The Right Stuff (part 1)

Thus far, we have just nibbled around the edges of what is involved in bringing a new augmented communication solution to the relevant market. Let’s now take a bigger bite of the apple and talk about that overall process and the obstacles associated with it.

 

At least in the US, there are legions of trained—and sometimes certified—professionals ready to help people overcome, or at least deal with, aspects of a disability. Sometimes, technology is part of the solution that is recommended. The technology available can be so broad-ranging that individual professionals out in the field can’t even hope to keep current. Instead, they turn to lists of pre-evaluated answers that institutions such as universities may publish as a starting point. This is a reasonable, logical approach that unfortunately may contain some hidden roadblocks to finding the answer that’s actually best in a particular case.

 

We are largely talking about speech-language pathologists when it comes to helping a disabled person communicate. Here, courtesy of a national professional association known as ASHA, is a definition of what a SLP does:

Working with the full range of human communication and its disorders, speech-language pathologists:

·         Treat speech, language and swallowing disorders in individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly.

·         Evaluate and diagnose speech, language and swallowing disorders.

In addition, speech-language pathologists may:

·         Prepare future professionals in colleges and universities.

·         Manage agencies, clinics, organizations, or private practices.

·         engage in research to enhance knowledge about human communication processes.

·         Develop new methods and equipment to test and evaluate problems.

·         Establish more effective treatment.

·          Investigate behavioral patterns associated with communication disorders.

Speech-language pathologists often work as part of a team, which may include teachers, physicians, audiologists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation counselors and others. Corporate speech-language pathologists also work with employees to improve communication with their customers.

You can see how a SLP is expected to wear many hats. Interestingly, there’s nothing about evaluation of new technical solutions, but they are usually expected to do that as well. However, a SLP is ultimately as human as the rest of us, and they can only keep track of so many things at once. If they find something that seems applicable to a variety of different situations, it’s understandable if they develop a bias toward that solution. Of course, that bias only increases the difficulty of a new solution based on a different philosophy entering the augmented communications market.

Let me offer a specific example of what I mean. There seems to be the perception among many (most?) SLPs that one measure of how useful a computer-based solution can be is how far ahead it can successfully predict what the use wants to say. The gold standard appears to be prediction of entire thoughts based on as few keystrokes as possible. To be clear, there’s no doubt that’s desirable since it saves both the user and those listening to him time and effort. There are also some disabled people who really need pre-structured communications. Yet, if you stop and think about how “normal” people talk, you quickly realize they don’t typically say precisely the same thing twice within time frames they can remember. Indeed, if I start to say “I’m ready for bed” two nights in a row, I feel like I’m in a mental rut and will automatically say something else. Hence, while prediction is certainly desirable, people with so-called “higher mental function” need to also be able to easily vary what is spoken. I must wonder if highly-predictive solution aren’t inadvertently encouraging their users to be mentally lazy.

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