There are many different hardware options available to prospective AAC users. In many respects the hardware itself can be very similar in terms of functionality, between brands. What is more important to consider is the operating system, the software design within the device, & the linguistic structure therein.
It is vital to think about the intended user’s goals & aspirations, both around language acquisition & lifestyle, before a device is trialled & prescribed.
Physical & intellectual disability will be factors influencing hardware choices. Yet, experience in the field has shown time & time again that language assessments can provide a false picture that all too easily underestimates the capacity of a person who is non-verbal to learn expressive language & make themselves heard.
As discussed elsewhere in this Education section, low tech equipment has its role to play in a multi-modal AAC approach. However, even if we focus on electronic hardware there are major differences to ponder between the various devices.
Digital devices containing recorded messages or words can be utilised effectively as one tool within the AAC armoury. Still, they can also stunt language progress through highly limited availability of vocabulary. They often allow the user to participate in pre-planned activities but will tend to limit the role played since spontaneity will inevitably be denied. Different levels can be difficult to access physically while also adding in greater memory demands for the device user. In fact, devices relying on paper overlays & multiple levels place significant cognitive strain on the person seeking specific vocabulary.
Synthesised speech devices permit users to compose phrases & sentences “on the fly” as there is better access to a range of words across all the parts of speech. These devices are also known as having Dynamic Display, namely the shown vocabulary can change between a web of pages or present different selection options depending upon the language software that is loaded. Although the dynamic aspect speeds vocabulary options, it depends upon the coherence of the linguistic structure & design to offer up useful words to an emergent communicator. Otherwise, the result is rapidly delivered confusion & frustration.
AAC devices are effectively “thoroughbreds” compared to consumer tablets. They derive from decades of development & refinement by several, AAC-focussed companies. When it comes to features such as: on-board high-volume quality audio, rugged screen & case, matching keyguard & touchguide availability, up to 5-year component/repair support, built-in switch ports & moulded carry-handles, there is no comparison. Certain custom eyegaze & electronic headpointing access peripherals will only function with AAC devices.
Only purpose-built large-screen devices with 14” & larger display dimensions allow AAC users with significant visual or physical impairment to reliably access communication.
Weight is another factor to consider, though for the most part children will be unlikely to carry a device long distances or for long periods of time. Still, ambulant users need to be able to cope with the physical demands of the unit. Most AAC devices are already in the weight range that is acceptable to the majority of school kids. The lightest device is not necessarily the best for AAC.
Battery-life is important, but its relevance depends upon lifestyle, usage patterns & the trade-off between weight & power-output. Windows-based systems generally require more battery power.
Accessorising consumer tablets can lead to other problems. like: When a rugged case encloses the entire device, it can dull the audio output, add weight, & negate the argument that a widely used tablet eradicates stigma. Additional blue-tooth speakers can become disconnected, plus when detached become lost or damaged. Such accessories have to be charged separately.
Additionally, AAC hardware runs proprietary AAC software that is not found in consumer equipment. AAC devices can thus be completely “locked” into a truly dedicated-mode. There is no possible access to the wider Windows or Android environments that inevitably provide distractions to AAC users needing to concentrate on learning language skills. In a typical family situation, pressure exerted by parents or siblings can lead to secure passwords in iOS devices being “shared”. Once a device is identified as being an entertainment module, few users will be enticed into engaging with it as a serious communication tool.
Other proprietary software features only accessible in dedicated AAC units include: auditory scanning, pre-programmed scanning routines, access methodologies like CoreScanner, & unique masking tools like Vocabulary Builder. Many features can be customised to a precise degree, like selection methods, display options, feedback, editing, infra-red environmental control, generated language saving, voices & pronunciation.
Located in all Liberator devices is a data logger which can capture information about usage patterns & language development. In turn, this data can be transferred wirelessly through to PRC’s Realize website for automatic charting & tabling into a visual format. Attainment of set goals can be checked while quantifiable performance can be monitored & therapy better directed.
Liberator offers four ranges of voice-output, dynamic-display, hardware that encompass all the benefits of dedicated AAC assistive technology.
|DEVICE||OPERATING SYSTEM||MINSPEAK||PAGE-BASED||TEXT TO SPEECH|
|ACCENT||Windows||Unity/Words For Life||Page-based||Text to speech|
|800 / 1000 / 1400|
|NOVA CHAT||Android||N/A||Page-based||Text to speech|
|5 / 8 / 10 / 12|
|CHAT FUSION||Android||Words For Life||Page-based||Text to speech|
|8 / 10|
|LR8||Android||Words for Life||Page-based||Text to speech|