May is both Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Awareness Month and Better Speech and Hearing Month. We put these two observances together in today’s blog post because, as ALS progresses, it can weaken the muscles around the mouth, throat, and larynx. This can make it difficult for a person with ALS to communicate verbally. Individuals with ALS may work with a speech therapist or a speech-language pathologist (SLP) throughout the course of their condition to maintain as much as they can of their ability to communicate verbally. Over time, they may work together to develop new communication strategies and to identify augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) options.
A Quick Look at Current Research
Two current NIDILRR-funded projects are working in this area. Researchers from a field-initiated project at University of Michigan and at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on AAC are both working on brain-computer interfaces for AAC which may help people whose ALS has progressed to the point where they cannot talk. The RERC on AAC is also developing a smart predictor app to generate words for face-to-face conversations.
The ALS Association is working with international partners on Project Revoice, a technology initiative to give people with ALS the opportunity to record their voices to be integrated into AAC. Researchers used this technology to successfully clone the voice of Pat Quinn, founder of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and integrate it into an AAC system he used to communicate. The system is still in development. Currently, users can record their voices and test the files on a partner website.
Tools You Can Use
The Communication Matrix is an online tool designed to provide appropriate assessment of communication skills for individual with severe communication disabilities. It was developed under a NIDILRR field-initiated grant. It provides a free assessment tool to help families and professionals easily understand the communication status, progress, and unique needs of anyone functioning at the early stages of communication or using forms of communication other than speaking or writing. It also hosts a community of SLPs, educators, families, and researchers who connect, share information, learn from the field, and offer and receive support.
AbleData’s database of assistive technology products includes more than 6,800 products to support communication, from tools for typing and pointing to complex AAC systems. Each product listing includes a description, manufacturer information, and ratings submitted by users.