudes Towards Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 13(3), 186-197.

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