Posted by: debstake | January 20, 2010

iPod Touch – A new door to Communication

I have decided to write on this topic because we are moving JR from his dynavox V to an iPod touch and I was asked to by the editor of the ASA newsletter for the greater Harrisburg area. There are several reasons for this move. The first was an article in USA today about the iPod/iPhone being used as AAC’s. The article was written in May of last year and can be found HERE.

To begin the dynavox is in many ways like the PECS. As an AAC is a great “jumping off point” when first being introduced to the world of AAC’s. It is a great machine and when it’s not being sent back for repairs it does the job it’s intended to do. It allows those who are non-verbal or with limited speech to communicate with the world. It is also a computer (windows XP) that allows access to the internet, uploading of educational software, and game playing.

All that being said; like everything high tech it does have its drawbacks. To begin the company markets this device as being very sturdy. Speaking from practical experience I can say that just isn’t so. The company states that it can take a drop of up to 10 feet. Within the first three months of ownership of the unit it was accidently dropped in the gym at JR’s school from a coat hook that was less than 3 feet off the floor, shattering the touch screen. Every year since JR has had the unit something has happened that it has had to go back to the company for repairs. From January of 2009 until August of the same year the unit has had to go back five or six times. One instance was for the hard drive crashing that warranted replacement. This after 3 or 4 returns for the same issue. Another time was due to the pin set in the battery compartment being bent. The company itself is rather reluctant to do the proper repairs the first time and it took my threatening to get our school district’s special education director involved along with the schools legal department. Thank God the school district took my advice and got a four year extended warranty for the unit. Add to all this the prohibitive cost of the unit (the Dynavox V (or 5) runs $7,820 and the V Max is $8,420) and without financial assistance from your school district (first payor) or private insurance (2nd payor) or medicaid (3rd payor) this unit is out of reach for many families ours included.

The one advantage the dynavox does have though is if you or your loved one has limited fine motor issues the screen is relatively big with an 8.5  inch diagonal viewing/touch screen. The touch screen once calibrated properly is very responsive. Updating the software is relatively painless if you have internet connection. Make sure though that you have anti-virus software installed before accessing the internet. Remember this is a microsoft operating system. And we all know how prone they are to attack from hackers and malicious viruses.

However, when programing the dynavox for you or loved one’s personal preferences is no easy feat. The unit comes with an 8×11 heavy duty binder that is pretty much filled with instructions on how to program it. That should give you an idea of the complications involved in the process. In addition to the user manual it comes with a keyboard and mouse that plug into the USB ports. These are relatively cheaply made but functional. When initially setting up preferences you will use these a lot. For more info on the dynavox please go HERE.

The comparison of the dynavox to the iPod touch on the other hand is the difference between night and day. The dynavox weights about 5 pounds and is a bit cumbersome. The iPod weights in at about 4.05 ounces is hand held and very portable. The iPod has a touch screen as well. The speaker output in a loud environment isn’t the best but externals can be purchased for the unit beginning at nominal charges and traveling into the hundreds of dollars. For options on speakers please go HERE. Another site I was made aware of by a reader’s comments after I posted this entry yesterday can be found HERE. All though they don’t appear to have the external speakers that JR’s iPod will need they do have a large assortment at VERY reasonable prices. Or just do a google search using the phrase “iPod external speakers”. We are opting for THIS external speaker system. It amplifies the speakers and acts as  a protective case as well. The cost of an iPod touch runs in price from $199.00 (8GB) $299.00 (32 GB) and $399.00 (64 GB) and if you go HERE Best Buy is running an on-line only discount on all three. It isn’t a lot but every little bit helps. You can also (and I highly recommend it) purchase extended warranties for this device just as you can for any electronics. We purchase all of electronic extended warranties from a group known as square trade. Their website can be found HERE. Consumer reviews can be viewed HERE. A warning in order to get accidental breakage coverage via square trade the warranty must be purchased within 30 days of the purchase receipt for the electronic device.

Now for the nuts and bolts of what I believe makes the iPod an exceptional unit over the dynavox. The program that turns an iPod into an AAC is called Proloquo2Go. The application costs an additional $200.00 (don’t be alarmed though as most of the apps are reasonably priced for this device and some are free). THIS on-line tutorial makes this device so easy to program even I can do it! The screen is a small but very crisp 3.5 inches. You can download music and movies to the unit and you have internet access anywhere there is a wi-fi connection. And we all know that’s just about everywhere these days.

There are many applications for our children and if you go to HERE. The blog is called the speech language pathology sharing. There is an entry that lists them all and it is updated regularly.  Also there is a forum that deals with the iPod touch in unison with AAC.  This form focuses on the Proloquo2go application. The moderator is very informative and he partnered with Samuel Sennott and Eric Sailers. His name is David Niemeijer. David is actually a PHd in the environmental sciences. He came to programming this software because of a friend who needed better than what he had. Necessity truly is the motherhood of invention. You can access the forum HERE.

Two other distinct advantage of the iPod over the dynavox is who makes the iPod. This is an Apple product and let’s be honest here; Microsoft can’t touch apple for stability and security. When we can we will be making the switch to an all Apple household. The second advantage is so many have iPod touches that our children won’t stick out like sour thumbs carrying one around.

UPDATE: I found an article that will help extend the overall battery life for the iPod as well as the recharging frequency for the device. The article can be found HERE.


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  6. Deborah,

    This afternoon I have been doing research to document the far higher prices for assistive technology that uses the same technology that costs much less in mainstream applications, and using the outrageous pricing of the Dynavox as an example, when I found your blog addressing these very issues.

    I am a psychotherapist based in Carlisle, PA with a growing specialization in working with kids and young adults with ASDs and I have been wanting to get better plugged in to the local ASD support and advocacy organizations. I am pleased to have discovered your blog.

    My exposure to DynaVox is owed to my first non-vocal client, a young woman with CP and my looking into what it would cost to enable her using eye tracking technology to “click” on the big square on the Dynavox screen. I was pleasantly surprised to find a paper by some university researchers who show how, by modifying a standard webcam with open source software, it is possible to do the job for around $50. But it isn’t being manufactured yet No problem. I discover Dynavox already has a product that provides an eye tracking interface for my client’s Dynavox unit–for another $7000+.

    I gather that motor control issues are not a factor in the use of the Ipod touch in your situation. That is ruled out in my client’s case, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the IPad screen is big enough to do the job.

    Thanks very much for your perceptive comments. I will be following your blog.

    Curt Byers
    Founding President
    The SymBionyx Foundation

    But it was my work with a non-vocal CP client with a Dynavox that exposed me to the bizarre economics of assistive technology.

    The client in question really needs eye tracking

    I have a technology background and have invented a new assistive technology for

    I have a technology background that

  7. JS,
    Glad you find the blog helpful. Check out my other blogs on the P2G app for the iPad/Phone/Pad if you are interested. The app goes so very well with the actual units and are extremely easy. There are other educational apps that can be found on the iTunes store as well. I have a link to these other apps within this article that you are commenting on.

    To all others whom I may not have responded personally to; Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. Another entry on how JR is doing with his iPod/P2G will be forth coming.


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