Augmentative Communication and Assistive Technology

The Augmentative Communication and Assistive Technology Program serves all People living with ALS in the Oregon and SW Washington areas, at no cost.  Founded in 2002, our goal is to support communication and access needs for all People living with ALS by providing education, services, equipment, and advocacy.  

What is Augmentative Communication?

Many people living with ALS experience speech or voice changes that affect their ability to communicate with others.  Augmentative Communication options include anything that can be used to supplement or replace speech in order to effectively communicate.  Examples might include personal amplifiers, alphabet boards, iPads, or Speech Generating Devices. 

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology refers to tools that can offer support, modification, or assistance to People living with ALS.  The goal is to support abilities and quality of life.  While most equipment improves accessibility, other items or systems might be more personalized to meet individual needs.  Popular assistive technology items include low-tech call systems, adaptive telephones, text-to-speech and speech recognition software, and switch-adapted appliances.

Loan Program

The chapter maintains a loan closet with a selection of augmentative communication and assistive technology equipment available to all People living with ALS in our region, free of charge.  This equipment is a popular resource for the community and is maintained through donated equipment by members of the community.  Donations of equipment items are appreciated, please call to inquire about accepted items. Examples include: personal amplifiers, laptop computers (Windows 7 or later, please), iPads (any generation), switches, digital recorders, Bluetooth speakers.

**Note: If you are interested in donating wheelchairs and other DME to our Chapter DME Loan Closet, please call our main office line at (503) 238-5559 ext 100. For more information about the Augmentative Communication and Assistive Technology Program, please contact our Assistive Technology Services Coordinator at (503) 238-5559 ext 104 or email AAC@alsoregon.org.

Overview of Local Services

The Augmentative Communication and Assistive Technology program was designed to introduce People living with ALS to technology that can help with communication, computer access, telephone access, and safety. Examples of services provided are outlined below. We are here to help. For more information about any of these topics, please contact our Assistive Technology Services Coordinator at 503-238-5559 ext 104 or email AAC@alsoregon.org.

Speech: Speech strategy training to maximize intelligibility of natural speech.

Voice: trialing personal amplifiers to boost volume of voice while minimizing personal effort.

Communication Systems: rapid access or high-tech systems designed to be used for communication if unable to use natural speech. Rapid access systems might include dry-erase boards or letter boards, and high-tech systems might include iPads or Speech Generative Devices.

Message and Voice Banking: process of recording messages or speech sounds for future use.

Message Banking: Digitally recording personally meaningful voice messages to use for communication or legacy work in the future.

Voice Banking: Creating synthesized voice based on recording speech samples, for future use with a Speech Generative Device.

Download an ALSA information sheet with instructions for whole-phrase voice banking, including a list of suggested phrases.

Visit www.modeltalker.com for more information.

Communication Boards

A communication board is a piece of paper or cardboard that is printed with letters, words or phrases and can be used either to augment or replace natural speech. A person with slurred speech might use a communication board with a technique called first-letter pointing, pointing to the first letter of each word they say. A person who has little or no speech but good hand function can point to individual letters, words, or whole phrases to spell out a message. PALS with impaired hand function can use a communication board with head or eye movements, with a little help from their communication partner.

A free communication book for use with eye gaze: www.speakbook.org

AlphaCore Board - developed by Amy Roman. A very quick method that utilizes the most commonly spoken English words.

Free communication software for personal computers

There are many free and low-cost programs that can allow you to type in messages (using either a physical keyboard or an on-screen keyboard) and have them spoken aloud in a computerized voice. A netbook or laptop with text-to-speech software and a decent speaker can be a great portable communication option. These programs can also be installed on a desktop computer, for communicating with family at home or over the telephone (using a speakerphone). These free programs will speak using the voice(s) already installed on your operating system. If you do not like the available voices, or if you need a voice for another language, you may purchase additional voices over the internet for $30-35 each.

E-triloquist (PC-only)
Natural Reader (PC or Mac)
Additional voices Please note that only the Cepstral and AT&T Natural Voices will work with the programs listed above. If you wish to use the Acapela or RealSpeak voices, you must purchase NextUp Talker for $99.95 from the same site.

Free and low-cost apps for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad

There are several apps that can turn the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or other tablet device into convenient, portable communication devices. In some cases, particularly with the iPod, you may need an external speaker to achieve adequate volume for conversation.

Speak It! is a low-cost ($1.99) app that allows you to type in messages using the iPhone/iPod/iPad’s normal onscreen keyboard, and press a button to have them spoken aloud in a high-quality synthesized voice. Speak It! will also save phrases for quick access. There are four voice options included (male and female American English and male and female British English), with other voices available for a small fee.

Speech Assistant is free app for use with Android devices that allows you to type in and save messages to categories that you wish to have spoken aloud.

Talk-a-droid is another low-cost (1.29) app for use with Android devices that allows you to type in and save messages that you wish to have spoken aloud. This app is capable of speaking multiple languages and translating text from one language to a different language in spoken form.

NeoPaul, NeoKate, and NeoJulie are free apps that are very similar to Speak It. One disadvantage is that you must tap a button to close the keyboard before hitting the speak button, adding one more step to the process.

Verbally is a free app (for iPad only) with a grid of common words at the top, word-prediction boxes, and a keyboard. It also has a page of stock phrases, but they are not customizable. Visit http://verballyapp.com for more information.