I have this device on loan from OTAP, our state assistive technology equipment loan center, called a "Tango". It is a long oval white digital computer communication talker with lime green lights and touch panels that slide through communication topics. It is very intuitive and children can naturally explore the cartoon topics and select one that branches to choices that surround that topic. It has a recorded childs voice stored for each message that is very warm and life-like. A student can even choose between angry, happy, whiney and tired voices!
I took this cool tool to an elementary school this morning to share with a couple of speech pathologists and a fourth grade student we'll call "Tyler".
Tyler is one of those kids that has a twinkle in his eye and a love of life in spite of his circumstances. He cannot pronounce many consonants and his oo-ah-oh sounding words are difficult to understand. He sits in a wheelchair much of the day and can walk with great difficulty. That doesn't stop him from going out on the playground and insisting on playing touch football with the other boys at recess. They are very kind to include him.
The first day I met Tyler - over a year ago, I brought him a binder with communication pages to start building so he could point to topics and choose things to communicate to others. He was thrilled and to this day demands his book when in speech sessions. He has added video games, family, activities, questions and a new page on friends.
I didn't know that his birthday was coming up this weekend. I arrived early and his speech path, Carol, told me they were excited to demo the Tango. Carol had told Tyler that there was a surprise coming for his birthday and that it was a person. "Is is it Lon?", he had asked.
So when Tyler came in this morning, he was very excited to see me. On the table lay this cool new "toy" that was potentially a new experience waiting for him...his voice.
"Whaaa iiis aaaat?" Tyler asked. His eyes were big as he touched it and let out an "ooh" sound.
We showed him how to choose topics and he eagerly pressed the take a turn button and listened to it say, "It's my turn now!" He grinned big.
Tyler is unique in that although he has physical limitations, his mind is totally sharp, clear and full of potential. There is so much going on in that mind of his...all the time.
"Would you like to be able to tell that to your friends when you want a turn?", I asked.
He nodded. His fingers began to explore some more.
Conversation topics under "Play Date" let him express "What do we do next?" or "Let me do it now".
After we took some pictures and recorded me telling him happy birthday, (yes, it lets you make new topic pictures and put sound to it -too cool!), I told him to surprise us and choose something he wanted us to hear and we wouldn't peek. He let me understand that I needed to move to the other side of the table to make sure I couldn't sneak a peek!
We sat watching as he smiled , touching panels and moving deeper into a topic to find just the right conversational message. I was amazed at how easily he found what he wanted to say. All of a sudden he grinned and looked at us as the Tango said, "Where are my presents?"
I was stunned. He had seen the cartoon birthday cake and party topic, selected it and moved through the sub topics to find presents as a question.
Carol's eyes teared up as she saw the excitement in his face while he held total control of his communication in his hands.
"Aaan I eep iit?" Tyler asked.
"No, we are just playing today to see if this was something you could use", I said.
He had a disappointed look, but seemed to understand.
He found the power-off button and set it down. Carol gave him a birthday post card and pencil. He read Carol's birthday message on the back of the card.
His assistant packed him up to go as he watched his new -found voice and friend get packed away at the same time.
As I said good-bye and watched him leave to go back to class, I couldn't help but be sad because he couldn't take his voice with him.
"Happy birthday Tyler. I wish the Tango could have been your birthday present. I wish you could have taken it home tonight to ask mom and family "Where are my presents?" or, "Thanks, mom. I love you."
A post-note: The principal saw the device today. After I left, the speech path went to the district office fired-up with the knowledge that she needed to go to bat for Tyler. You see the Tango costs about $7,000. There is not a way the district can justify that expense, but they agreed to contribute and look at a possible pilot program to use it with Tyler and assist in finding other contributors who could donate towards the purchase so Tyler can have his voice. If you are interested in contributing or rallying some organization that could contribute, let me know at my work email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get you contact information as things develop. Maybe I can post a counter on this blog "A Voice for Tyler" and we can see what grows!
The Tango website has some remarkable streamed videos you can see on their home page by going to: http://www.blink-twice.com/