Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reflections on Yesterday's Interview on the Tango! and Richard Ellenson

Some take-aways from yesterday's interview:

I don't know about you, but I thought yesterday's interview was pretty incredible. If you didn't listen, you missed a rare treat and you should go down to the player on my sidebar and listen right away...
I guess ignorance is bliss, because I didn't really know it would be a big undertaking to coordinate a national personality interview and then run a switchboard live-streaming on the Internet AND have a boy with a speech device (for only 3 months) there to "talk". Even though it took some effort on everyone's part to put it all together, I thought it was a great "goosebumps" moment. I was willing to take the risk and so were the folks at the Blink Twice Company. They obviously "think outside the box" and this interview was definitely outside the box for normal promotion, press and interviews for any company. But they did it. Thanks, Blink Twice and Richard!
Photo above: Richard Ellenson with son Thomas and Tango

Richard, the CEO, was amazed at how Taylor could use the device and convey his feelings and thoughts with only the pre-programmed choices of the device over the phone where there is no visual to pick up on for cues to emotion, feeling, etc. Richard said he was having a proud moment - and he had every right to feel that way. His device is a big success.
What I liked about the interview was that it wasn't promotion of self and company for dollars, it was a promotion of an idea that kids can communicate if we give them the time and tools to do it. Richard brought out the parallel of packing a backpack to go on a mountain climb. By the time you add all the words and phrases you want to use to describe the trip - so they are all at your fingertips, you are so bogged down you fall backwards. If we pre-prepare small phrases and conversation segments under a topic and use them instead, we can respond quicker and travel lighter. That was one of the analogies used to describe the Tango! and what it does.

Taylor, the 4th grade boy with the device, surprised us all. We had in our minds what he would say to reply to Richard's questions, but Taylor used the Tango to say what HE wanted to say in spite of what we might have thought the response should be. He showed his personality through the device. Taylor didn't just speak- he communicated. The company is sending Taylor a complimentary small keyboard that can USB into the device and allow him to type and speak what he wants rather than use the windows on the device. We were excited about that.
After the interview, I had a team meeting about a new candidate for AAC and the Tango came up. The team asked, "If mom allows it, could Taylor bring his Tango over to the school and tell this student about it, show it and demonstrate how it has helped him?" They were thinking that because some kids struggle with using a device in public because they stand out, maybe a peer could do a much better job of helping the kid buy in to the idea than an adult could. I think we have a celebrity on our hands and maybe a spokesperson to boot!
The thought of peer training with AT devices is exciting to me. As a classroom teacher for over 25 years in my background, I used peer editing and peer conferencing and peer teaching alot. I just didn't cross it over until today. I think having a peer mentor program with AT would be incredible. How about an AT camp where older users get to share and help new users? Has anyone done that? I'm sure they are out there. Today was a big leap for me in what I see as possible. It was a day I'll remember for a long time. I hope you have those leaps and those days from time to time too.

All the best to you!


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