Wednesday, April 2, 2008

verbal communications difficulties and assistive technology update

I had written a blog about assistive technology for verbal communications difficulties. Here is an update on my project as well as some real world experience I have gotten with my devices.

As I said in my previous post on the subject, I started playing around with text to speech software on my PDA. I recently upgraded my PDA to the palm zire 72. It has a better speaker than my old PDA. The sound is louder, unfortunately the volume isn't high enough for some situations. So I ended up getting these(the ones on the right) small battery powered speakers to use. I picked them up at biglots for $10. The sound quality and volume on the speakers is wonderful. The only real downside is the size and configuration of the speakers. I ended up putting a strip of velcro on the back of the speakers and the back of my leather PDA case. The setup works, but is a little cumbersome. I am tempted to take the speakers apart and repackage them with only one speaker rather than 2. This shouldn't be to hard to do since I know my way around a soldering iron and such. But, one of my goals with this project is to come up with a configuration that is reasonably cheap and easy to implement. Many people may not feel comfortable (or have the knowledge/skill) taking apart electronic gizmos.

So my next task is to find speakers that work well right out of the package. So far I have a few in mind to try out. The speakers on the left on the above linked photo, seem worth a shot. They have them at wallgreens for $10. I also, found this mini speaker. I am not sure how good the sound output is on it, but the size and configuration is right on, and at $10 the price is right. I have also seen some cheap cylindrical speakers that plug right into the headphone jack. I will probably give those a try too.

I have gotten some real world experience using my PDA as a communications device. The main problem is imputing text on the fly. It's a bit slow. For this reason I have some bits of text pre-written and ready to go. I have one blurb of text that explains that I have autism and am having difficulties with verbal speech. This way the person knows that I will be communicating with my PDA. Although I can't input text as fast as I can by typing, the portability of the setup makes up for it. I always carry my PDA with me, so I now always have a way to communicate when I have difficulties with verbal speech.

In addition to my PDA I have also been playing around with text to speech on my laptop. I downloaded ReadPlease free text to speech software. The software works quite well. The voice is clear and you can adjust the speed at which it speaks. I also like the fact that you can download voices in other languages. I am bilingual (English/Spanish), so I downloaded some voices in Spanish. For free software it is quite good and worth checking out. It might also be useful for people with reading difficulties.

I recently had a chance to use the text to speech software in the real world. I had an appointment at the social security office to apply for social security disability. I figured that my anxiety would be elevated and I tend to have speech problems when under anxiety, so I took my laptop with me. First thing I did when I sat down to talk with the person, was to ask if it was ok if I turned on my laptop. The speakers on my laptop suck, so I used my portable speakers that I mentioned above. I am so glad I had my laptop with me. Initially I was able to answer the questions just fine using verbal speech. But at one point I was asked a question that made my anxiety rise. As I started to answer I began to have great difficulties getting the words out, so I started typing. Everything worked smoothly. The only real annoyance was early on before I started using my laptop, the social security person made some comment about how I was able to speak just fine. Well, yea I can speak just fine most of the time. But I can't do that all of the time, other wise I wouldn't have had my laptop with me! GRRR. Stupid people! This makes me think of a YouTube video I saw. It was a video by a woman with bad arthritis in both knees. She was talking about how she uses a wheelchair. She doesn't need it all the time, just mainly for longer distances. In the video she talked about how she was going to go to her brothers graduation. The even would be in 2 different buildings about 2 blocks away. So she would need her chair. But, she was embarrassed about having to bring her chair because people give her looks when they see her get out of the chair and start walking. People need to realize that some of us who use assistance devices don't need them all the time. It just irritates me how ignorant people can be regarding disabilities. People need to be better educated on the subject so we wont have to deal with stupid crap.

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