Can Simplicity Make AAC Emotional?


Insanely Simple

Insanely Simple by Ken Segall is an incredible book.  It opened my eyes, changed my mind, and helped me understand what my son was trying to teach me.

My son likes simplicity.

He would rather you leave something out, and make it work, than leave it in at the risk of diminished functionality.  This makes him a big Apple fan.  Apple keeps things simple, and their stuff just works.  Their message is simplicity, and they deliver the products that support the message.

Overcoming Human Limits

When I founded Digital Scribbler, it was to create a simple piece of software for those with Autism like my son, who were verbally challenged.

We have used a variety of low, mid, and hi technology solutions to help him overcome his human limits for almost two decades.  Over the last several years we have used touch technology.  We began with the HP TouchSmart, and over time added an iPad.  These devices have been priceless, opening previously closed doors of development, and expanding the possibilities for his future.  Additionally, they were much cheaper than the traditional devices sold by companies serving the disability community.

Price and Simplicity

Over the last several years, the touch technology revolution has produced disruptive change.  The disability community has benefited from this change, as have most other markets and communities.  This is only the beginning.  There is a great deal more change to come.  This is why I was concerned, when change in the disability community appeared to be slowing, especially for those effected by Autism.

Stagnation appeared to be in two areas.  First price and second simplicity.  While lower in price than the traditional technology tools used by the disability community in the past, these new apps were quite high in comparison with most other software.  Software for those with disabilities is specialized, which means it can be more expensive to produce, but I was beginning to suspect a failure to innovate.

Digital Scribbler and Quick Talk AAC

I began to wonder if there was an innovation problem.  Since the disability community was a niche market, competition was low.  Companies settle in, charge the highest possible price, and innovate at a rate far slower than any other industry.

I gathered a team and built Digital Scribbler.  In my mind, we had to create software for people who considered 500 dollars expensive.  People who would assume after spending 500 dollars, they wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars more to make the device work for their kids.  Tackling this challenge would produce innovation.

We came to believe two things.  First, we needed to create software capable of doing big jobs for less.  Second, this type of software would have to be simple, so it couldn’t include expensive yet rarely used features.

Our dream become a reality with the release of Quick Talk AAC.  Our software was cheap at 14.99.   Our software was simple, because it focused on communicating.  We added nothing else.  Our software doesn’t do all the traditional things expected from Augmentative Alternative Communications (AAC) software, because our primary purpose was helping those who are verbally challenged communicate.  This we did.

Questioning Quick Talk AAC

My team and I were very happy with our final product, and it has done comparatively well.    There was one problem, my son didn’t love it.  He used it, but he didn’t love it.  I don’t know why I expected him to love our software, since there isn’t any communication software he loves.  Nevertheless, I began to question Quick Talk AAC.

I began to explore reasons for his limited enthusiasm, and in doing this learned a great deal.   He liked it as a tool, but not as a companion.   What I wanted was for him to treat this software like a friend, a friend who would help him communicate.   We weren’t even close.  I talked to our team, we more clearly defined our mission, and began rebuilding Quick Talk AAC.

A Philosophy of Our Own

We developed our own philosophy about communication software, and delivering this vision was going to require a complete change of mind.

Rather than seeing simplicity as less, and positioning our software as complimentary, we needed to see our software as a vision of the future.  Rather than copy we would invent.  In all we might learn from experts, we couldn’t ignore the people who were actually using the software.

Like the rest of us they want to enjoy communicating.  They want to make and be among friends.  The tool is not the goal, but the means to a goal.  Talking is not the goal, but a means to a goal.  We were going to make Quick Talk AAC about connecting, expressing, and being included.  We were going to make it about giving and receiving love.  We were going to make it about being part of a family and having friends.  This would not be a clinical tool, but an emotional one.

Sometimes in all the hub bub about techniques, intelligence levels, and technology choices, those of us who serve this community can forget we serve real people, with real needs, who desperately want to overcome their human limits.  They want to experience intimacy just like the rest of us.

The need is simple.  Creating the solution an enormous challenge, but one we at Digital Scribbler passionately embrace, because success will mean we have changed the world for some very important people.

We have begun this work, and our first step in this new direction will be available soon.