Tuesday, November 9, 2010

AT in Unexpected Apps

Assistive Technology is defined as any product used to maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a person with a disability. Products can include specifically designed items in addition to those that are adapted or modified. Applications for mobile devices are no different. There are some great apps designed specifically to function as AT, however, professionals are finding apps that were created just for fun may have functionality for people with disabilities as well. During an iPad Showcase at Provail, Donna Cole Wilson, SLP, described how apps are used by Speech Language Pathologists to address various client needs. The SmackTalk! app in which electronic animals repeat back what is captured on the iPad's microphone in a faster, squeakier voice wasn’t designed to assist in learning and development, however, this is how it is being used. I began to wonder how this happened and Donna agreed to answer the following questions to clear things up:

How did you first discover this app?

I obtained my iPad and first wanted to find app's that were inexpensive or free. This app was 99 cents. I downloaded it and found how responsive the program was to any voice and any sound. As a Speech Language Pathologist I am very aware of the need and the motivation for having feedback while speaking.

In what situation might this app be used and how do you use it?
I had a little girl who I work with come into my session. She had a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. She was considered "nonverbal" I demonstrated this app for her and told her she could make a noise and it would talk back to her. At first she did not understand what I wanted her to do. But soon after, she spontaneously vocalized and watched as the puppy vocalized back. She did it again and after a few vocalizations, she looked like she had that "aha" moment: if I make loud sounds, the puppy makes loud sounds. She began vocalization more than she had ever vocalized before. She realized she had more control over her voice. I knew this type of app would motivate all different types of clients with speech disabilities. I have since used this app for children and adults. I find that the instant feedback helps people make changes to their voice/speech patterns. It slows their speech since they want to be able to hear themselves right away. Slowing speech production is essential for a person diagnosed with various types of dysarthria.

In your observation what functional benefits have your clients experienced from using this application?I have seen an increase in syllable differentiation, improvement in vocal prosody, increased intentional vocalizations, and reduced rate which consequently increases a person's intelligibility. I also see an increased interest in working on speech.