2009 CSUN Conference

Yesterday I went to day 1 of the CSUN conference for assistive technology. I woke up at 3 AM to drive from San Diego to Los Angeles. I arrived a little after 6 AM, where I had breakfast and I visited with a colleague, before attending conference sessions presented by the Proloquo2Go developers (Samuel Sennott & David Niemeijer) and Linda Burkhart.

During the Proloquo2Go session, David Niemeijer discussed the potentials and limitations of their augmentative communication app. David said the potentials include portability and affordability, and the attractiveness of an iPhone or iPod touch. Also, the device has the capability for access to other apps and WiFi access. The limitations mentioned were limited speaker volume and no connectivity (yet) for switches or other adapted devices. However, a speaker like the X-mini or iMainGo2 can be added, and Apple will hopefully begin allowing access to adapted devices this summer. After David, Samuel Sennott demonstrated communicating and programming with Proloquo2Go. He demonstrated how to produce phrases, add items, copy and paste items into a new folder, conjugate nouns and verbs, and much more. All of this essentially required “no programming,” as David put it. Then, David and Sam (pictured together in one of the included images) had an interactive portion, where 22 of the iPod Touch loaded with Proloquo2Go, were trialed by session attendees. During the trialing, there was Q & A, and I asked about the possibility of importing communication boards (from News-2-You, for example), and David said that he could look into working with News-2-You to do that. David and Sam wrapped up with discussing the cost; they said that they’ll offer it for an introductory price of $149, when it’s available at the end of March. After a few weeks of its availability, then it will be priced at $199, and will remain there. I can’t describe how shocked everyone at the session was with the cost. Even with purchasing an iPod touch and peripherals like a speaker and case, Proloquo2Go will cost less than $500 – that’s truly unbelievable! The cost is going to allow so many more individuals with disabilities to have access to augmentative communication.

After Proloquo2Go, I attended Linda Burkhart’s session on cortical visual impairment (CVI). Linda began with mentioning therapy strategies for children with CVI. She said to not just ask 20 questions to the child – the questions should have a reason, and the answer should be something we don’t already know. For example, if we know that a child likes bubbles, but doesn’t like a book, then we shouldn’t ask, “do you like bubbles or book?” She also said that symbols need to be accessible after a given activity – a child should be able communicate later about the activity, such as when he arrives home. Linda discouraged the use of objects or photos for communication, because they are just nouns, and that is not communication. One final therapy strategy was to bring a therapy material or support almost to midline and gently shake it, because movement attracts and assists vision. Then, Linda described how to reduce visual complexity for children. She said to reduce the clutter of objects being used for choices; children with CVI can’t differentiate objects that are close together. She also said that a solid color (preferably black) is optimal for the clinician’s clothing, symbol background, and backdrop for therapy materials and supports. She also described how to reduce the visual complexity of symbols by having black & white symbols with a colored background, or symbols colored one color with a black background. Linda again discouraged using photographs because they are too complex visually. She finished by showing how symbols need to be spaced appropriately in communication books and boards. And, if possible, create the communication boards so they can collapse to just one column of symbols, reducing any visual distraction of other symbols.

Before and after lunch with Sam and David, I visited the exhibit halls, which contained booths for companies to demonstrate their products. I included videos of some demonstrations the reps did for me. I appreciate the reps allowing me to record them with my Flip. Here’s a list of the reps and companies who generously obliged: Lauren Stafford, VizZle; Brenda Bender, Don Johnston, Inc.; Steve Bain, Origin Instruments; Josh Witt, BlinkTwice; Mike Palicek, Satalight; Jacquie Clark, News-2-You; Christine Bingen, Tobii ATI; Roxanne Butterfield, Slater Software.

Later on in the day, I got to meet one of my heroes, Elina, who’s a young woman I watched over a year ago in this video from AssistiveWare. The video brings me to tears at the end when Elina says “the computer means life to me.” I included pictures of Elina with me, David Neimeijer, her mom, doggie, and relative.

I finished the day having dinner with my San Diego colleagues. It was nice for us to chat and to reflect on our day at CSUN. Then, I drove home and arrived back in San Diego at about 10 PM. What a long day, but what a great day! It was hands down the best day this year!

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