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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

White House "Champions of Change" Award for Unique TapToTalk Project

In February, we reported about the unique project at the West Virginia Assistive Technology System, a part of the Center for Excellence in Disabilities at West Virginia University, that helps first responders and public transit drivers communicate with those who may have communication limitations or for whom English is not their primary language.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency named this project as one of the 2014 FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness Award winners. The awards recognize programs and individuals who have taken action to prepare their communities for disasters and helped to make their communities more resilient. These winners were just recognized at the White House as "Champions of Change." Here is the full story.

We are proud of this creative use of TapToTalk and add our voices to those honoring Brittany Valdez, Regina Mayolo, and all those who were part of the Champions of Change team.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A mom's story: "TapToTalk has given Kaitlyn a way of communicating with us that has changed all of our lives"

This guest post was written by Susan Tarr, whose daughter has been using TapToTalk since 2010.

Children are born every day, and as they learn and grow, most reach developmental milestones around the same age as their peers. Sometimes a child does not reach one or more developmental milestones and the child and family require support. The ability to talk and communicate ones needs is essential. What can be done when someone is unable to speak due to autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, ALS, or other conditions? It can be frustrating for a nonverbal person to try to communicate their wants or needs with someone and it is equally frustrating for those trying to understand what is being communicated.

Our daughter Kaitlyn (pictured) was born sixteen years ago; she did not eat well, slept most of the time, and did not reach developmental milestones. The first two years of Kaitlyn’s life we worried and continuously compared her development (or lack of) to that of her siblings. Finally, we found a new pediatrician who introduced us to many specialists and got Kaitlyn into a program called Early Intervention. Attending Early Intervention with Kaitlyn gave us hope, but when she wasn’t walking or talking by three, we feared that this was going to be a long road.

You don’t know what you don’t know so you do not know what to ask for. It’s not easy to get help figuring out what you need for your child. Kaitlyn’s first speech therapist refused to try Boardmaker pictos with Kaitlyn until she made eye contact; Kaitlyn was five years old before a new speech therapist introduce picture exchange to Kaitlyn (and us). Picture exchange was Kaitlyn’s first method of communicating with us. Because she ripped everything, I placed every picture in a 2x2 inch magnetic plastic frame and kept them on the refrigerator.

After a few years, my husband I began our pursuit of finding an augmentative communication device for Kaitlyn. We wanted something portable and destruction proof – she could drop it or throw it without warning. The speech therapists Kaitlyn had never could find the right device for her. We bought a Dynavox that Kaitlyn used for awhile but she was not gentle with it so the teachers were afraid to use it with her and finally it broke. We went through many communication books--laminate is not strong enough for Kaitlyn (nor are spiral binders). Speech therapists recommended many AAC devices but all were thousands of dollars, fragile, and most were not easily customized. A few years ago a friend discovered the app TapToTalk and recommended we look into it for Kaitlyn.

TapToTalk is an AAC app that allows nonverbal people to communicate by touching pictures that produce speech that match the picture. TapToTalk can be used on most mobile devices and one person’s album(s) can be uploaded to as many devices as desired. We have found that the cost of TapToTalk Designer ($150) and a mobile device was much less expensive than the AAC devices we had looked at with the school speech therapists.

Anyone who needs a mode of communication would benefit from the TapToTalk app. TapToTalk albums are similar to folder systems where pictures can be sorted into categories and linked to related items so that the user can go right to the word (picture) that they need. Hungry can lead to “breakfast”, “meals”, and “snacks”, and these categories can lead to food choices. The ability to customize pages and albums for one individual is endless! The Designer has many options when creating albums.

TapToTalk can be downloaded as a free app and used as it is. The free app's sample albums are well designed and may be enough for some people to use. We used the free app while I was creating pages in albums using TapToTalk Designer. Designer costs $150. My husband and I felt it was worth every penny to give our daughter the ability to tell us what she wanted, needed, and felt. $150 is a small price to pay to change someone’s life for the better and give them a voice.

TapToTalk Designer allows the “programmer” to customize the albums to meet the needs of the individual user. There are multitudes of ways to find the right picture to use for personalized communication needs. The TapToTalk picture library contains over 2,600 pictures from several different categories. Pictures can also be uploaded from personal computer libraries and pictures can be taken on your device or from the internet, and uploaded onto TapToTalk. There are many options for adding speech to each picture as well. TapToTalk is available in many different languages and in many different English accents, but because you can record your own voice, TapToTalk albums can be created in any language. You can change and update albums and pages as your child or adult person’s needs change. TapToTalk grows with your child.

TapToTalk has given Kaitlyn, now 16, a way of communicating with us that has changed all of our lives; it is her voice. I still remember the first time Kaitlyn used her TapToTalk and told the waitress at a restaurant that she wanted a cheeseburger and french fries, she beamed with pride and I was in tears.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Happy Mother's Day to TapToTalk Moms

Dear TapToTalk Mom,

It has been our privilege to get to know hundreds of you over the years. A few face-to-face, more over the phone, and even more in email conversations, mom blogs and on Facebook. Nine out of ten of the parents we have contact with are moms.

You told us that when you found out you had a special needs child, your life changed in ways you'd never imagined. You found the strength and courage to carry on, to figure out how to get your child's needs met in a world that often did not seem to be able to respond, or even want to. Love is indeed a powerful force.

When we designed TapToTalk, you and your child were on our minds. We wanted to give you a tool to help your child communicate that was affordable and that your child would want to use. Now, we hear from you all the time. You tell us what we are doing right and what we need to improve. Your voice is heard in every one of our meetings, as we make decisions. We call it the TapToTalk Mom Test: “How will this work for the moms?”

Some of you told us that "you aren't good at computers," yet you wasted no time figuring out how to use TapToTalk Designer. You added pictures of your family and your child's favorite foods. You learned and worked hard for your child.

You have stunned us with your creativity in the ways you use TapToTalk to meet your child's needs. You bring smiles to our faces, and very often tears to our eyes, when you tell us how TapToTalk has helped you, your child, and your family.

You make what we do feel incredibly worthwhile every day. Please keep your feedback coming. We, and especially your child, could not do it without you.

Lenny Greenberg and Phil Bookman
Founders of Assistyx, the TapToTalk Company

Friday, March 21, 2014

A TapToTalk Mom says, "This is a huge breakthrough for us"

This guest post comes from Diana Mina, who describes herself as "Mother of two, Autism Mom, Massage Therapist, Aspiring Life Coach and Writer." She writes the Devine Haven blog.

I’m so excited about the TapToTalk app we are using on our Android tablet! My son Alessandro is communicating a lot with it. He has Autism and is non-verbal.

For the first time he is able to ask for different things, such as different games.

He communicates when he’s hungry, even though he lets us know loud and clear already without it when he whines loudly, but now he will be able to communicate in a more calm manner.

He is now able to tell us exactly what he wants, and even how he feels about certain things. This is so awesome! I asked him how he felt in different places such as school and home.

He says he’s happy in school, and sometimes frustrated on the bus ride (the bus assistant told me he got upset because another kid was in “his” spot on the bus).

He says he is happy with us at home and sometimes irritated with his younger brother Anthony--probably because of Anthony’s fighting and bossiness. He also says he is sometimes upset with me and dad at times that we’ve yelled. He had me saying “awww” for a moment and then explaining why we have to do it sometimes, which he already knows.

This is a huge breakthrough for us. Communication was always one way for us, but now we can actually know for sure how he feels about something. I love these apps. They provide such a relief to families like ours. Thank you TapToTalk.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How TapToTalk Helps Transit Drivers and First Responders

Regina Mayolo is a Technical Assistance Specialist at the West Virginia Assistive Technology System, a part of the Center for Excellence in Disabilities at West Virginia University. Here is her story about an unusual use of TapToTalk that helps first responders and public transit drivers communicate with those who may have communication limitations or for whom English is not their primary language.

TapToTalk was brought to our attention while working on a communication system for public transit drivers and adult riders with autism. The app allowed us to create a picture communication system (“album”) to provide necessary information to drivers and express the desires of riders. Examples of this would be driver-to-rider, “pull the cord to stop,” or from rider-to-driver, “please lower the bus.”

We quickly realized that this communication system could work with other service providers, especially first responders. In partnership with the Kanawha Putnam Emergency Planning Committee, a series of “albums” was developed to help police, fire and EMS providers communicate with victims, witnesses or other individuals who may have communication issues, including Limited English Proficiency. In addition to a basic intake “album” that is used by all responders, each professional group has an “album” that is specific to their needs.

The TapToTalk “albums” for first responders are designed to “start the conversation.” Each provides an avenue of communication until more appropriate methods can be employed, such as locating an interpreter, other professional, or family member.

Another benefit of TapToTalk is that the app is affordable. In our case, a grant from the West Virginia Division of Public Transit paid for the “album” design software (TapToTalk Designer). Because the TapToTalk player apps are free and on a variety of devices, the “albums” created by the Partnerships in Assistive Technologies (PATHS, Inc.), in cooperation with the West Virginia Assistive Technology System, can be used at no cost by volunteer fire departments, and community-based police and medical responders on limited budgets. We have also been able to easily add to the “album” questions, revise them, and add languages, thanks to the Designer component of TapToTalk.

Future plans include adding “albums” for intake workers in domestic violence shelters and replicating the existing “albums” in additional languages. TapToTalk has proven to be an efficient and cost-effective mechanism for providing essential communication tools for service providers.

For more information:
West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS)
Partnerships in AssistiveTechnology (PATHS)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Tough TapToTalk Tablets

Stephanie Ingram recently asked the TapToTalk Facebook community for advice: "Please give some information as to what type of tablet or instrument is usable for a 9-year-old that will sustain not being broken."

She got a flood of responses.

The number one solution you recommended was to use an OtterBox case. This was by far the leading suggestion. A typical comment came from Shelly Thompson Kidd: "I second OtterBox, my son's iPad has held up for a year in one. Drinks dumped on it, stepped on, thrown during meltdowns, tossed out his bedroom window and more." Other cases were mentioned, but the OtterBox stood out as the number one choice.

The next most common idea from our fans was the Nabi Tablet. Nabi is designed for the rough-and-tumble treatment of kids.

There was also enthusiasm for the Gab n Go Harness. Tami Kalbrier won one in a TapToTalk drawing, and noted, "The harness is called a Gab n Go. I won it here on facebook! The OtterBox is an excellent protector of the iPad though! I just wanted Jasmine's to be more portable. It is attached to the harness and has only TapToTalk on it so she understands it is not a toy. (With the harness) she doesn't leave it laying around and she doesn't drop it!" You may want to read our blog post about this interesting solution.

A great case, a tablet designed for kids, and a harness. Three different kinds of user-proven solutions for protecting a TapToTalk device.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rotate Pictures in TapToTalk Designer

Maybe you took a picture with your phone or camera but held the phone the "wrong way." However it happened, when you imported the picture into TapToTalk Designer, it came out sideways. Or maybe upside down.

Now, fixing this problem is just a click away!

We just added a "rotate" button to Designer's page builder. Pick a picture, click rotate, and the picture rotates 90 degrees. Click it again and it does it again (so now you have "flipped" the picture). And so forth.

All Designer users now have this new feature. And we thank those of you who asked us for this handy capability.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

TapToTalk 3.0--Easier Access to Free Sample Albums

The latest release of the TapToTalk app makes it easier than ever to get the free sample albums you need. When you first start the app, you register your free album choice based on the gender and language you want. Then we download the correct albums to your device. This all takes a couple of minutes, and only has to be done once.

If you already use the TapToTalk app with its default sample album, you'll also be given the opportunity to choose from the various additional free albums when you install the update from your app store.

If you already have customized albums or have already entered settings for free albums, nothing will change. You'll still see your last set of albums and get the improvements in our latest app version.

This app update will come your way from your device's app store.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

UbiSlate - A $39 Tablet for TapToTalk

In December, Datawind announced a 7" Android Tablet that only costs $39 in the US. Early reviews of the tablet indicated that the UbiSlate 7Ci was a much better tablet than many of the cheap "off-brand" Android tablets that usually show up around the holidays. We were curious about it, so we bought one to test. If a $39 tablet is an acceptable tablet for children as an AAC device, we want our customers to know about it.

So, here is our hands-on review:

Thumbs Up: The UbiSlate 7Ci is a 7" tablet that runs an official version of Android 4.1. For our customers, that means that it comes preloaded with the Google Play app store. It is easy to download the free TapToTalk App.

Thumbs Up: It feels like a solidly constructed tablet. It appears to be able to handle normal child use, like drops on the floor and some mild banging.

Thumbs Up: The touch screen is responsive as you would expect it to be. One of the major complaints we have heard in the past with cheap tablets is that the touch screen does not work well.

Thumbs Up: You connect the tablet with your WiFi as you would any other Android tablet and it works fine. Bad WiFi connectivity was another complaint concerning cheap tablets.

Thumbs Up: The UbiSlate does not have a high end processor, so we were concerned if TapToTalk would run slowly. However, TapToTalk works well. However, other Android Apps that are very graphical, like games, may not work as well.

Thumbs Down: A disadvantage of the UbiSlate for TapToTalk (or any music, video or app using sound) is the speaker. It does not sound as good or as loud as a comparable 7" Kindle Fire or Nook Color, or as an iPad Mini. It also does not support Bluetooth, so any external speaker you might use to make the sound louder must be connected through the headphone jack.

In summary, the UbiSlate is a reasonable, extremely economical device for a TapToTalk user. Assume that you will need to buy an external portable speaker if you are using it much outdoors or in noisy areas. However, we still recommend that the $100-$130 alternatives, such as the Kindle Fire, Nabi 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Nook Color tablets, are a better low-priced choice for most TapToTalk users.

This could be a great choice as a backup TapToTalk device (remember, you can run your TapToTalk on as many devices as you wish, no extra charge), or a TapToTalk introductory, learning or therapy device.

To learn more about UbiSlate go to the Datawind website: http://ubislate.us/
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