Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Get some learning here!

Hey Tek-ninjas! As many of you begin your summer, maybe you are restless for something to do.... I mean, just how long CAN you spend at the pool or lake (ok, maybe all day long....) I want to remind you of free training available to you through the Learning Hub from Tobii Dynavox. Take a look at just a few of next week's offerings!

Preserve Your Voice: Get Started with Message Banking: June 22, 1-1:30

The Tobii Dynavox Message Bank is a joint project between Boston Children’s Hospital Department of Otolaryngology and Tobii Dynavox with a goal of providing a free and open message bank site. We define Message Banking as: Digitally recording and storing words, phrases, sentences, personally meaningful sounds using one’s natural voice, inflection, and intonation. This webinar will review why message banking is important for individuals who are at risk for losing their voice and how it can be accomplished through mymessagebanking.com.

Simple Implementation Tips: Positive Communication Environment: June 23, 1-1:45

Are you new to AAC and wondering how to get started? In this course you will learn specific and simple tips to create a positive and successful AAC environment.

Core First Learning: June 24: 10:30-11:15

This session will walk through this program designed to support communication and literacy skills by focusing on how to find, use and read core words. There will be an outline of activities included as well as how to assign and use them with any learner regardless of their access method.

The Magic of Modeling: June 25: 1-1:30

Wondering how you can introduce vocabulary and help promote use of AAC for people with complex communication needs? Join us as we explore the evidence-based approach of modeling, including specific ideas for implementing modeling in a variety of settings.

Happy summer, and happy learning!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Delivering Voices in SC and western VA

 Hey Tek-ninjas! More shaking up in my Tobii Dynavox world!

First, let me say that I'm so excited to announce that South Carolina has a new Solutions Consultant. She's going to work with Courtney Grant, whom many of you may know as having been the consultant there for years. Courtney is taking on other responsibilities in the company, but she's going to help with the training of our new hire, Emilie Peel. 

Emilie has been in the field of speech pathology and AAC for the past 11 years. She wrote to me that she is passionate about AAC and the many ways it fosters communication. We are excited to have her on board and think we will all benefit from her knowledge.

Additionally, today Tobii Dynavox posted a position for what I refer to as the western portion of Virginia. If you are interested in applying or learning more about the position follow this link

From the link: "The Solutions Consultant is responsible for contributing to the sales growth in an assigned territory by increasing awareness, developing networks, providing information on Tobii Dynavox products to potential customers and clients and assisting them in the selection and sale of speech generating devices that best meet their needs. This is a remote position, the solutions consultant must live in the sales territory. Territory area includes Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Lexington, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Blacksburg."

On a side note, those towns are in the middle of world class mountain biking, trail running, and flyfishing.... just say'n. 

Also, Tobii Dynavox is a wonderful company to work for!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Quick Learning Opportunities!

Hey Tek-ninjas! I wanted to take a moment and highlight some terrific education opportunities for you to build your AAC skills. 

These courses, offered through Tobii Dynavox are excellent, typically 1 to 1.5 hours long, and price just right: FREE. These times are all Eastern Time. 


May 27: Keep Doing What Matters: Technology Supports for ALS: 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm 

May 27: Stay True to You: Personalized Communication for People with Aphasia: 5:30 pm - 6:00 pm 

May 28: Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Snap! 11:00 am - 12:00 pm 

June 1: Support All Learners with Boardmaker. 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm 

June 2: Access Your Computer with Your Eyes. 11:00 am - 11:30

June 2: The Magic of Modeling. 12 pm - 12:30 pm

This is a just the surface of what is available. Peruse the catalogue here.  The events are constantly being updated. Miss one you want to see? Likely it will pop up again. What something specific? Reach out to your local Solution Consultant, and they can bring your idea to our Learning Team! 

Happy Learning!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Jo gets to deliver voices!

 Hey Tek-ninjas! I have so loved being a Tobii Dynavox Solutions Consultant for 3.5 years. The job has been such a good fit for me, and I am so proud to be a part of this organization. If you are a long time reader, you've read me gush about my job. You know that I am constantly impressed by my colleagues. They are such a smart and dedicated group of professionals. We get to deliver voices!! It has felt like so much more than "just a job". 

My IG Story: 2019
As of April 1st, I've moved into a new role, and I am now a Regional Market Director, which means I am managing close to a dozen Solution Consultants in SC, NC, VA, DC, MD, PA, and a small corner of WVA and OH, and helping them to deliver voices. 

With this shift, one of my biggest concerns has been finding a replacement who would 1. love this work as much as I have, and 2. recognize it's profound importance. Fortunately, we had several amazing applicants to choose from, and ultimately there were some hard decisions to make. 

I'm confident we got it right, and I am so pleased to share with folks that Jo Taylor, SLP extraordinaire will be taking over my territory, the "right side" of NC, and Tidewater, VA! Jo begins May 24th.

Jo was a guest blogger here on Tek-ninja awhile back, where she showcased how she was leveraging infrared and Snap Core First to engage her clients. She has a ton of AAC experience, and has helped grow AAC awareness where ever she goes. Jo is very much an AAC dork like myself! One of her self-professed joys is to try to give an answer on Facebook BEFORE Jeremy Tobii-Dynavox Nelson can do so! 

So, if you are in Eastern NC, or Tidewater VA, please be on the lookout for her and reach-out to her for AAC needs. She will be reachable at jo.taylor@tobiidynavox.com. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Grant Money for AAC Equipment

HEY ALL, I FIXED THE BROKEN LINK FOR THE APPLICATION!

Hey Tek-ninjas! This one goes out to school-based SLPs, OTs, and anyone on an Assistive Technology team in the US. 

Are you aware of the CARES Act? The CARES Act is a Federal program providing $390 million in
Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020. Funds are allocated to each state's K-12 schools in the form of grants to mitigate the financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly $39 million in federal coronavirus relief money has been released by the State Board of Education. This money can be used to support exceptional children’s programs and to purchase online curricula to support blended learning. 

Additionally, it can be used to purchase educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students served by the LEA – which can also include assistive technology for disabled students.

In a nutshell: there is funding available for your AT Team which could be used to procure AAC equipment!  Here in North Carolina you can learn specifics here, and apply for your district here.  

If you are in a different state, you can probably find application information by googling "cares act funding for (your STATE) school districts. 

Money left untapped goes back to DC. Good luck!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Increasing AAC user's independence with modern environmental controls and universal design

 Hey Tek-ninjas! Today I want blog about how a concept designed to support "lazy" has morphed into universal design (UD) AND access.

Some of you may not even remember a time when you had to get up off the couch to change a tv channel. I do. No, not because I'm THAT old, but we did not get a tv until I was a teen, and then it was a very cheap model. Momma-T was a bit of a granola hippy, and was convinced tv would rot our brains! We certainly did not have a remote control on that black and white box. Did you know that it's been almost 65 years since infrared remote controls came to market? These little gadgets were called "Lazy Bones" and allowed us to stay on the couch (so as not to lose a prime seat). Staying on the couch allowed you to dictate what you watched at least until your bigger brother or sister exercised their might. Sigh. 

One inherent problem with infrared remote controls was that they got lost. When we finally got one, my father drilled a hole in it, tied a bit of rope, and secured it to the side table. Rhet did NOT play. Then we started needing even more remotes for the cable service, and tv, and speakers, etc. 

Flash forward to today, and you find that most if not all modern televisions and tv services do not come with an infrared remote, but rather a radio-frequency remote. RF, also known as “radio frequency,” and IR, which stands for “Infrared,” are two kinds of energy used in remote controls to send commands. RF uses radio waves and IR is a kind of light that.  

Additionally, with web-enabled technology, there are so many alternative user interfaces (UI) available now which use voice controls. And this is not just for our tv's anymore. We can connect to the home thermostat, lights, doors, etc. 

In my home any of us can say "Hey Google, play the Grateful Dead on Spotify" (I'm the only one who asks for the Dead though), or "Hey Google, turn on my office lights". As long as I'm within "hearing" of the speaker UI - those commands are carried out for me. OR, I can open the app on my iPhone (Android too) and control all of this. It's pretty Amazing. 

These web-enabled environmental controls are very accessible, and available at local stores or online. They are relatively affordable, and easy to setup. You don't need a specialist to automate much of your household. This access to universal designed access can be of profound importance to many of our folks who utilize communication systems. Leveraging Siri, Alexa, Google, and other smart speakers, users can control so many aspects of their environment. Especially eye-gaze or switch access. 

Historically AAC software and AAC hardware came with IR built in to it. Tobii Dynavox still offers IR on most of their DME. But more recently, folks have begun ignoring the IR, and leveraging their AAC systems to speak to their smart speakers. All without having to be in "line of sight". 

Some folks may have already invested in Alexa or Siri in their home. If that's the case, that's fine. Those pagesets are built in and ready - go ahead and use them. BUT... if you've not, and are considering a smart speaker - I endorse Google because Tobii Dynavox and Google worked together to integrate Hey Google commands over the wifi to the smart speaker system. This means the user is no longer tethered to being close enough for the speaker to hear you. This is huge. Awhile back I blogged about the integration of Hey Google into Snap Core First AAC software from Tobii Dynavox. 

Access to such technology obviously increases an individual's independence. It allows them to do so much. And for young emergent communicators, it can be a terrific motivator to practice using eye-gaze. 

So, I'm unsure that infrared is actually "going away", but I am confident and excited that there are new and more robust user interfaces available which can greatly increase the quality of life for many of our AAC users!

Happy therapy!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Let your voice be heard, so that other's might have a voice!

Hey Tek-ninjas! I've heard from many of you about how much you appreciate the free, quality webinars that Tobii Dynavox offers at their Learning Hub. I've most recently blogged about those here. A number of folks report using the webinars to fulfill most of their continuing education, from home, on their own computer, learning about AAC! Well, it looks like the company's Learning Team is about to take their efforts to a whole new level!

Tobii Dynavox has announced that they are working on the creation of a Certification Program. Completing a specific course of study would provide participants with Tobii Dynavox Certification. They indicate that their intention is to create a program that best serves "your" interests and needs, and in order to do so, they are hoping to get your input on this survey

This is your opportunity to tell Tobii Dynavox what you want to learn, and what you think other AAC focused SLPs and other professionals "should" know! You can have a hand in determining what a Tobii Dynavox Certificate Program might look like.

So, who are they looking for feedback from? Well, SLPs, educators, and any other AAC/assistive tech friends (hey fellow OTs...)! By the way, AAC/assistive tech friends definitely 
includes parents, caregivers, and even end users!

Please consider sharing your opinion, and inviting invested AAC friends to do so as well!

Friday, March 26, 2021

ALS Social Security Disability Insurance Access Act signed into law

Hey Tek-ninjas! Today I read some terrific news, and wanted to share with you all!

On March 23rd, President Biden signed into law allowing Medicare benefits to start "day of diagnosis of ALS" verse having to wait 5 months for the kick in. This bill, is a true bi-partisan effort from our U.S. Senators. The bill effectively allows patients the opportunity to start their future communication needs much sooner than before. I believe accessing such benefits earlier can not only prolong their life but quality of that life.

Senator Coons stated that “With this technical fix to the law, we’ll finally ensure that ALS patients get the timely financial support they need,” adding that “speedy access to support programs like SSDI after a diagnosis is essential for patients and their families – and one of the priorities we set when we first launched the bipartisan ALS Caucus last year. We must continue to improve the law to make life easier for ALS patients and their loved ones.” 

You can get more information here.

This makes me happy. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Free Symbol-Based Supports

Hey Tek-ninjas! I'm going to state the obvious, and say that the last 14 months have presented some new challenges across the country. Many of our AAC users, and other folks benefit from a variety of supports including Social Stories, Picture Schedules, and other symbol supports. 

Did you know that Tobii Dynavox offers Symbol-Based Supports for free? 

All you need is a free account - and it's possible you already have one! If you have login credentials for mytobiidynavox, the eFunding Portal, or Boardmaker Online, you can use those same credentials to log into the Learning Hub, which I've blogged about before. Within the Learning Hub, you can access these free Symbol-Based Supports

For example, there is a whole series of "Back to School" books, stories, and sequences to support students learning through COVID-19 at home and at school. The supports include an entrance routine, books about germs, stories about wearing masks, learning at home, and more.

The 3 pages displayed here are specifically from the Social Story: "Wear A Mask". This book does a terrific job of explaining to a young person why they need to wear a mask, while also recognizing the ways in which it's uncomfortable to do, yet necessary. 

Additionally, if you have ideas of emergency type content that you think might be helpful - please reach out to your Tobii Dynavox Solutions Consultant - you can find that individual here! They can relay the idea to the team making such content, and it's likely that content will manifest!

Happy therapy!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Casting for the male voice

Hey Tek-ninjas! This is a follow up from yesterday's post. I just received a message that the folks working on the AA digital voice are seeking members of the African American community to participate in that creation.

Evidently, "the casting for the male voice is now open. Please click the link to complete the survey. It should take about 20 minutes, but there is a short version where you can opt out after answering only 8 questions (approx. 10 min). Please forward to any AAC users, families, and other professionals who might be interested in participating. The survey will close on Friday, April 26.

Please share with folks as you see fit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

This is significant: Meet the 1st African American English digital voice!

 Hey Tek-ninjas! I cannot tell you how many times I've had a family member, care-giver, or device user ask me for a voice that better represents them.... I've had a wife ask me "do you have anything that's... sounds.... less vanilla"? If you've heard the various digital voices they do have a certain "homogenous sound". Until now, I've never been able to offer a solution, as the voices are made by a number of different companies which I don't work for and consequently have no agency over.

Last summer the Acapela Group, who makes a lot of the voices used across multiple AAC software manufactures announced that they would provide more diversity options within their voices. Well, recently Nicolas Mazars, Inclusive Product owner at Acapela Group announced "our mission is to provide a voice for all and we are proud to unveil a voice sample of the first African American English digital voice ever". 

The folks at Acapela note that they called upon African American AAC users, SLPs, and the parents of young AAC users to help create the voice profile using their personal knowledge and feedback. This sounds to have been a truly collaborative approach with Acapela "asking, listening, sharing, discussing, and learning what could possibly be the right choice for a 'AAE' voice".

The new voice is named Tamira, and you can hear her here. Acapela reports that while Tamira is the first member of their family of voices, they expect to introduce a male, and 2 children's voices in a few weeks.

My understanding is that these voices are not ready yet to deploy on devices, but hopefully you will be hearing them soon!

I look forward to hearing the other voices, and hope that this push for increased diversity continues.

Happy therapy! 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Wanna deliver voices?!

 Hey Tek-ninjas! I know if you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know I'm:

1. An employee of Tobii Dynavox. 

2. You also know that I'm an unabashed fan-boy of Tobii Dynavox. 

Tobii Dynavox Stars
I know it may seem that I wear Polly-Anna glasses given how much I gush about Tobii Dynavox, but I don't think that is the case. I recognize that no company is perfect, including ours, but from the top down, I have never been happier in a job, and I am always so pleased by my colleagues who constantly impress me with their intelligence, dedication, integrity, energy, and desire to "beat yesterday". We deliver voices!

I have been a Solutions Consultant for Tobii Dynavox for over 3 years now. This role has been very rewarding, and I've made some remarkable connections with folks who use our products and folks who directly help those folks using our products. 

Currently we have a hand full of Solutions Consultant positions available in various parts of the country. These turn-overs don't happen that often, and this could be a great opportunity. If you are reading my blog with any regularity, I assume you have an interest in AAC, and helping someone, I thought I would share some of those jobs. Who knows... maybe one of you could be the next Tobii Dynavox employee?

Here are current locations:

Eastern NC

Nashville, TN

Spokane, WA

South Carolina

Chicago

Southern, IL

If this seems of interest to you, take a look at the position. If you have questions, reach out to Ashley Weiss, she is super knowledgeable and super friendly. 


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Hey Tek-ninjas! Here’s a friendly reminder to assume competency and potential!
Happy therapy!



 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Youtube Recommendation for you!

Hey Tek-ninjas! today I want to share with you a Youtube Channel made my one of my colleagues, Anya Slinde, MS CCC SLP. She has a ton of really great short tutorials for all things Tobii Dynavox. And, as a SLP rather than an OT (me) she brings a subtly different approach. I am consistently impressed by her content - it's concise and easy to follow. 

Here's a video titled Virtual Setup, Getting Started : Quick Assist Tutorial. It really terrific, and worth a watch. Be sure to subscribe to her channel to get updates when she posts something new!

Happy Therapy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Update for Sensory Eye-FX


 Hey Tek-ninjas! If you are working with an eye-gaze user who benefits from the amazing Magic Eye FX access games on the Tobii Dynavox i-13 and i-16 from Sensory Guru, you may have noticed lately that it stopped working. I mentioned these games awhile back in this post

This was a result of Adobe Flash retirement. The folks at Sensory Guru are aware of the issue, and they are working hard on a fix. 

On their blog they write: "In the very short term this is no immediate fix for this issue but we are working on it now and exploring a variety of options. Rest assured that we will have an update and we will endeavor to make it available to all Sensory Eye FX customers as soon as possible.

Please bear with us and keep an eye on our social channels for pending updates:

Facebook: @sensorygurultd

Twitter: @sensoryguru"

I will be watching, and when an update comes forth, I'll let you know!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Switching it up

 Hey Tek-ninjas! Today I want to talk about a recent find that has me excited. 

Warfighter Engaged is "a 501(C)3, volunteer charitable non-profit with a mission to improve the lives of severely wounded and disabled warfighters through custom adapted devices. They modify video game controllers, make prosthetic enhancements, recreational and other novel devices for greater independence". For access to communication systems or computers and the population many of us work with, this means switches! 

A friend mentioned them on Facebook, and when I went to check them out, I was impressed by their mission AND their low prices. Today, my order arrived, and I'm equally  impressed by their build quality. 

I purchased a single switch, called the Solo. This switch has a nice heft to it. It appears to be made with a 3D printer, and the action on the button feels good. Additionally, it has non skid rubber feet, and sticks nicely to my wooden dinning room table. The Solo retailed for the unbelievably low price of $28. Competition, if you don't know, retails for $60 and up. If this was the only product they offer, I'd be impressed, but it's not! 

I also purchased a double switch, called the Duo-T. This switch has the same build quality, button action, and rubber feet on the bottom. It retails for only $55. I paired it with Snap Core First on an iSeries. I setup a scanning page with 2-step scanning and was very pleased to see it work with no other editing. 

In my eagerness I purchased the Mouse-X, a joystick and mouse interface. It retails for $30. This is 100% my fault, but in my eagerness, and because I didn't read the decription, I was thinking it was simply a switch to PC interface. It's not - it's much more. I reached out to Warfighter Engaged, they heard my issue, and responded to me within a few hours. Ken offered to customize it to what I need. He was so accommodating. I opted to keep it, and order another one, getting it customized to my needs. I'll report back when I've tried it. 

Finally, this is out of stock, but they offer a Proximity switch called the SOLOProx for only $45. If you don't know, a proximity switch is a non-contact sensor switch device. It will act like a switch when you place your hand or finger within 1.5cm (3/4”) of the top surface.  As soon as it comes into stock, you bet, I'll order one.  A leading producing of proximity switches retails theirs for $225. I'll report back after I get one! 

So. If you are in need of switches to facilitate communication or computer access, consider checking out Warfighter Engaged. Their products are top notch. They are super affordable. They are working hard to facilitate and provide access to meaningful occupations for our wounded and disabled veterans. And if you don't find what you need, it's very likely they can and will be willing to fabricate it for you! 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Do you know about Pageset Central?

 Hey Tek-ninjas!!! Happy New Year! Wow... what a start to 2021. Not a dull moment. Annnd that's all I'm gonna say on that note. 😊

Today I want to look at another really terrific, but imo under-utilized resource from Tobii Dynavox. Let's take a look at Pageset Central.

Per the home page: "Pageset Central provides inspiration and ideas for use with the Tobii Dynavox communication software. Easily search for and download pagesets that have been created by other users, or upload and share the content that you’ve created. This is the central idea of Pageset Central - to give and take!"

The beauty of these pagesets is that once you download them, like all pagesets, they are fully customizable. So, even if they are not a perfect fit for your user, they can provide a framework, and much of the elbow grease to make a personalized pageset. 

The video below demonstrates how to search, navigate, and save pagesets. It also shows a "Circle Time Activity" pageset that I made awhile back and often share with classroom teachers. 


If you've made a pageset that you think is cool, or that other's might appreciate, consider sharing your creation with the Tobii Dynavox community! Simply upload the pageset to your account, click the "Share" link that appears below the pageset and follow the steps to share to Pageset Central. Obviously, make sure you have no identifying information in the pageset you are sharing!

While anyone can peruse Pageset Central, and even download pagesets to their computer, to reap all the benefits, I recommend making a free mytobiidynavox account. 

This next video shows a more complicated and very creative way to use Snap Core First to make a "check list". In this case, for bedtime.


Happy exploring, and happy therapy!!


Sunday, January 10, 2021

PODD is here on Snap Core First!

 Hey Tek-ninjas, so it seems that Snap Core First just continues to get better and better. 


Not too long ago, Tobii Dynavox added the Text-literate and Aphasia pagesets. Now, they have rolled out the long anticipated Snap PODD pagesets. For some of you, this is going to be huge!! 

Access to PODD with the super user-friendly and intuitive nature of Snap Core First - that's a pretty compelling combination. Remember, with the Snap engine, your PODD users will have easy access to the built in Boardmaker Player and all the integrated Smart Assistants including Hey Google

Snap PODD will retail for $350, and is available on the Tobii Dynavox website in mid-November. Snap PODD for Windows includes:
  • All PODD pages sets
  • One Windows Snap PODD license
  • One additional Snap PODD license for either iOS or Windows.
  • Free syncing between iOS and Windows versions of the app
  • Free backups and cloud storage
If you are a professional (SLP, OT, SpED, etc) you can access a Professional License which includes PODD AND Gateway Pagesets for free. Learn more about that in this post

Happy therapy!