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My favorite gadgets at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association conference, which featured more than 100 vendors, include two communications products and a new PDA for the blind. I also note some worthy mentions – gadgets that I liked because of their design or originality. Here’s the list. ECO2 This eye-gaze system brings the latest in alternative input. For people who cannot use their limbs, nor speak (perhaps someone with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease – or a person who has had a stroke), Prentke-Romich’s ECO2 is a great innovation. To calibrate ECO2, I followed a bouncing ball on screen while it recorded my eye movements – this takes all of 30 seconds. The program, a combination of words, phrases and pictures, can be operated using just the eyes, allowing someone to express their thoughts (and their gratitude for this program.) ($7,795) Proloquo2go An iPhone/iTouch app for people who have trouble communicating, Assistive ... keep reading »
Though assistive tech isn’t really a topic to be taken lightly, sometimes it’s good to have some fun with it — and find the humorous side of things. Here’s hoping you smile with these photos taken today at the 2010 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando: Don’t touch that pony! A blind woman attended today’s session with her miniature horse in tow. Her husband, who helped train the horse near their home in Jacksonville, Fla., kept reminding gawkers that it’s not a pony — otherwise she would be riding it, not walking with it. I like the red bow on the horse’s head. Everyone wanted to pet the horse, but you’re not supposed to touch service animals. Pardon me, Is it happy hour yet? Look closely here at the screen for Zingui, a new speech-generating device from Jabbla for people who have difficulty speaking. This device is set up ... keep reading »
The article in The New York Times about insurers refusing to pay for speech-generating devices has hit a sore point among the disability community. Today’s newspaper reserves a section for comments from people who use these devices, including Roger Ebert, the film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times. Says Ebert: I am one of those you write about who uses a computer voice after losing the power of speech as a result of cancer surgery. After trying an $8,000 custom device with little computing power and a small, dim screen, I tried the built-in speech software on my MacBook and found it much more practical … Anyone who uses a computer and has lost the power of speech knows that e-mail becomes invaluable. It’s stupid of insurance companies to insist on an inferior device costing 10 times as much. Augie Nieto, a former fitness champion who has ALS and is well known ... keep reading »
The New York Times has an excellent, if not disturbing, piece on insurance companies that refuse to reimburse people with speech disabilities for devices that help them speak. This isn’t a new topic: Insurers argue that many of today’s speech-generating devices, which cost upwards of $5,000, can perform other non-speech functions like Web browsing and e-mail — making it more of a “fun and games” device but not a “dedicated” piece of equipment that they normally cover for reimbursement. This principle has led scores of people with speech disabilities, including those with autism or neuromuscular diseases, to try to find cheaper products on the mainstream market. Many have had success with Apple’s $300 iPhone 3G, which has a downloadable app called Proloqu2go that performs text-to-speech functions. Others choose to buy the specialty speech device with all the “fun and games” removed, which meets the insurers’ requirements for reimbursement. But is it ... keep reading »
Pittsburgh-based DynaVox Mayer-Johnson, a provider of speech generators and other devices for people with speech, language and learning disabilities, has merged with Blink Twice. DynaVox’s purchase will help expand its product line of communications devices, including the Tango, a new speech-generating device for children and teens with significant speech and language challenges. The Tango is unique in that it’s a small, kid-friendly handheld device that lets users talk using pictures, lists, photo albums, spelling and custom vocabularies. You can try out the device here. Richard Ellenson, Blink Twice founder and CEO, and the father of a child who uses the Tango, will join DynaVox as Chief Vision Officer. In his new role, Ellenson will take active roles in product development and strategic planning efforts. He will also direct advocacy initiatives and focus on raising awareness of speech disabilities and solutions within the general population. keep reading »

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