TATN ’09

Angela,           

 

I
appreciate your invitation to attend Texas Assistive Technology Network ’09,
and it was very kind of you to waive my entrance fee. However, I have given the
matter much consideration and have regrettably decided to miss this year. Yes,
the fact that my presentation was scheduled for the last half-day of the
conference was a factor. I live far enough away from ESC to require that I
leave home very early to get there in time to set up for the presentation, and
my caregivers haven’t had to deal with that level of expectation in several
years. In truth, though, I was already reconsidering my attendance before your
call for attendee registration arrived. The remainder of this email will
explain why.

 

One of
the things I have learned over the years is that the assistive and augmentative
communication market is split into two segments. One is the medical
rehabilitation field based largely in hospitals and other institutions that are
trying to restore the ability to communicate to their patients. This is where
the established AAC vendors spend a good deal of their advertising budgets, and
where many SLPs prefer AAC products that can be applied to patients with a
variety of disabilities at various levels. This is logical enough from the
perspective of the SLP, because he/she probably only has a limited knowledge
about computers. Anything that simplifies the amount of information that has to
be known is seen as a positive thing.

 

The
other segment of the AAC market is the one you are the most intimate with,
naturally, Special Education.  This is actually the segment where an
"unknown" vendor like me stands probably the best chance on gaining a
degree of acceptance simply because educators are generally more open to new
ideas. Yet, in practice, the two segments of the AAC market are similar in that
they have gateway mechanisms that control the entry of new products. In
education, the state has a list of recommended AAC products, for example. Moreover,
many school districts have specialized technologists intended to evaluate new
ideas. It is unfortunate that these technologists are supposedly too overloaded
to meet with people they don’t already recognize. One of my hopes in attending
TATN has been to meet some of the gatekeepers in an environment where they
could see what I had to offer.  Yet, none has revealed themselves to me in
my two years at TATN.  I have no doubt they’re there, but they’re stealthier
than a Romulan Warbird in full Cloak!

 

The
reality is that I attend TATN in dual roles. Yes, I am nominally a vendor, but I
am also a product of the Special Education system. Arguably, I am one of the
few "pure" success stories in the sense that I totally left the whole
rehabilitation community behind and was able to be a cog in the corporate America
machine for 14 years. Great, but lay-offs ended that seven years ago. A skeptical
person could reasonably ask if I’m still relevant. I still try to keep up
with technology, but I haven’t done much intense programming in years. Admittedly,
being scheduled for the final half-day at TATN was disappointing in another
sense, because it didn’t give me an opportunity to reconnoiter my
competition in the vendors’ room. That’s not your problem, of course, but
it does make my position more difficult. Even as an observer of the Special
Education system and the role of disabled people in society in general, it’s
becoming harder for me to keep up. I actually hope that I am missing important
AAC advances; otherwise, disabled people are going nowhere fast!

 

I think
you are familiar enough with the story of Xpress-It to know that it was
purpose-built. My bosses informally gave me a set of requirements that current
AAC solutions did not meet. I have noticed that major AAC providers have made
efforts in the past two years to get near what Xpress-It does so there is movement.
However, they still have a long way to go because they are re-inventing
underlying tools that are in Windows and Xpress-It depends on. I announced in
my blog late last year that any further development of Xpress-It would be only
for my own needs, because I’m not seeing any commercial interest in it. I
know you suggested marketing it to an independent vendor, but that would create
a real dilemma for them. Given that Xpress-It approaches the AAC problem from a
totally different vector, it would require a vendor of other products to
essentially have a split personality. He would have to make a decision about
which approach is “right” for any given customer. I may be cynical,
but I don’t think an independent distributor is going to even want to make that
choice. Thus, I’m not really clear that my attendance of TATN is doing
anybody any good. My presentation last year seemed well received, but there was
no follow-up interest. That’s sort of consistent with the overall problem
of how AAC products are used in the education system. Namely, there’s never
going to be advancement toward more flexible AAC until there is demand for it. It
would be great if the end user (student/student’s parents) did the demanding,
but they usually depend on the educators to direct them. That means nothing
much is going to change until end educators really put pressure on the
technologists (and we know how likely that is).

 

Ironically,
this email is a miniature version of what this year’s presentation would’ve
said.

 

Scott

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