Over the past 6 months, DDA has been conducting research on the development of a unique adaptive communication system using a wireless, one-handed keyboard known as Tap™ (Tap™ Device Review). This project was originally addressed in our article, Harnessing Creativity for Accessibility.
The initial idea of harnessing Tap™ for use as an assistive communication device (AAC) was the result of a lengthy quest to find the ‘perfect’ AAC app. Every communication system has advantages and disadvantages; however, for individuals with complex needs, many of the AAC apps currently available have a limited range of settings options, often requiring users to adapt to the limitations of the technology rather than the other way around. Tap™ was not an instant solution (it even comes with its own app-based training program for new users), but rather it provided a unique concept and design for communication that I was eager to explore.
I chose to focus on developing an AAC system specifically for individuals with aphasia (a language processing disorder) for two reasons: it would immediately address a gap in adaptive communication supports directly relevant to DDA residents; and the basic framework this solution required (in terms of research, programming, and skill development) could be used as a template for future solutions. It quickly became apparent that for Tap™ to evolve from a communication accessory to an adaptive communication tool, this project would need to be client-focused and client-driven: always keeping current support needs and skill level at the forefront of any decision making. Each testing session has attempted to maintain this focus through a process of assessment (determining the current knowledge and skill level), learning (teaching, or re-teaching, single skills in a step-by-step process), evaluation (collecting data based on the focus of each specific testing session), and refinement (modifying the design based on the data collected). In doing so, progress has occurred organically, with each trial developing new skills (both for myself and the client) that we have been able to build upon to explore new possibilities
Curiosity, creativity, and a willingness to fail have all played a role in the development of Tap™ as an AAC device. Each breakthrough that has occurred has been a result of recognizing that every problem has a solution if you can think outside the box; and sometimes the solution is knowing that the problem is the box. Tap™ has created a platform upon which this project has been able to begin to redefine what adaptive technology looks like. My hope is that by using the knowledge gained over the course of this project, future AAC systems will no longer be selected based on a client’s ability to adapt to the limitations of that technology, but rather that adaptive communication systems will have the ability to meet and develop with the specific needs of each client.