Communication tools can come from some simple places. Yesterday I was sharing how I had put togther some free software off the Internet with some already existing software a student had at home to create a way for him to communicate at home in his room (see "Learning to Rap While Losing Your Voice"). He has a pretty large room off a main living area because he has his power chair and a lift and his computer desk, etc. He has friends over and functions from this area most of the time. Having speakers on his desktop turned up and a method to access speech through a text to speech reader, he has a lot better chance of getting across what he wants to say. It isn't portable, but with a laptop it could be.
I had a valuable comment/contribution on my post yesterday about this. In case you don't go back and read comments later, or you are coming here for the first time today, his comment was to use the auto-correct feature in MS Word to auto-fill words, sentences and phrases so that it decreased the time having to type. What a great idea! That is why I love this blog. I can share what I am doing and get great additional ideas and advice.
So here is what he is using:
This student uses the Click n Type on-screen keyboard and a trackpad by Ablenet to access the keyboarding. When he gets to where he can't use the trackpad anymore, the Click n Type has a scanning feature so we can set his access for an auto scan mode and switch access to type. That is where word prediction and the auto-correct feature would really come in handy. He can type his comments, phrases, etc. into the Word document and then highlight the text and click play on the floating toolbar for the text reader and it speaks for him.
If you are interested in putting a package together like this, here are the pieces and the links to get them. This is assuming you have Microsoft Word or Microsoft Works - some kind of word processing software. If you don't, look into the Open Office Suite. It is free and you have most all of the same features:
Natural Reader - this is a free demo of the program that doesn't expire. It has the mini player floating toolbar I have as my graphic today so you can easily highlight text and click play to hear any text - on the web or in an open document. I like the Mp3 download feature that converts easily as well. With this option, you could actually save phrases, convert them to WAV files and embed them in interactive Power Point slides to branch for a communication board. I have a video tutorial on it and a post from march Linked (here).
Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboard - free also - you can download the companion word prediction component also. It is a seperate download so make sure you get both. This is for PC only unfortunately. On a Mac you have the built in keyboard. I would check with ATMac to learn more there.
Cruise Adapted Trackpad by Ablenet - $299. I know, this is the expensive access piece, but it is an integral part of access for this student and allows him to do everything he wants on all his computers at home and school. It will fit in his pack and can go with him. No software drivers are needed - it is USB and is just plug-in and play.
If you know of lower cost options that accomplishes the same thing in a trackpad, share it with us. I am excited about the potential for using this set up with other students. For students that don't have the orthopedic issues with fine motor, the communication access portion would be no cost at all if there is a computer central to their work and activity area. Home use is probably the most practical, but with a laptop, as I said, portability makes it even more powerful.
All the best to you!