Augmentative & Alternative Communication: Impacting children with differing disabilities

Assistant Technology Consultant of Saltillo, Jean Bosco Walsh, spoke to the UATP about AAC awareness month and the power of speech.

By Bennett Purser

October is International Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month, and the ways children with speech disabilities communicate have never been stronger. With fast-changing AAC devices and software reaching a milestone in accessibility, toddlers to aging adults can now make themselves understood with communication devices.

Assistant Technology Consultant of Saltillo, Jean Bosco Walsh, spoke to the UATP about AAC awareness month and the power of speech. 

“It is much more of a mainstream type of device now, anything to do with AAC is so much more commonplace,” said Bosco Walsh. 

The NOVA Chat 10 functions similar to a tablet with its user-friendly touch screen
The NOVA Chat 10 from Saltillo functions as a tablet.
Communication devices in the past were heavy, large machines that had to be worked around, but the increase in accessibility of the devices has made it much easier for people with communication disorders to engage in meaningful conversation with others. Many devices have decreased in size and price, while allowing for more options to be utilized. 

“Now being able to have a tablet, your device can be much more of a daily function. It doesn't have to be this big extra burden,” she said.

With Saltillo's NOVA Chat device and TouchNet, Saltillo’s app for Apple products that can be accessed with iPads and iPhones, Bosco Walsh has seen children’s behavior change drastically as the technology improves their speech capabilities. 

She’s witnessed the hardship of people not being able to speak naturally, while still having the ability to understand others. So when speech through AAC is given to a child, their behavior reflects their relief, influencing the child’s behaviors.

The NOVA Chat 5 functions like a Smart Phone, with its similar size and weight.
The NOVA Chat 5 functions like a Smart Phone.
“The frustration of someone not being able to talk, but being able to really understand," Bosco Walsh said, "behaviors can really be lessened with the use of a communication device."

She notes that people with varying disabilities can benefit from AAC devices. Researchers have seen children with Autism become more comfortable communicating with these devices as they aren’t distracted with the other sensory elements of a conversation. Students with other disabilities also show drastic increase in speech when learning with devices. 

“Sometime students with Down syndrome have the ability to to put two or three words together, but then you put a device in front of them and all of sudden they're speaking with full sentences and using the right tense and parts of speech, which normally they wouldn't be able to do,” she said.

The relief that Bosco Walsh has seen as students engage in AAC has been powerful. She believes that this year, AAC awareness month has brought more attention to children in need of alternative communication than ever before.

“Not being able to speak, does not mean someone doesn't understand,” she said. “So giving someone a voice can really change their life.” 
  

Utahns can contact UATP to learn more about acquiring an appropriate AAC device for a family member or client. Learn more about AAC devices from Saltillo and watch the Saltillo Webinar by UATP.

U.S. Access Board Update with Sachin Pavithran

Sachin Pavithran, UATP director, is also vice chair of the U.S. Access Board, appointed by Pres. Obama. The Board is a federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostic equipment, and information technology. This is an update from Sachin on current issues the board is working on:
UATP director, and US Access Board vice chair, Sachin Pavithran.


We currently have 5 active rulemakings and two that are planned. The five active rules are:

1. Transportation Vehicles (buses) - the final rule is at the Office of Management and Budget under review (it was sent on September 9, 2014).

2. Public Rights-of-Way and Shared Use Paths - this will be a final rule; we expect to ask for a Board vote in January 2015 and will then send it to OMB for review.

3. Medical Diagnostic Equipment - this will be a final rule; we expect to ask for a Board vote in January 2015 and will then send it to OMB for review.

4. Passenger Vessels - this will be a final rule; we expect to ask for a Board vote in March 2015 and will then send it to OMB for review.

5. Information and Communications Technology - this will be a proposed rule; the proposed rule is at OMB under review (we expect to publish the rule in October and hold a public hearing during our November Board meeting).

The two rules that are planned include:

1. Self-Service Transaction Machines - we have not decided on a rulemaking approach yet; we just received the market analysis from Econometrica (staff is reviewing it now and will send it to the ad hoc committee once they finish their review).

2. Transportation Vehicles (rail) - this will be a proposed rule after the advisory committee completes its work; they are scheduled to present their recommendations to the Board at the July 2015 Board meeting.

Here's background information on each of the rules:

Transportation Vehicles (buses):
A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to revise and update the accessibility guidelines for buses, over-the-road buses, and vans covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was published in July 2010. Two public hearings were held during the comment period that closed in November 2010. 

One important issue was raised after the close of the comment period. As a result, the Board re-opened the comment period for additional public input related to the late comments. The commenters raised issues about the 1:6 ramp slope requirements and a new design that locates the shallower ramp partially inside the vehicle. This design constrains the maneuvering space within the vehicle at the top of the ramp and at the farebox and creates a grade break within the ramp run. 

During the extended comment period which ended in October 2012, the Board held two information meetings to gather input on these issues. Because we do not want to delay rulemaking for subjects that do not require further development, we plan to move forward with the sections that have been vetted through public comment and that will result in better accessibility e.g., automated stop announcements. The Board submitted the final rule to OMB for review in September 2014. Additional research needs will be identified along with a time schedule for completion of the remaining issues. 

Public Rights-of-Way and Shared Use Paths:
In 2009, we contracted with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to assist the Board in finalizing a regulatory assessment for the public rights-of-way rulemaking. An NPRM was published for public comment in July 2011. 

When the Board approved the draft final accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas, coverage of shared use paths was deferred to a future rulemaking. Commenters on the outdoor developed areas rule had previously raised concerns about the need for differing guidelines for shared use paths. Commenters noted that shared use paths differ from trails and typically are located in more developed outdoor areas, as opposed to the more primitive trail settings. Unlike trails, they are designed to serve both bicyclists and pedestrians and are used for transportation and recreation purposes. 

In September 2010, the Board held a public information meeting in conjunction with the ProWalk/ProBike 2010 Conference. This meeting provided an opportunity for individuals with disabilities, designers of shared use paths, and others with expertise in this area to share information with the Board to assist in the development of new accessibility guidelines. The Board then published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for shared use paths in March 2011. 

In February 2013, the Board published a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to include requirements for shared use paths as part of the public rights-of-way rule. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Medical Diagnostic Equipment:
We are developing accessibility standards for medical diagnostic equipment, including examination tables and chairs, weight scales, radiological equipment, and mammography equipment. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the Board to issue these standards in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration. The standards are to address independent access to, and use of, equipment by people with disabilities to the maximum extent possible. 

In July 2010, the Board held a public information meeting on this rulemaking to gather information from stakeholders, including consumers, equipment manufacturers, the healthcare industry, government agencies, and others with an interest in the new standards. A proposed rule was published in February 2012 and two public hearings were held. The comment period closed in June 2012 and 53 comments were received. 

In March 2012, the Board created a 24-member Medical Diagnostic Equipment Accessibility Standards federal advisory committee to advise the Board on matters associated with the comments the Board received and information it requested in proposing the standards. The committee submitted its report to the Board in December 2013. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Passenger Vessels:
On June 25, 2013, the Board released for public comment proposed guidelines for passenger vessels. Developed under the ADA, the guidelines provide design criteria for large vessels when newly constructed or altered to ensure that they are accessible to people with disabilities. 

The guidelines address various features of vessel accessibility and include provisions for onboard routes, vertical access between decks, doorways and coamings, toilet rooms, guest rooms, alarm systems, and other spaces and elements used by passengers. The Board's guidelines apply to passenger vessels that are permitted to carry more than 150 passengers or more than 49 overnight passengers, all ferries, and certain tenders that carry 60 or more passengers. 

On July 15, 2013, the Cruise Lines International Association requested that the 90-day comment period be extended by an additional 120 days to review and more fully assess the proposed rule. We extended the comment period to January 24, 2014. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Information and Communication Technology Update:
In July 2006, the Board created an advisory committee to update and revise the Section 508 standards and the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines. Forty-one organizations served on the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee. The committee's membership included representatives from industry, disability groups, standard-setting bodies in the U.S. and abroad, and government agencies, among others. The committee completed its work and presented its report to the Board in April 2008. 

In March 2010, the Board published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to update the Board's Information and Communication Technology guidelines and standards based on the committee's report. A second ANPRM was published in December 2011. The public comment period ended in March 2012 and two public hearings were held. Ninety-one separate commenters filed comments or spoke at the hearings. The Board submitted the proposed rule to OMB for review in February 2014.

Self-Service Transaction Machines:
The Departments of Justice and Transportation (DOT) have related rulemakings on self-service transaction machines. As a result, we have worked collaboratively with them to develop a single set of technical requirements that can be referenced and scoped by each participating agency. 

On November 12, 2013 DOT published its rule on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Accessibility of Web Sites and Automated Kiosks at U.S. Airports. The DOT requirements for automated kiosks at U.S. airports are derived from the technical requirements we helped develop and are consistent with our requirements for automatic teller machines and fare machines, as well as the current requirements of section 508 for self-contained, closed products. 

In 2010, DOJ published an ANPRM on Equipment and Furniture that would cover kiosks, interactive transaction machines, and point-of-sale devices, among other things. We have contracted with Econometrica to assist the Board in preparing an environmental scan that will assist us to develop a better sense of the types and numbers of machines potentially covered by this rule. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a proposed rule.

Transportation Vehicles (rail):
In May 2013, the Board formed a 27-member federal advisory committee as part of its review and update of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles. The Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee will develop consensus recommendations for the Board's use in updating sections of the guidelines that cover vehicles of fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, intercity, and high speed rail. 

These guidelines, which were originally published in 1991, serve as the basis for standards that apply to new or remanufactured vehicles required to be accessible under the ADA. The committee's work will not extend to portions of the guidelines that address buses and vans, which the Board is already in the process of updating. The committee is scheduled to present its recommendations to the Board at the July 2015 Board meeting.

Free trainings: A Guide to Success: Serving People with Disabilities of Various Cultures

The Center for Persons with Disabilities will be presenting the following training, A Guide to Success: Serving People with Disabilities of Various Cultures, and everyone is welcome.

Learn how to serve people with disabilities of various cultures in Tooele and Salt Lake.

Topics will include:

  • Assumptions, Stereotypes and Generalizations
  • Culture and Cultural Competency
  • Communicating with People who have Various Types of Disabilities
  • Service Animals and Other Accommodations
  • Effects of Violence and Trauma on Disability
  • Response to Victims with Disabilities 


Salt Lake City, November 3rd, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., SL County, 2001 So. State, Room N 3005.

Tooele, October 30th, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., USU Tooele Regional Campus, 1021 West Vine Street, Room #159.

Please RSVP to Lynelle at lynelle.chenn@usu.edu or 435-797-8807. 

Looking for a fun Halloween event? NFB has the solution!

The NFB Halloween Costume Carnival will be Oct. 25 from noon to 4 at the CPD.

Coming full circle with A.D.D: Highlighting hope for Learning Disability Awareness month

How one man's experience with A.D.D. became a resource for others.

By Bennett Purser

With the roar of saw blades and welding torches, the Assistive Technology Lab at the UATP is rarely a quiet place. As steel sparks and sawdust fill the air, the team of builders are busy creating custom devices, helping people to live, learn and cope in unimaginable ways. 

Clay Christensen, coordinator of the UATP AT Lab
Clay Christensen, coordinator of the
Assistive Technology Lab for the UATP
With the guidance of Clay Christensen, the AT Lab’s coordinator, the lab also provides high-tech computer equipment for people who experience learning disabilities from Autism, Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder. 

As October is National Learning Disability Awareness Month, Christensen has been busy providing new software and creating custom devices. But, he’s also taken time to reflect on his own personal experience with learning disabilities.

Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at a young age, he remembers having trouble focusing, especially during lessons. He knew there was a lot for him to learn, back when assistive technology wasn’t as accessible.  

He also remembers being the only student in his college classes who used a recording device during the lecture, a device then that was big and noticeable.

“It was awkward, it was a little bit embarrassing,” he said. “I would sit down in class and set out this recorder on top of the desk and people would look at me like ‘Why does he need that?’”

But using that recorder and tools that were available at the time were what helped him to learn efficient study habits, which led to earning his degree in psychology from Utah State University. An achievement he accomplished with hard work and the help of assistive technology.


LiveScribe Smart Pen
A LiveScribe Smart Pen, programmed
to digitally record notes easily
uploaded to a computer.
Today, as assistance is much more accessible with iPads and computers, when students come to the lab, he introduces them to smart pens, iPads and apps, and all the computer software for their specific needs, serving as a resource for students and community members who also find themselves battling with a learning disability. 

“Sometimes I see the look of discouragement on their face, because they’re struggling,” Christensen said. “It’s been interesting for me to come full circle and say ‘I know how you feel, let me show you some things and share my experience with you, what I did to overcome this.’”

Reflecting on his younger self, he said he’s always had an interest in human behavior. Working now with persons with disabilities, the connection of the mind and the body through disabilities, has been fascinating. When he first became part of the UATP, he recalls feeling like he was introduced to a “new world” when he met the community of people with disabilities.

Christiensen modifying a walking device
Christensen modifying a
walking device in the AT Lab 
“Until you work with this population, this group of wonderful people, you don't know what it is they’re going through or what it’s like to be in their shoes. I just fell in love with it almost instantly.”


Free online webinar: GoBabyGo: Power mobility for children with disabilities


The Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP) 
will present a FREE online interactive training, 
“GoBabyGo: Power mobility for young children,” 
on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. MST.

Kids just want to have fun, and GoBabyGo wants to make sure that all kids have that opportunity.  

Cole Galloway assists a child in GoBabyGo car
Cole Galloway assists a child in their GoBabyGo car.

Launched in 2006 by pediatric researcher and designer Cole Galloway, GoBabyGo collaborates with engineers and fashion designers, and parents and grandparents, to provide mobility to kids who have trouble moving on their own.

What started as custom robot-driven devices, then later developed into modifying off-the-shelf toy race-cars, GoBabyGo provides mobility for children with crawling and walking problems, empowering them to be part of the action at home, in the daycare center and on the playground.

By joining our webinar you will learn how to convert your own power toy car into a mobility device to promote play, exploration, and socialization. 



Kevin Christensen graduated from the University of Utah in 2013 with a Masters in Occupational Therapy. Currently, he works at the Utah Center for AssistiveTechnology (UCAT) as an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Specialist. UCAT has been leading the way on the GoBabyGo project for Utah. Kevin primarily specializes in adaptive driving, seating & positioning, and workstation ergonomic assessments.
In order to participate, you will need a computer with high-speed Internet access.

RSVP: If you are interested in joining please RSVP by Monday, Oct. 27th. Contact Storee Powell via email storee.powell@usu.edu, or call 435-797-7412. Participant instructions will be emailed to you.



If you are a screen reader user, or need any other accommodations in order to participate in the training, please contact UATP Program Director Sachin Pavithran at 435-797-6572 or sachin.pavithran@usu.edu, no later than Friday, Oct. 24th to make arrangements to participate via phone. Please feel free to pass on this information to anyone that you think might be interested.

Assistive Technology reaches orphanage in Vietnam

How Assistive Technology from the UATP touched the lives of Vietnamese children. 


A child enjoys a therapeutic massage
A child enjoys a therapeutic massage.
Low-tech devices are sometimes the best solution to help an individual with a disability. That was certainly the case when UATP friend and colleague, Sheri Newton of the Disability Law Center, took some devices made in the AT Lab to Vietnam during a vacation in June.

While planning her trip, Sheri approached UATP about getting a few low-tech devices, from adapted eating utensils to adapted writing utensils, that she could take easily on the plane.

Sheri spent some time volunteering at a orphanage for kids with disabilities while in Vietnam, showing them the AT devices, helping with therapy and just spending time with the children.

Unfortunately, assistive technology, even the most inexpensive like these low-tech devices, is still unknown or not accessible in many parts of the world. UATP would like to thank Sheri and all of those that work to make those connections so people with disabilities the world over can have a higher quality of life through assistive technology.

Read on below to hear more about Sheri's experience. 


Dear Storee:

I'm writing with gratitude to the Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP) for providing some simple assistive devices for me to share with orphans in Vietnam. After traveling to that beautiful country this summer, I have a cherished memory of spending a few hours volunteering at an orphanage for children with disabilities.

Sheri comforts a child while the other children test their new cots and chairs
Sheri found this child while everyone else in the room
was in adaptive chairs or laying on cots.

"He actually has strength in his legs and he liked
it when we held him so he could put his weight on
them," she said. "With the stretched resources at the
orphanage, I expect he will rarely have the chance
to exercise his legs or learn how to walk.
As he gets bigger, I'm afraid he will be
stuck in the cot or chair as well."
The facility I visited was small compared to the state-run school that holds over 300 children with disabilities. Upon entering, I found children sitting on the tile floor or ambulating with simple walking aids. They kids greeted us with excitement and immediately gathered around. They loved to touch my skirt or grab my hand to steal a moment of individual attention.

Upon climbing the stairs to another room, my companions and I were deeply moved. Children lay on cots or sat in adaptive chairs lined up in rows. A few toys in plastic shoe boxes were nested high on shelf. A couple of attendants kept the 14 children there clean and fed. That is all they had time for. It was impossible to distinguish between girls and boys. They all had their hair cut short. Some had fingernail polish or simple bracelets, gifts from another group. 

We learned later that this was still not an indication of gender, just of preference. When an aide who spoke English came along, I asked, "How old are the children here, between about 3 and 10?"

She explained that the children were up to age 23. I was astonished. Pointing to a child that I had assumed was four or five, she stated that he was 17-years-old. His 4-foot cot provided him plenty of room.

We spent the next couple of hours talking and singing to, holding, stretching and massaging the children. It was extraordinary and emotionally painful to have something as simple as stroking an arm or stretching a curled leg have such a profound effect. They hungered for it and they rewarded us with beaming faces and affection. The way that they lived was heart-wrenching to us; however, the strength of their spirit was magnetic.

We found that the adaptive spoons and writing tools were best suited for the circumstances. Most of the children must wait their turn for aids to feed them. A German woman with a little background in therapy working there was excited to have the tools to help some of the children to eat on their own or express themselves with crayons or markers.

"I wanted him to have love in his life," said Sheri, about her experience with this child.
"I was so drawn to this child," Sheri said.
"I thought she was a girl, but I believe they said she was a little boy.
He was happy and engaging,
I wanted to take him outside to feel the rain and the breeze,
to show him the world, to experience beautiful music,
to swim and play games. I wanted him to have love in his life."
 

I returned to the states with the aids for putting on shoes and socks (they didn't have any) and items to hold books in place. The only book I saw was one of my favorites, Susan Laughs that I had translated into Vietnamese and left at the home as a gift.

Thanks again UATP for providing me the opportunity to give something meaningful to these children and the exhausted 
workers who care for them. 

Your support is wonderful.

Sheri Newton
Disability Law Center of Utah