Posted on June 22, 2015
Elizabeth Kenkel has something she cherishes – communication independence – thanks to her speech-generating device, the Saltillo NOVA chat 10 using WordPower 80.
While she must rely on others daily for help with her physical needs due to Moebius Syndrome and cerebral palsy, Elizabeth no longer has to rely on anyone to share her ideas, thoughts and feelings as long as her device is close at hand.
“Most people don’t understand sign language or my voice,” says the 21-year-old from Schaumburg, Illinois. “NOVA chat helps me say my feelings and open up my world. I am more independent with my NOVA chat. I can talk to more people without my sign language interpreter or my Mom. I can join in joking with my cousins.”
How Technology Enables Communication and Conversation
NOVA chat 10 is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology solution designed to help individuals with speech disabilities communicate with others.
The device’s mobility was key to Elizabeth’s interest, says her mother Sandra Kenkel. “Elizabeth has been given many opportunities through her school district to try different types of AAC approaches, including speech devices. But many devices are heavy and difficult to target, making them impractical for Elizabeth because she has difficulty controlling her gross and fine motor movements.
“She would use a device when forced to or when someone was around to set it up on a surface or hold it for her,” Sandra recalls. “As a result, she spent more time in the wheelchair at school because the staff was simply trying to encourage use of a communication device. That bothered her and made her very resistant to their use.”
Once Elizabeth discovered the NOVA chat, that resistance melted away. “We stumbled across it at an Abilities Expo we attended with the intention of looking at mobility solutions,” Sandra says. “Elizabeth stopped us at the booth to try out NOVA chat. It was lightweight, had a handle to hold, had a keyguard, and she could hear it! She didn’t want to leave – or return the device to the rep. We had to promise her we would look into getting her one.”
Elizabeth still prefers to sign or speak to her immediate family, her mother notes, “but she doesn’t want to leave the house without her NOVA chat. She carries it herself with the handle and strap for safety. She is mobile with it. She can easily set it on her knee for use. She programs it independently for new environments. And she doesn’t shy away from conversations with new people – she is proud to have a voice.”
An Active, Confident Young Adult, with Help from AAC
Elizabeth lives with her mother, father Mark, younger brother Michael, and younger sister Sarah. Four days a week, she takes a bus to and from an Adult Transition Program (ATP) at Hoffman Estates High School. Once a week, she volunteers at a resale shop alongside her mother. “Elizabeth sorts donations, helps create displays, and uses her NOVA chat to help research an item’s value for purposes of pricing,” Sandra explains. “She has established relationships there by using her NOVA chat at break time to chat with the other volunteers.”
Having the NOVA chat enables Elizabeth “to feel more independent and confident,” her mother says. “People tend to underestimate her before they converse with her. People are less wary of her physical disabilities when they realize she is able to communicate her comfort level and needs.
“Having a voice has let her show people that she is intelligent,” Sandra observes. “Consequently, her self-esteem and quality of life improve as people stop avoiding contact or talking to her like a child.”
Like other young adults, Elizabeth enjoys music, watching YouTube videos, shopping, and going out to eat with her family. “She uses her NOVA chat to text, surf the web, read email, listen to music, and play games in much the same way her siblings do with their cell phones,” Sandra says. “She often Skypes with her brother, who is off at college, or her friend.”
Teaching Technology and Inspiring Others
Elizabeth says she was especially proud to win a Technology Award in high school “since I was afraid to depend on technology when I was younger. But in high school, I learned to use the NOVA chat and it really worked.” Now she enjoys teaching others how to use computers “and how to talk with them. I tell others, ‘don’t give up. You can do it. Keep practicing and you will get better.’”
Sandra is grateful that the NOVA chat has helped her daughter find “the courage and the vocabulary to advocate for herself. She is much more articulate with the typed word than she is with sign language. The NOVA chat turns those thoughts into speech. She is better able to express her dreams and fears.”
The device has also reduced frustration across the Kenkel household. “Elizabeth is especially difficult to understand if she is upset, and she is especially upset when no one understands,” Sandra explains. “The NOVA chat breaks that cycle. Elizabeth is now less frustrated because she can express her feelings and her wants more specifically; there is less guessing. Stress is lower for everyone because Elizabeth has less anxiety.”
As her daughter’s “chief interpreter,” Sandra also has more freedom to leave Elizabeth's side thanks to the NOVA chat. “She can form relationships independent of me because she can talk to people without an interpreter. She can independently make requests, check in at the doctor’s office, join in good-natured banter with her cousins. She can articulate thoughtful responses to others. She is also able to spontaneously express her humor and personality at unexpected times.”
At the close of each day, Sandra gladly assists Elizabeth with one last crucial task: “She does not have the dexterity for chargers, so I charge her NOVA chat and wheelchair every night.” In the future, Sandra says, “We hope to travel and seek out new adventures together.” Elizabeth wholeheartedly agrees: “I want to travel with my Mom, like a lot.”
A Mother’s Tips for Supporting a Child’s Success with AAC
Sandra Kenkel shares the following tips for other parents of children using AAC:
- Don’t underestimate! Set the bar high and then celebrate any progress toward it. Kids in general tend to rise to expectations. Special kids are no different. Doctors don’t have a crystal ball -- we ignored the ones who told us “she will never” and felt justified when “she did!”
- Kids are always listening. Remember that kids are listening even when they are not talking. They DO KNOW your secrets and sometimes stress over them. Don’t talk in front of your silent five-year-old about things you wouldn’t discuss in front of a chatty five-year-old. Years later, we learned that Elizabeth worried unnecessarily about things that she was too young to understand and didn’t have enough language to ask about.
- Keep talking. When Elizabeth was a baby, her neurologist told me to “Describe the world to her -- she is listening.” I’d sit her in the dirt and talk about the dirt, help her pull cupboard doors open to play with the Tupperware. In the car, I’d talk about what we saw. We have to remember we are modeling a speech pattern that we hope they will imitate.
- Jump on your child’s bandwagon! Elizabeth had so many things to work on – OT, PT, speech, feeding, drooling, walking, crawling, math, money, reading. It’s overwhelming, but at different points in her life, different things were more important to her. When she was determined to walk, we directed our attention to supporting PT and practicing with her. That meant that other goals fell by the wayside, but only temporarily. She made so much more progress in the area because it was HER goal; we knew we could always come back to working on strengthening her arms later.
- Do WITH them, not FOR or TO them. Elizabeth always wanted to be like everyone else. She fought technology when she was the only one using it. She didn’t open up to it until we “stole” Dad’s laptop. I increased his font size on the screen. She liked that, because she was using a “normal” computer, not a “special” computer. But the mouse was frustrating her. I asked her permission to try the joystick mouse. That was great! She could do the keys, but it was awkward. I asked if the Intellikeys would make it easier -- we added that piece in. By the end of the experiment, the laptop was only serving as a monitor, but she was accepting it because in her mind it was still Dad’s laptop, a computer like everyone else’s. She had time to try out “normal” and request the accommodation. Then we transitioned to the systems designed for people with her abilities and she saw them in a whole new light.
Posted on June 17, 2015
Hi, my name is Justin Adkins – I’m writing to share a brief synopsis of my disability and how finding the correct communication device, suitable to my abilities, has helped me regain my independence. When I was 16-years-old I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from an assault, which damaged my motor skills, and left me with limited mobility. When I first awoke in the hospital unable to speak but completely aware of my situation, the doctors asked me to blink my eyes to yes/no questions, which assessed my cognition. I’m 32-years-old now and I still use eye blinks as a quick response method to yes or no questions. However, this method did not allow for personal opinion.
The speech therapist in the hospital decided to construct a letter board for me, where I would look at letters to spell out sentences. This would be my main form of communication for a few years, but it wasn’t very fast or efficient. Then I was introduced to a Dynavox device which had speech output, was the perfect size, and I could effectively use it in social and professional settings. But like all good things – they come to an end! Eventually this device became obsolete and they were unable to repair it anymore. This led to a vigorous search for a new device, and not succumbing to pressure of others; that I’m being too picky.
Alas, I discovered the Nova Chat which has allowed me to continue my aspirations of professional and collegiate success. If there is any advice I could give others, just know your disability and own it! Everybody’s story is different, so only you know what’s best for your particular situation, but keep an open mind.
Posted on May 28, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Technology has the ability to impact lives in many ways.
KRON 4 Tech reporter Gabe Slate discovered a new gadget that is helping people with speech disabilities communicate.
Five-year-old Brian Hunton is living with cerebral palsy.
His mom, Dacia Hunton, said that the Nova Chat has changed their lives, letting her understand what Brian wants or needs.
Not only that, and just as important, Brian enjoys using the Nova Chat device.
Video and story courtesy of KRON 4 news & their tech reporter Gabe Slate.
Posted on April 27, 2015
Meet Bryson, a determined and passionate 10 year old that is full of personality. He enjoys music, books, animals, anything outdoors, Spider-man, and time with his friends. He is able to put a smile on the face of those around him and impacts people more then he may ever know.
Bryson has overcome many struggles in life and is a survivor of child abuse. He is diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, apraxia, childhood acquired aphasia, and ADHD. He has a unique joy about him and has started to create his own path in life. Bryson is currently able to use about 50 words verbally that are understandable to others but relays upon assistive technology to really have his voice heard.
Previously, Bryson had tried multiple high-tech AAC options before latching onto TouchChat on the iPad. After about a year of success his family pursued a dedicated device for better portability and an external speaker. He immediately picked up the NovaChat 5 and has not put it down since. Bryson's private SLP reports, "Over the past year, Bryson has demonstrated tremendous growth initiating independent, spontaneous communication using his device. Both his core and fringe vocabulary has grown significantly, and he is able to generalize vocabulary to novel contexts. He is even beginning to use word combinations. His entire team is ecstatic about his communication progress!"
Bryson is able to combine 2-3 words for simple sentences for a variety of functions across environments. He enjoys not only using core and fringe words but also using visual scenes during play and when communicating with his peers. Bryson has even recently started using vocabulary that he has learned through incidental teaching through adult and peer modeling.
Thanks to the NovaChat, Bryson has finally found his voice and a way to express himself. His family and friends now know that he prefers rap and alternative music instead of country and that if he were allowed he would eat pizza for every meal and a granola bar for every snack. He is able to express his love for animals, draw adult and peer attention to the books he is reading, and comment on the world around him. He thinks it is hilarious to make adults sing and also loves seeing what hoops adults will jump through as he makes other requests. Bryson is finally able to show the world his personality and interact with all that goes on around him.
Posted on April 13, 2015
Introducing the new Chat Editor. Chat Editor is a FREE download, replacing the former NOVA Chat Windows Editor. Chat Editor will allow users to modify or create page sets on a Windows computer and then transfer them to a NOVA Chat OR TouchChat device. Find more information on installing and using the new Chat Editor.
The release of NOVA Chat 2.0.2 also comes with the following enhancements:
- Updated SS and PCS libraries
- New Image Categories
- ChatPower files are now named WordPower
- Addition of 108 WordPower
- Addition of 48 WordPower Español (When Spanish option is purchased)
- 2.0.2 should start the update automatically if you have Wifi On and if you have the setting On in Help>Check for Updates>Menu
- New button action, Play Audio Library – plays music
- New button action, Play Video Library – plays videos
- Animate All - On/Off setting that animates all page transitions (Settings>Style>Page Animations)
Posted on March 3, 2015
Individuals with Disabilities Show Others What's Possible using Speech-Generating Devices from PRC and Saltillo Corporation
Wooster, OH, March 2, 2015--Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices enable individuals with speech disabilities to express their thoughts and ideas and actively engage with others at home, in school, at work, and in the community. And there’s no one better to demonstrate the life-changing power of AAC than someone who relies on a device every day.
That’s the premise behind the groundbreaking AAC Ambassador Program operated by global assistive technology companies PRC and Saltillo Corporation.
Speech devices and other technology solutions from PRC and its sister company, Saltillo, enable adults and children with physical or neurological disabilities to fully express themselves and achieve their communication potential. Both organizations provide a wide array of AAC communication systems and accessories.
Device Users Show Others What is Possible
PRC and Saltillo AAC Ambassadors are real device users who share their stories of everyday life as a person using AAC.
“Our Ambassadors are amazing spokespersons for the power of AAC,” says David L. Moffatt, PRC President. “Ambassadors personally and powerfully deliver the message of hope that AAC offers to those with speech disabilities.”
Moffatt says that focusing on abilities instead of disabilities is the philosophy that drives the employee-owners of PRC and Saltillo. “Our Ambassadors bring that approach to life,” he explains. “These programs also enable us to provide employment opportunities to those with disabilities, which is a strong and important message to send to other employers.”
Government reports indicate that less than 20% of individuals with disabilities participate in the labor force, Moffatt notes, “a statistic we’d like to see improve as more employers realize the true potential of people with disabilities and the power of AAC to overcome workplace communication challenges.”
PRC Ambassador Noah Trembly, a technology and accessibility consultant at a major university, is pleased to have found work that leverages his interests and talents. “Like so many people with a disability, I had a very hard time obtaining gainful employment,” he shares. “Then I was fortunate enough to be chosen by PRC to be a part of a pilot program [the AAC Educator Project] that they wanted to do at Ohio University. That pilot program went really well, but more importantly, it started a relationship between me and Ohio University and their employees, which I can proudly call my colleagues now.”
Trembly communicates using a speech-generating device because of disabilities related to cerebral palsy. He operates his ECO2™ using infrared head-pointing. In November 2014, he presented the prestigious Edwin and Esther Prentke AAC Distinguished Lecture to hundreds of professionals gathered at the 2014 annual convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in Orlando.
Helping Professionals and Families See Communication in Action
Exposure to AAC Ambassadors enables speech-language pathologists (SLPs), educators, augmented communicators, and their families to witness the communication successes achieved by actual AAC users.
As Trembly did, ambassadors often present their experiences to SLPs at professional conferences. Other times, ambassadors meet one-on-one with someone starting their AAC journey who can benefit from “seeing the future” and having a friend who understands the challenges of getting there.
In every venue, Ambassadors strive to promote greater understanding of AAC and acceptance of AAC users by sharing their personal experiences and demonstrating skillful augmented communication.
“Our Regional Consultants find that inviting an AAC Ambassador to a local conference or university seminar on AAC greatly enhances the experience,” says Trudi Blair, PRC Consultant Network Operations Coordinator. Blair has been involved with the PRC Ambassador program since its inception 19 years ago and continues to oversee it.
“PRC currently has more than 40 Ambassadors nationwide and Saltillo has 10,” she says. “These Ambassadors Skype with therapists and AAC users, work at AAC camps, mentor other device users, present at national conferences, represent and lobby for the AAC industry to Medicaid/Medicare offices, present at PRC and Saltillo company meetings, and organize user groups. A few Ambassadors have also been employed by PRC as contractors on special projects, including beta-testing new PRC products.”
Seeing is Believing for SLPs
Exposure to AAC Ambassadors can be as motivating for speech and language students and professionals as it is for AAC users, says Saltillo President Dave Hershberger. “Many people, including some SLPs and educators, have never had the opportunity to personally interact with a competent AAC device user. This exposure can positively influence an SLP’s future decisions and recommendations for clients who may benefit from AAC.”
“I want every student who works with individuals who use AAC to have an expectation of success, of self-determination, and employment as the baseline,” explains John McCarthy, Ph.D., Associate Director of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences at Ohio University. “As someone who is employed, Noah helps demonstrate that expectation of success. His example helps move students from not expecting to encounter individuals with more severe disabilities to asking, ‘Hey, where are the people with disabilities in this organization?’”
How Ambassadors Benefit
Serving as an AAC Ambassador provides an AAC user with a sense of pride, says Blair. “These are talented and motivated individuals who want to be productive. They enjoy leading the way for those new to AAC or struggling with communication challenges.” All ambassadors are compensated for their time and travel expenses.
Bac Shelton, 44, a painter and art instructor in Texas whose communication challenges are related to cerebral palsy, says he became a PRC Ambassador 15 years ago “to help nonverbal people to get a communication device and to become their role model. I also want to be able to make my own money along the way and meet people.” In those early years, he remembers, “most people did not know what AAC was. For me, working at the booth during conferences and traveling with John Halloran, PRC Senior Clinical Associate, opened the eyes and minds of other people when they saw me using my AAC.”
For Jamel Mills, 29, who has Moebius syndrome, serving as a Saltillo Ambassador is one way to “show people I can do some things without speaking. I love dancing and I am writing a novel and a musical. I love my NOVA chat 7. I can finally talk after all these years.”
Saltillo Ambassador Adil Sanai came to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1999 when he was 15. “I was very determined to have a better life here,” says Sanai, who has cerebral palsy. “There were no schools for people with disabilities, so I never went to school in Pakistan. I couldn't walk or close my mouth. I did not have a wheelchair so my family carried me everywhere. When I came to the United States, I received medical help and had many surgeries. I can now walk and close my mouth. I now attend AHRC Queens Workshop in New York City. I also work at Marshall's [department store] three days a week. I use a ChatPC device so people can understand what I have to say.”
PRC Ambassador Kim Vuong enjoys serving as a role model and mentor to AAC users, especially children. “I have often talked to many parents and teachers who are concerned that young students are not using their devices effectively in real situations. When I asked them why they think this is happening, they generally have said that their children don’t have anyone to learn from. This is not hard to understand, since modeling is a powerful form of learning. A child needs to see that another person has the same experiences, so that it does not seem weird for them to use their device.”
“Our Ambassadors bring a believability factor to AAC devices and what a client could accomplish with them,” says Cara Hubers, National Market Consultant at Saltillo. “They show the public that just because someone cannot speak, it doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say and contribute. By showing others their success and the power behind speech devices, they are having a big impact.”
PRC is a global leader in the development of AAC solutions, including augmentative communication devices, computer access products, and other assistive technology for people with speech disorders.
A 100% employee-owned company headquartered in Wooster, OH, PRC pioneered the use of technology to bring speech and language capabilities to adults and children with disabilities nearly 50 years ago. Since then, the company's products have enabled children and adults worldwide to achieve spontaneous, independent, and interactive communication regardless of their disability, literacy level, or motor skills.
In addition to powerful AAC devices, PRC provides teaching and implementation ideas, therapy materials, curriculum sequences, funding assistance, and training to speech-language pathologists, special educators, and the families of AAC communicators.
For more information, go to prentrom.com or call (800) 262-1984.
About Saltillo Corporation
Saltillo Corporation, an employee-owned company in Millersburg, Ohio and subsidiary of PRC, has developed and manufactured augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, computer access products, and other assistive technology for people with speech disabilities since 1996. Saltillo also operates an assistive technology e-commerce website, Silver Kite, at http://www.silver-kite.com/
For more information, go to saltillo.com or call (800) 382-8622.
Posted on January 29, 2015
“When everyone works together and has the best interest of the student [in mind]…it all works out.”- Julee Nawa, Ladd School Speech-Language Pathologist
Please meet Owen. Owen loves to spell. Owen is an adorable, sweet 5 year old boy who really enjoys using his NOVA chat 10. Owen has Autism and was essentially non-verbal. He had previously used a variety of low-tech AAC options and apps to increase his communication but nothing seemed to be the right fit. Owen would easily become frustrated when he was not understood or when he wasn’t feeling well, as he had no way to express himself.
Owen attends Ladd School. The staff and administration at Ladd School knew that something needed to be done to help Owen communicate so that he could be successful and understood in school and at home. Mr. Lawrence, the school’s Principal, contacted the Illinois Assistive Technology Program (IATP; www.iltech.org), a state funded program that provides a wide variety of services from providing a device lending library to providing grant funded, school based AAC evaluations across the state, to seek assistance for Owen.
Marguerite Simon, a Speech-Language-Pathologist who conducts AAC evaluations for IATP, evaluated Owen last school year and began the process for determining what device may best work for Owen. Marguerite stated, “The beauty of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) grant AAC evaluation program is that we are able to reach out to small towns who don’t have the AAC resources available for evaluations and device trials. I love the fact that we can reach so out to so many districts across the state.”
The school staff and administration have fully supported Owen and his family prior to and during the funding process until he received his NOVA chat in September 2014. Ladd School has even purchased an additional charger to ensure that Owen’s NOVA chat is fully charged and ready to be used at school. At home, Owen is able to “find something that will help him convey his feelings”; something that he was not able to do prior to having his NOVA chat. His school and family have demonstrated consistent support, team work, advocacy, and dedication. They have seen Owen’s moments of frustration decrease and have observed an increase of wanting to communicate with others.
Julee Nawa, Owen’s SLP, reported that since September, Owen is using his NOVA chat to independently say ‘hello’/ ‘goodbye’ to his peers and staff members at school. She has noted that Owen has increased his use of eye contact, interacts with his peers more, participates in classroom activities, and he has been observed to be producing more sounds and some word approximations! Julee noted that “Everyone [at Ladd School] has gone above and beyond.” Julee says it best when she said that Owen’s NOVA chat, “Has given him a voice. It’s his voice!”
Posted on January 14, 2015
"The inability to speak his thoughts gave him a lot of frustration and us, a lot of confusion". I'm so glad this family finally found their solution in the Nova Chat 7!
Read their story here.
Posted on January 8, 2015
Winn is our celeb for the month of November. She was born on May 20, 2003 so that makes her 11 years old. Mom, Jennifer, reports that the family did not realize there was something wrong at birth, but by the time Winn was 4 months old, it was apparent she was not progressing developmentally as she should. After 2 years of doctors visits and therapies, Winn was diagnosed with a rare condition that would “take pages” to explain! Basically she is missing most of her cerebellum, which has affected her balance, speech, and coordination. Winn also has sensory integration issues and is on the Autism spectrum.
Due to the great love, support, and care from her family as well as continued therapies, today, Winn is able to walk, say a few words, use some sign language, and use her NovaChat7 independently and spontaneously.
Winn is a fifth grader at Sonny Carter Elementary in Macon GA. Her first speech generating device was not a NovaChat! However, she did learn to use it well enough to communicate basic needs and her family realized that she knew a bunch more than they imagined and that she was capable of learning much more. Winn completed a successful trial with a NovaChat 7 and received her own NovaChat in December of 2013. The family and Winn were so excited because of the many features that made the NovaChat easier for her to use than the other device. They are thrilled that it was so much lighter than her previous device. It allows her to carry her it everywhere independently. They love the larger buttons and better software because she is able to communicate much faster. Even though Winn has about 5 words and still uses some sign language, her NovaChat is her main form of communication.
Winn’s teachers and SLP at Sonny Carter describe her as a delightful 5th-grade student. They say she currently uses a NovaChat device for her main means of communication at school. At school this device is known by her peers and teachers as her "talker"! Winn carries her "talker" from class to class, for all activities, and to lunch. She uses it to greet teachers, staff, and friends in the hallways, as she enters the room, and around the school. She enjoys using her NovaChat at lunch to chat with her friends. Her "test answer" page allows her to respond to multiple choice and true/false questions during assessments or class response activities. You will often find Winn in a group of students who are so eager to talk with her using her "talker". She enjoys being social and her “talker” helps her engage in more meaningfully communicate. She is currently working at the sentence level to communicate. For example, she will create a sentence such as "I am hungry or I want to eat to express her wants and needs. Winn knows that she needs to use her "talker" at school to communicate her needs. While social academic-related communication is critical and made possible by her NovaChat, Winn can also use her "talker" to communicate more serious, personal information. For example, Winn recently was not feeling well at school. When asked what was wrong, she responded with "I am sad. I am sick. I want to go home. I need mom." Winn was, in fact, sick and was quite happy to see her mother when she came to pick her up from school. Without her NovaChat, this important message would have likely not been known. Winn's NovaChat makes a wide range of communication possible at school, and with staff training, implementation becomes more successful each week.
It’s always great to hear success stories like this. Everyone is so proud of Winn and glad to share her story. They all know Winn will continue to be a great success.
Posted on January 7, 2015
Check out the latest update, version 1.13.0 for your NOVA Chat Device and NOVA Chat Editor. It has some awesome new features, including auto updates!