Written by JoAnne Lambert, M.S. CCC/SLP, EASTCONN
Accessibility. Independence. Important for all, but especially important for individuals with disabilities who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Through a grant obtained by the Eastford School District, two Amazon Alexa Smart Speakers were purchased for use by a student who uses an AAC device to aid in communication. Through the use of voice-command technology, an AAC user is able to create a message or a question and “ask” the smart speaker using the command word “Alexa.” For individuals who have difficulty accessing information by traditional means or accessing their environment due to a variety of disabilities, this type of technology can provide the opportunity to be more independent!
In order to determine how we were going to implement the device at different opportunities throughout the student’s day, the educational team looked at what the student’s typical day looked like as well as her individualized educational programming. It was decided that we would start with the following commands; “Alexa, what’s the weather in (town).” This would allow the student to report the weather to the class during morning meeting. “Alexa, set a timer for (time)” and “Alexa stop the timer”—this would allow the student to set a timer while completing cooking tasks as well as while performing various other life skills activities where a time limit or a simple reminder is needed. “Alexa, play music by (preferred music artist)” would allow the student to engage with her peers socially and enjoy the leisure activity of listening to music. Finally, “Alexa, play calming sounds” to allow the student access to self-calming techniques rather than relying on an adult to anticipate and initiate the calming strategy. The student’s AAC tool (iPad mini with TouchChat HD-AAC app running MultiChat 15 Student vocabulary), which already contained a folder to access voice command, was customized to meet the communication needs.
Through use of the Amazon Alexa paired with the student’s AAC Device, the student is able to participate in a variety of activities including engaging with her peers during social opportunities to play preferred music. She provides an up-to-the-minute weather report so the students can plan on their outerwear or umbrella needs, and can independently set the time when the class engages in baking goodies! As we move forward, we will continue to expand the use of Alexa skills across the student’s day. The possibilities for access to information and environmental control and increasing independence are certainly exciting!