Point-and-Chat®: Instant Messaging for AAC Users

Point-and-Chat®: Instant Messaging for AAC Users

Benjamin Slotznick (Point-and-Read, Inc., USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-817-3.ch011
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Point-and-Chat®, most simply, is the first software for Instant Messaging with a built-in screen reader, designed to be used in conjunction with Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. For many AAC users, especially those who have difficulty reading and writing, an AAC device is the primary or only way they can communicate with other people. This communication is primarily one-on-one and face-to-face. The goal of Point-and-Chat® is to take the skills that an AAC user has in producing the spoken word and provide scaffolding that will enable the AAC user to use those skills to communicate with the written word. The primary impediment to effective use of Point-and-Chat® by AAC users appears to be a lack of appropriate text-chat vocabularies for poor readers, including vocabulary strategies to re-establish conversations when the conversational thread has been lost.
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The Importance Of Communicating Via Instant Messaging And Electronic Text

The use of electronic text is increasingly ubiquitous—and not just among contemporary high-school students. It is becoming essential for many people across all walks of life, even if these people don’t write for a living. People who cannot use e-mail (and increasingly texting and IM) are becoming progressively more isolated. E-mail, IM, and texting are even replacing telephone and face-to-face communications for many, even to the point of texting each other when in the same room, such as during committee meetings.

It is not just that electronic text communication is replacing verbal and written communication in familiar settings. In addition, e-mail, IM, and text messaging form the backbone of new opportunities for socialization, such as social networks and other online communities. Perhaps surprisingly, even though computers are frequently not so accessible to people with disabilities, communication using electronic text offers special advantages for AAC users.

A brief exposition of the omnipresence of electronic communications will provide additional perspective. Most Americans use the Internet, in fact, 73% of all American adults use the Internet and 88% of Americans aged 12-29 use it. Most Americans use e-mail (90% of all Internet users). Most young adults use IM (62% of online young adults, aged 18-27). Half of online young adults use IM as much as or more than e-mail (Pew Internet & American Life project, 2009). For a student or young person who wants to communicate with peers, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to communicate via electronic text—and IM is just as important, or even more important, than e-mail.

The explosion in communication technologies has certainly helped AAC users conduct face-to-face communications, but otherwise they have remained at a communications disadvantage. Certainly, the development of electronic AAC devices has provided a voice for many individuals who had none. The introduction and improvement of their control interface using dynamic displays and of their vocalization via computer synthesized text-to-speech have exponentially increased the things they can say (manufacturers include but are not limited to Saltillo Corporation, Prentke-Romich, and Dynavox). Improved and more natural sounding voices have made participation in face-to-face conversations more natural as well. However, the synthesized voices, especially when played through the small speakers usually found on these devices, do not always transmit clearly over a telephone. Although some of the devices can be used to create text input for a computer, the user must be literate and tech savvy. In addition, though a few of the devices have specialized built-in SMS messaging or e-mail capabilities, none of them have built-in IM software.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC): Methods of replacing speech and writing for people who cannot speak or write; but more particularly for this chapter, high-tech electronic devices, often with touch screens and dynamic displays, that use computer-synthesized speech as a communication aid.

Screen Reader: A software application that uses computer synthesized speech to read aloud text that is received by a computer and displayed on the computer screen.

Instant Messaging (IM): A method of exchanging electronic text in real time over the Internet between two or more people, much like a text-based conversation.

Electronic Text: Text that has been encoded for digital electronic creation and transmission, often for display on cell phones or personal computers and their word processing software and often in the ASCII encoding format.

Cognitive Load: The relative mental effort a user must expend in a specific situation or with a particular user interface to accomplish a task.

SMS (as in SMS Text Messaging, SMS Messaging, or “Short Message Service”): Short electronic text messages (up to 160 characters) sent over a cell phone network usually between cell phones.

E-Mail: A method of exchanging electronic text over the Internet, asynchronously like postal mail rather than in real time.

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