As usual, your email is an exquisite challenge.
That makes answering you generally very enjoyable.
While things are subject to change always,
my experience is that EZ-Keys doesn’t automatically add anything. Yes, it
lets users add words manually, but that’s about it. Being a programmer does
give me an advantage in that I know what data connections a program must keep
open to accomplish that. Well, let me rephrase that. EZ-Keys does remember new
words as long as it’s running. That would probably explain your
impression, and it’s a behavior that has been inherited from the
original. When EZ-Keys is halted, anything new is gone. There might be an
option to manually save, but there’s nothing automatic. Furthermore,
neither the original nor the version I tried last year altered its prediction
based on what I said before. I remember this being one of my issues with the
original, because I felt it compared poorly with its sister, The Equalizer,
which was quite similar to Xpress It.
In comparison, Xpress It uses the same
sort of programming that you’ll find if business database applications. That
means several things, including the fact that Xpress It tends to have an elephant’s
memory. Xpress It runs against an honest-to-god database compatible with
Microsoft Access. In layman’s terms, it’s quite difficult for a
user to accidentally make Xpress It forget anything. This is normally a big
advantage, although it can lead to annoying situations at times! J And, Xpress It now has the necessary tools
to allow users to intentionally change or delete entries in the database. That’s
usually used to adjust the way that the Eloquence engine pronounces a word. However,
it can also be used to assign an abbreviation to any phrase you like.
Funny, my last visit to Aurora’s website gave me the distinct impression
that it was no longer available. I’ll definitely look again, though. If you’re
could be my nearest competitor. That will depend on many factors, of course,
including the synthesizer used. Eloquence is excellent, but quite expensive. The
software development kit is $1,000, and ETI will eventually want a cut of any
sales. Does Aurora
sound as good as Xpress It? Remember that—in my experience, anyway—the
speech quality is what makes or breaks able-bodied acceptance of someone with
Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005
To: Scott Royall
Subject: Re: FW: Why a Blog?
Thanks for the information. I was under the impression
that EZ Keys used the vocabulary building and prediction system that you
describe in Xpress-It. My experience has been that EZ Keys adds words as
used, tracks the usage, and predicts those most frequently used words,
not just the alphabetical characteristics, but by frequency and order of use.
That is what I have always referred to as "dual" word prediction or
"grammatical" prediction, as opposed to strictly alphabetical word
prediction. Theses features can be toggled on or off, so I assumed they were
two separate features. Perhaps my understanding of what they truly do is
incorrect, since I don’t have the programming knowledge you do. Am I
mistaken in assuming XPress-It does both? When using the demo, it seemed to do
alphabetical only. My computer has been changed at work so I no longer have the
demo to play with.
other product I thought of as similar was Aurora,
which we have discussed previously. The fellow who wrote Aurora was closely scrutinized and was sort
of shut out for a while because his prediction program resembled EZ Keys
in many ways and it was felt he had hacked it. In the old DOS days he had
keyboard and switch access versions, but now does only keyboard. It
reminds me of Xpress-It because at this stage it is keyboard driven, has good
prediction, and I believe, interfaces well. Not being a programmer, I am
probably unaware of internal features that may interfere with its use in
certain applications. It was around $ 400 last time I checked. XPress-It is
around $ 800 or $850, right?
thing. Evaluations to consider the appropriate AAC devices are based on
multiple factors, as you know. First and foremost are features required by the
patient. Physical access, mental status, vision, literacy, spelling, need
for rate enhancement, application needs, vocational/educational objectives,
price, funding source, communication abilities and needs etc. are all
considered. I definitely do not want to spend more than is required, so
EZ Keys, Dynavox, etc are never my first choice if I can get away with less. Keyboard
driven text-to-speech can now be generated easily for little expense using
Windows XP and a word processor, though the synthesizer lacks quality. It
does not provide prediction or alternative access without additional equipment
yet, however. If alternative access or word prediction is needed , costs
increase due to the need for custom software/hardware. though there are
some low cost predictors available. They are strictly alphabetical prediction.
The costs come in when you need alternative access to allow easy interfacing
for someone who cannot type, so in lieu of other "scanning" programs
or interfaces, we are left with few options for standard computer access. That
is not the market you are trying to reach, however, so I should stay away from
appreciate your information. I tried to download a new demo from the website
but it did not work. Is that still available? I would like to look at it again
and see if I can adjust my perceptions.
In a lot of ways, your comments below serve to crystallize a number of ideas
you’ve previously aired in much longer emails. That’s not to say your comments
here should be seen as a complete summary of everything you’ve said, only they
touch on many of what seem to be your central discussion points. As such, your
comments here given serve to guide my own remarks.
In a previous post, you compared Xpress It to other AAC that you felt had a
similar approach. One example you provided was the Windows version of EZ-Keys,
and I was frankly quite pleased that you did that since EZ-Keys is a great
example of why I was compelled to develop Xpress It. Yes, the two products do
seem superficially very similar, and the fact that you couldn’t discern Xpress
It’s advantages is a critical piece of intelligence for me. That tells me
that my team and I need to highlight those advantages even more clearly. What
you’re unaware of is that EZ-Keys is among the first AAC products Shell Oil
purchased for me during my career there. Of course this dates back to before
Windows 3.0 even, but I believe I stated during the presentation I did for your
department last year that I had spent the previous day downloading and
experimenting with demo versions of AAC that seemed to be our closest
competition in terms of capability. That naturally included EZ-Keys. Hence, I
am probably still fairly current on that narrowed field.
I can report from direct observation that the user interface used for EZ-Keys
is essentially unchanged from 16 years ago. That bears out comments from you
and Michael Schepperly of the former TRC (What are they calling themselves
now?) to the effect that disabled people rarely willingly give up the first AAC
they learn to use. That reality is why we are mainly focused on capturing a
share of first-time customers. In any event, EZ-Keys XP is so much like its
ancestor that it even duplicates the issues that forced me to abandon the
EZ-Keys lays claim to two features not in Xpress It: the ability to provide word/phrase
prediction inside other programs, and built-in control of specialized features
called "accessibility options" critical for people like me to be able
to use a computer effectively.
At first blush, the ability to provide word prediction to other programs would
seem to be a real advantage for EZ-Keys. I would welcome it right now, for
example. Yet, the people who decide what to buy do not notice a couple of
problems with this feature. Its very existence suggests that the developer,
Words+, too recognizes that disabled people will want to use their computers
for tasks in addition to talking. Unfortunately, EZ-Keys has no way of knowing
when its prediction activity are helpful and when they get in the way. Since
EZ-Keys uses the numeric keys along the top of the keyboard to choose from its
predictions, a user—especially a laptop user—is hardly able to use
spreadsheets, do online banking, and do all the other non-textual things that a
disabled person needs to be able to do. There is simply no easy way to toggle
the "feature" on and off as needed.
The other feature is something we did touch on in our meeting. There was
certainly a time when an AAC had to offer its own solution for giving disabled
people access to their computers. DOS surely offered nothing inherent to help.
However, times have definitely changed, and features such as
"sticky-keys," and "filter-keys" have been built-in since
Windows 95. All EZ-Keys does now is offer a pop-up window with options for
setting some of those features. When I commented on this during our meeting,
your only comment was that at least made it easier for you to find the
settings. That’s perhaps true, but the applet that’s intended to control them
is at the very top of the applet list in the Control Panel. In other words,
EZ-Keys charges twice as much as Xpress It, and offers only one feature that
the combination of Xpress It and Windows doesn’t.
What I’m suggesting is the possibility that the logic telling you that Xpress
It doesn’t have a clear advantage is a bit flawed. The things you might see as
advantages for EZ-Keys might not be. As you correctly observed before, there
are people who are quite happy to live in the Nineties. Very true, but the very
fact that you consider EZ-Keys for some people means automatically that you
feel these individuals—for whatever reason—need something
more than "just" an AAC device. The question then becomes:
"Does the ‘feature’ of EZ-Keys always justify its extra cost?" It
seems to me that the logic behind your approach would start with EZ-Keys and
then work "down" possibly toward less expensive choices instead of
starting below Xpress It and working up based on features needed. I think you
can immediately see that the two very different approaches would tend to yield
quite different solutions. I am not aware of cheaper solutions that do things
Xpress It does.
To illustrate what I mean by the last remark, I need to remind you that Xpress
It has a feature not even EZ-Keys can match. While both of these AAC can do
word prediction, only Xpress It learns from its own experience. That not only
means new words are automatically added to the dictionary database, but the
frequency of each word is tracked. That means that, when one word is entered or
selected, Xpress It can correctly create a list of probable next words sorted
by the odds. That is a huge assist that EZ-Keys doesn’t match. Once upon a
time, Words+ had another AAC, The Equalizer, that was much closer to what
Xpress It is now.
I hadn’t intended for this to be another Xpress It commercial. My plan was to
examine more closely the reasoning used by SLPs like you to select an AAC. Yet,
I realize as I read your comments that there are aspects of my product that
really aren’t clear to you. If I ever want SLPs to recommend my AAC, I have to
make clear how it is different. That’s a fundamental I just have to trudge
through before we can get to the more interesting subjects.
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2005 9:53 PM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: Re: Why a Blog?
So I numbed your mind? Hopefully, the "dealing with it" you referred
to is a positive thing.
One thing, though. Getting slammed is certainly not my ONLY concern, though I
prefer not to when it can be avoided. Don’t you? It wouldn’t be the first
or last time, though, so if that’s in store, that’s fine too.
My primary concern is truly that your information is accurate……. for 2
reasons. One, so you can advance your product.
It would be great for me to have another option to offer my clients. It does
not serve me at all to discourage the development of a new tool that can help
someone. Currently, however, without distinct feature or price advantages, I
cannot offer XPress-It to anyone that uses Medicare, insurance, or the former
TRC as a funding source, since it is not on the "Medicare approved
list". If it was the "only solution" to the situation, it might
get paid under special consideration. Currently I can only refer it for a
oerson who can pay privately and is willing to "take a shot" with an
unknown product. Private purchase is feasible for some of the people I see, but
if all features are generally equal among compared products, the price will be
the deciding factor every time. My perception is that the biggest advantage
that XPress-It offers currently is seamless computer access for the high end
user. Unless that is the special need for that particular client, Xpress-It may
outprice itself in the comparison. It uses Eloquence, has word prediction, and
is accessible via keyboard, all of which are features that are available in
other products for less.
My second reason is so the people who you refer to are accurately portrayed. I
feel that people’s ideas should be shared accurately and not thrown into
a mix that cannot be clearly sorted through. Your prior inclusion of SLPs as a
group and your perceptions of "our" considerations, requirements,
etc. for products was concerning to me, since I know that some of those
perceptions are inaccurate. There are still many of us in the field who believe
that each situation demands specific consideration and that often, custom
solutions are required. Perhaps I am the exception, but I doubt it. I do
know people, however, who think that all devices work for all clients and you
should just pick one. That is what prompted the "getting slammed"
After reading the entire blog, I have a better feel for the nature of
your correspondence and find that my concerns were not fully warranted. My
concerns remain regarding over-generalization but I certainly have no
objection to accurate use of the information I sent. By the way, you were very
nice to say that I am somewhat computer savvy, though in truth I am clueless
and no longer have any savvy at all.
Hope that clarifies a little.