1 Supporting Technology for Augmentative and Alternative Communication J.C. Bohórquez 1, Y. Gonzalez, M. Pinilla, A. Varela, H. Macías, J. Rivera, N. Rodriguez, M. González and I. Toro 1 Communication Tools for the Handicapped in Columbia 1.1 Summary This article intends to present an interdisciplinary and inter-institutonial investigative experience carried out by Los Andes University and National Pedagogic University (UPN) aiming to serve as a helpful tool for handicapped persons in their communicative exercise. Given the Colombian context of resource scarcity, it is necessary to supply the handicapped with low price devices to achieve effectively the easy access to the virtual environments with certain autonomy. Devices such as the alternative mice, alternative communication screens, software equipped with sound feed-back, touch sensitive digital screens, computer software access software tools, story editors, and emerging keyboards are being assessed in relation to their pedagogical impact, at the augmentative and alternative communication room at the UPN. 1.2 The Problem The question here is how to enable the handicapped in a reasonable environment, so they can achieve higher levels of human development. This is our project guideline. Thus, we aim to generate technological supporting devices in order to make the users autonomous and interactive actors in different given environments in a more natural way. 1 Universidad de los Andes, Carrera 1a N.18A10, Bogotá, Colombia
2 198 Bohórquez, Gonzalez, Pinilla, Varela, Macías, Rivera, Rodriguez, González and Toro 1.3 Theoretical Focus According to Kaufmann (Kaufmann, 2000) the third millennium school should encourage development and enrichment irrespective of natural differences, which concurs with Von Tetzchner s (Von Tetzchner, 1993) thinking on the topic. In that sense school and teachers must supply the handicapped with special tools according to their specific necessities. In the Colombian context, the application of the augmentative and alternative communication must become the axis along which the education activity moves, given that what is essential to this specific population is to teach them how communicate with different media and in some cases, supply the tools to stimulate their capability to understand express or both to understand and express. In this respect the re-enabling and supporting technologies arise as encouraging helpers in the communicative process. Of course, they supply other dimensions, e.g. related to the mobility orientation and handling; nevertheless in our specific case, we refer to the human communication. 1.4 The Research Methodology The technological device development and the setting of the augmentative and alternative room at the UPN imply a process of explorative and participative work as well as interdisciplinary and inter-institutional. Out of this explorative descriptive research experience, arises the fact that generalizations and homogenization of the population is not permissible given that the individual must be considered: every child or adult has their own level of problems due to their own socio-cultural and economic environment. These differences have been considered in order to design high or low technology devices. Fortunately, the team has searched for the most efficient and low cost solutions. 1.5 Improvements and Specific Features of the Project This axis defines the work areas like this: Figure 1. Work field context
3 Supporting Technology for Augmentative and Alternative Communication 199 This way we have stated a priority of the social communicative and pedagogical necessities that the system must satisfy so it actually becomes a real solution. Then the importance is placed on the functional and ergonomic analysis of the system, given that the latter of these identifies the physical restrictions to the hardware and software solutions. The work methodology is considered as a top-down approach in which every module achieved is specified according to the different fields of work (Figure 2). They have been modularised in a way that allows work in the user interface (industrial design area) in parallel with the electronic systems. Out of this methodology four parallel groups of work were generated and were complemented with an information transfer protocol: Pedagogy: Its aim is to specify, verify and evaluate the implemented devices. Design: Its aim is to design and implement the man-machine interface in a satisfactory way according to functionality and ergonomics. Electronic: Its aim is to design and implement the required electronic systems to access the computer. Software: Its aim is to design and implement the necessary software Prototype Elaboration Figure 2. First work site The work station must be supplied with every tool necessary apart from enough warmth and clean environment. It implied the electronic and informatics design needed to consider the input and output specifications of the system, both with physical and ergonomics imposed restrictions. The high level descriptions involved software hardware partitions for each of the specified systems and the analysis of the available technologies and tools for each of the implemented systems: the alternative keyboard communication protocol; the keyboard production according to specifications; the mouse production with different operative mode both with
4 200 Bohórquez, Gonzalez, Pinilla, Varela, Macías, Rivera, Rodriguez, González and Toro communications protocols. The software design permitted the peripheral standardization of the system and the anthropometric furniture design Specifications verification In this stage, prototypes have been designed aiming to show the function specification of the systems, taking in to account a tri-dimensional device and prototype software that shows its potential usage. Besides, prototypes of key boards, buttons, furniture, and simple software programs with images and sound have been design with the same purpose. Figure 3. Tri-dimensional prototypes of the systems Figure 4. Alternative keyboard implementation Figure 5. Social and education space
5 Supporting Technology for Augmentative and Alternative Communication 201 Figure 6. First mouse implementation Figure 7. Software equipped with sound feed-back 1.6 Conclusions Environments with plenty of technology must be generated and encouraged by the pedagogy as an alternative to improve the human development of those with special needs. Thus, it is generates a need to develop diverse instruments, tools and supporting material which are fundamental for the handicapped to develop in a more integral way in their social environment, in better and more efficient circumstances. The design of environments enriched with technology and the adaptations proposed must be in concordance with the socio-cultural reality of the handicapped, and if possible at low cost so they can reach their own expectations in society. A glance at the world of handicapped from the perspective of technology leads special education to a scientific technologic vision that will enable and motivate the design and application of a variety of solutions to the people s problems in order to guarantee the access to the world of knowledge. Societies that aim the principle of equality of opportunities easily understand that science, education and technology are the key for humankind s development.
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