This is probably a blog entry certain members of my family have
been eagerly awaiting.
I attended the 2007 edition of the Texas Assistive Technology
Network conference last week. I was there as a vendor, which necessarily meant
my leash was pretty short and kept me mainly in the vendors’ room. Yet, I
did at least get some sense of the subjects covered in the presentations next
door. The title of one presentation stuck out in particular for me. I believe it
was “AAC Technology at the Crossroads… Again.” Yeah, tell me
The vendor room was occupied by a smattering of companies with
products in the different areas of assistive tech, vision, mobility, and communication.
There were only two of us focused on AAC, me and a Words+ rep.
I’m not going to identify the rep as that would serve
no useful purpose. She was under exclusive contract with Words+, and some of
her comments might not be well received by her employer. It is fair to say that
she was initially skeptical and dismissive of Xpress-It. She commented that the
only reason why I didn’t love EZKeys when I tried it was because I didn’t
have the benefit of four hours of training by her. I somehow resisted the urge
to retort, “any software that requires hours of individual training is
While amusing, that response wouldn’t have been completely
true. I told the rep that I didn’t hate EZKeys, it’s certainly appropriate
in many cases. Yet, as I’ve said many, many times, Xpress-It is designed around
a quite different philosophy, to predict what will be said and to say it
exceptionally clearly. EZKeys, by comparison, tries to predict and manage
all input from the user. That could be helpful at times like this, when I’m
entering text, but disastrous when I’m working on a spreadsheet or programming.
Yes, EZKeys can be told to be quiet, but it’s always running and sucking
up computer resources. The rep’s tune changed noticeably when I pointed
that out, and she was quite subdued when I revealed that Xpress-It’s was
$1,000 less than comparably-equipped EZKeys.
Indeed, by mid-way through the second day, the Words+ rep
was conceding that Xpress-It did have a role to play, and that TATN was the
right place to be. According to her, school systems are always looking for
alternatives. She says that Words+ is number one simply because they have the
money to advertise and court SPLs. She also agrees that SPLs tend to prefer
all-in-one solutions because they simplify the lives of the SPLs. What about
the poor end user? These aren’t confessions most vendors will make, and
it is useful stuff.
My overall sense of the rehab community courtesy of TATN
2007 is that it still is looking for better ways for disabled people to tell their
caregivers when they need to use the toilet. This is instead of developing (or
demanding that the vendors do it) the more flexible solutions disabled people will
have to have to integrate themselves into the general public.
This was my first TATN conference, but probably not my last.
Maybe I’ll make a presentation next year. Why not? As the old television
show said, “we have the technology.”
A final note: I’ve now heard both Dynavox and
Words+ reps claim that Dr. Stephen Hawkins uses their products. The reality may
be that the man has received every AAC product known to humanity except Xpress-It.
The more interesting question is, which one does he prefer, and why?
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