Well, it was a long day

Regular readers know that I attended two AAC-related events yesterday. That made for a long day. Of course only time will tell how fruitful it was.


The first event was Cure Autism Now’s Walk Now at the Astrodome. I was a registered vendor there, and it was fairly amusing. We were on the floor of the Dome in two rows of tents facing each other. The nice thing about that my canine partner, Lilly, immediately saw what her role would be. She became a four-legged fishing lure, going out on her retracting lead into the flow of people to draw them in to hear Xpress-It. Lilly was one busy little girl, netting at least one serious inquiry.


The other event was an AAC conference sponsored by MHMRA and Dynavox, one of the better AAC companies. There I was just a potential customer. I listened to a presentation by a Dynavox VP of sales, and I agree with some of what he said. He said that SLPs are just now starting to realize how powerful AAC options have grown. The presentation also included two Dynavox users, a 7-year-old girl and a man who had CP. The man used his machine to recount some of his history and childhood, and it was similar to mine. I agree with him that much of our school years were wasted on therapy intended to make us more like others instead of using what we had. For both of us, electric typewriters were the beginning of joining the world. This gentleman now works for Dynavox.


I listened patiently to the whole presentation, and then bumped up my volume a hair and contributed this: “don’t misunderstand, i think dynavox is pretty good, but it is where xpress-it was 7 years ago. my product is more advanced, but i face the same problems you do. our histories are very similar,  but i had to survive in the corporate world so my technology had to be better. that’s why i had to write xpress-it. i was working full-time 14 years ago so i had to learn the hard way how good your a. a. c.  voice has to be for strangers to accept you. what you’re hearing is just one variation of the voices xpress-it can create. i  created this little spiel just during your presentation.” (Of course, Xpress-it doesn’t care about things like capitalization usually.)


Most of the room was suitably awed. Xpress-It still out-shines even the best competition after all these years when it comes to flexibility and audio quality. One of my caregivers described it by saying the Dynavox units sounded like they had blown speakers. That wasn’t really how it sounded, but there was a real qualitative difference that was easily enough to matter. Some of my readers know that I have a good bit of experience in listening to various systems of two-radio, a practice that trained my ears and brain to filter intelligence from different types of interference. Yet, it was taking me a full second to process what the Dynavox units were saying. That’s good enough to be understood by people who care about you and train themselves, but the reality is that the working world won’ t make the effort. I truly believe that anyone capable of intelligent thought is capable of earning an income and being independent. That assumes that you do what is necessary to equip yourself as well as possible.


It was rather amusing to watch the Dynavox people react to my response. Apart from the upstaged VP, they acted suitably impressed. One of my caregivers shared my observation that the VP clearly knew he had just taken a full spread of torpedoes below the water-line and was taking on water rapidly. J He stayed cool even when the regional rep tried to introduce me as a prelude to exploring working together. Readers know this is the type of reaction I anticipated from Dynavox. Oh well, I really can’t see him staying around long anyway, and it seemed to me that the rest of the Dynavox team took proper notice.


I should also correct a mistaken impression the VP had. Xpress-It is 100% software, there is no specialized hardware. What you see on my wheelchair is the mobile equivalent of what’s in any good desktop computer. All of the hardware is commercially available for a fraction of the price of a Dynavox tablet unit.


Dynavox and I were both disappointed to see that none of the four SLPs scheduled to show up, did. You see, Dynavox has the same problem I do, getting SLPs to pay attention. That makes me wonder what it will take to be noticed by the rehab community. The technology behind Xpress-It has existed for a decade now, just waiting for any competent programmer to assemble it. I’m starting to think that SLPs should be required to have Computer Science degrees just so they can truly understand the power offered by the computer. The reality of the American medical system is that nothing happens until it is recognized and blessed by the designated experts. Purchases are usually based on such recommendations rather than user expectations. In the AAC field, the designated “experts” are the SLPs. It is very tempting to blame these people for the lack of AAC innovation. However, there is something very wrong with a system where, just to give one example, a school district’s dedicated technologist is too busy fighting fires and other daily tasks to even answer email, much less see or otherwise experience new or better technology. That’s a total failure in my opinion. In the end, though, it falls to the user and their caregivers to remember that getting the experts to like them doesn’t ensure getting the technology needed. Know what’s possible, and insist on it even that means making the “experts” miserable. Miserable experts are much more likely to advocate for a better purchasing process.


What do You Think?

What do y’all think of this as the Xpress-It hand-out for this Saturday? No doubt it isn’t “splashy” enough for everybody, but one grandmother has reminded me that worried parents of disabled children are looking for facts, not flash.



This all-software synthesizer produces very high quality
speech that even total strangers understand. Xpress-It uses the Eloquence
speech engine originally developed by Eloquent Technology Inc. for the
Department of Defense. It is a text-to-speech system with the following


  • Practically
    unlimited vocabulary
  • Automatic
    entry of new words into vocabulary
  • Can be
    used with other adaptive software and devices
  • Programmable
  • ;Word
    prediction based on the user’s previous history
  • Customizable
  • Built-in
    voice control language for precise intonation control when desired
  • Complete
    compatibility with Windows 98 or higher
  • No
    additional hardware needed, just sound support and speakers


Cerebral Palsy denied me the power of speech. Yet, one of
life’s lessons I had to learn early was that verbal communication is one of the
tools that makes the difference between just existing and actually being a
member of society. Harsh but true. I quickly found the current crop of
augmentative communication software to be lacking in flexibility, reliability,
speech quality, vocabulary, or inter-operability with other programs.
Fortunately, being a professional software developer put me in a position to do
something about those problems.


If at first you don’t succeed

I just posted this on my [revived] forums:
Few people will know (or care) that this is my second attempt to start a forum. My first ended last week with very few messages entered. What really caused me to end that effort was a chronic reliability problem my host, Network Solutions, had with serving my email. Since I’m the self-reliant sort, I figured I might as well set up my own servers and be done with it. Now all I have to pay others for is my domain registration and dynamic IP nameserving. The rest falls squarely to me.
Of course, that still leaves the question of why I choose to continue running my own forum. After all, there are numerous others, and I am a member of several very popular forums. Maybe part of why I run a forum is because I’ve always run a Bulletin Board System, and forums are really just the modern-day equivalent of the BBS. But, I think it goes much further than that. Elsewhere on www.conchbbs.com is a list of things I’m interested in. I’d be happy to host a busy forum board on each of them. Moreover, Web 2.0 is really about social networking–as much as its proponents try to say otherwise, and social networking is what forums are all about. Depending on how many topics a forum wants to try covering, it could cover your whole life.  I’ve never wanted to go that far, but I do want to cultivate a group of people with similar interests.
Another reason for running a forum is to offer an effective vehicle for providing product support for Xpress-It. That is the method preferred by big boys like Motorola. It might not give customers a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it lets one support person cover a lot of issues.
I do have a blog, but blogging works more as a pulpit. I have plenty of opportunity to voice my views, but not much feedback. Forums are designed to be more bi-directional by their nature.
What’s on your mind?