Speech computers are ordinary computers with added special programs that help a person with a speech impairment to communicate. Some communication devices do not require a computer. These are called augmentative communication devices.
What are speech computers like?
Speech computers are activated in many different ways. Voice recognition programs respond to verbal instructions or commands. Speech output programs, which have artificial voices, speak for or to the person with a disability. Some computers can create the human voice electronically. Some computers use human voices in which words or phrases are on audiotape to make sentences. Touching a symbol on the computer screen triggers the voice taped to interpret that symbol. A person with a speech impairment might use a laptop computer so they can communicate wherever they are.
There are many different types of augmentative communication devices. The most common is a board of pictures or symbols. The person points to these pictures to communicate with others.
Who uses speech computers?
Some of the people who can use voice recognition programs and find them helpful are those with these disabilities: paralysis of the body from the neck downlack upper arms or handssevere neuromuscular disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or multiple sclerosisany other disability that limits or prevents the use of a keyboardblind or vision impaired
Some of the people who may find speech output programs useful are people with these types of disabilities: learning disabilitiesaphasia, which is difficulty communicating through speaking, writing, or signsvisual impairmentsother conditions, such as Down syndrome, that affect the ability to communicate
Are these computer programs alike?
Voice recognition programs respond to verbal commands. Basically they can take dictation or record what a person says. They are available for purchase at prices comparable to basic office software at an ordinary computer store or on the internet. They are compatible with operating systems commonly used for home computers.
Speech output programs require less computer memory, but they are usually more expensive, depending on the program. Some have a synthesized voice. Others can be programmed with the person's own voice. Certain symbols on the screen are linked to certain words. The person can prompt the computer to speak the words by using a mouse, electronic switch, or touch screen. Special prompting techniques are available for a person with a visual impairment.
Augmentative communication devices may consist of only a board with pictures. Many do not require a computer. The person can point to the pictures to convey his or her meaning or question. Some laptop computers use a touch screen to perform the same function.
Who can help me to get such assistance?
Either an occupational therapist or a speech therapist should be able to recommend any of these assistive devices. These professionals are well-trained in assistive devices in their specialty. The occupational or speech therapists are generally familiar with any new products. Hospitals specializing in rehabilitation will have these professionals available. Some private businesses also specialize in evaluating the need for these products. They usually have qualified staff to help in choosing which program might be best for the consumer.
How do I get a speech computer?
A person who has disabilities and who needs a computer in order to communicate for work may apply to the Department of Vocational Services, or Rehabilitation, in his or her state. Each state must have such a department. This department is partially funded by the federal government for this purpose. The specific name may vary from state to state. The purpose for federal funding of these state departments is to assist people into work and an independent life.
Students may seek help in obtaining these assistive devices through the Office of Disabled Student Services. Every campus that accepts any government funding must provide such an office, although the name may vary. Other providers might be agencies or associations devoted to a certain condition, such as the Society for the Blind.
What are the costs of these speech computer programs?
For voice recognition, the software program may cost under $100 to $600, depending on what is needed. These programs may be purchased from a retail computer store. The cost of a computer would be separate.
Speech output programs are more expensive and may run from $500 to $7,000. Again, the cost of the basic computer may be separate.
Who pays for such assistive technology?
State agencies may pay for all or part of this device if the person is aimed toward a goal of work. Other agencies such as schools, developmental disability organizations, or groups devoted to another specific condition such as multiple sclerosis may assist with the cost or even provide the equipment.
Department of Rehabilitation, State of California
Jeff Symons, Project Threshold
Hoeman, Shirley P., (1996) Rehabilitation Nursing Process and Application, St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book, Inc.