Voice Assistance Technology

It's estimated that more than two million people in the United States have severe speech disabilities. Devices meant to give these people a voice have been developing rapidly. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports a technology, health and information fair is being held this weekend to help families learn about augmentative and assistive communication devices.

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Andrea Fry's daughter Megan has Cerebal Palsy. When Megan was a toddler, Fry realized her daughter wasn't putting letter sounds together and was going to have a speech disability.

"And there's absolutely no reason why she should not learn like a regular child does she just can't use her muscles or her voice to do it."

Fry says they looked for an assistive communication device that would grow with Megan who is now seven years old. It looks like a flat screen monitor which is mounted to Megan's power wheelchair or it can sit on a desk.

"The memory on her machine can just go on and on. She can create new buttons. She can create new folders and pages. She can change things around. She can say something from one word to one phrase by pushing one button. So whatever she pushes is what she is thinking."

Megan is only one in a fairly small population of people who use assistive communication devices, sometimes referred to as AC. It's estimated that only six percent of children and one percent of adults with speech disabilities use such devices. Speech Language Pathologist Linnea McAfoose works for DynaVox. She says it's a lack of awareness.

"It's only been in recent years that AC has been a part of our curriculum and something that has really been focused on an academic setting."

McAfoose says some parents struggle with how to include assistive devices with the child's speech or non-verbal communication such as hand gestitures. She says they aren't meant to replace a person's abilities.

"They really are an augmentation system, so that if I have vocal abilities maybe I can say yeah and no. Maybe I can say Mom, different pieces of language, but my scope of my verbal skills is pretty limited. So it doesnt mean that people don't speak at all or its a total replacement."

As for Megan, her mother says the device means a different type of life for her daughter.

"Her life without assistive technology would be very frustrating for her she is blessed and cursed in the same breath of being a normal 7 year old kid in her brain."

More information about this weekend's fair can be found at KUHF dot org. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

Voice for Houston
Saturday October 28, 2006
9:30am - 1:30 pm
MHMRA Conference Center
7033 Southwest Freeway
free and open to family members of all ages


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