“It kind of surprises me how nervous people get about the device.”
For Mary Kvitko, PRC’s Accent 800 has meant the world to her family – and to her five year-old son, Oscar.
The Road to PRC
Because he is nonverbal, Oscar – a bubbly, happy, easygoing little boy – first began communicating with his family via limited hand signals. According to his mom, Mary, it wasn’t ASL-standard sign language, but one that he created and one that his family learned to understand over time – and one that was difficult and time-consuming to explain to others.
In addition, understanding Oscar meant asking numerous questions before landing upon what the little boy wanted or needed.
Despite the numerous roadblocks, however, Oscar never stopped smiling.
“For having the difficulties that he has, he never had any frustrations,” she said. “He’s just a super happy kid!”
It was Oscar’s private speech-language pathologist (SLP) who first brought up the idea of a speech-generating device, receiving the full support of his school SLP.
On her recommendation, students from the University of Georgia’s SLP program came to Oscar’s special education class.
After evaluating Oscar, and working with PRC regional consultant Christine Kramlich, the team determined that the Accent 800 with Unity would be a good fit.
“It was very exciting,” said Mary. “He could finally say the words that other kids could say!”
Life with Odie
|See Oscar get Odie to say, “Oscar is 4 today!”|
Once the family received their device, life for them changed quickly.
Oscar, a technophile, took to the Accent right away. In no time at all he was taking pictures with his device, even taking advantage of its unlocked state to get to Minecraft.
Mary herself took the time to understand and work with the device.
“I wanted to learn the device as well,” she said. “Sitting down with Christine and getting the basics of what it could do was super beneficial.”
In no time the family quickly personalized the Accent, creating pages including one for the family with pictures of friends, pets and family members.
In fact, said Mary, the device was given its own name – Odie, from OD for “Oscar’s Device” – and it too has its own button on the family page!
Giving Odie Oscar’s Voice with VocalID
|See Oscar react to raising the money|
While the family settled in with Odie, Mary still felt as though there was something missing.
“I was sad his ‘voice’ didn’t sound like him,” she recalled. “And then I happened to see a video on Facebook about VocalID.”
While the Accent line of speech-generating devices offers a full line of voices, VocalID offers something more: The ability for a device user to have their own voice digitized for use on a device, for added personalization.
Mary contacted VocalID for more information, and was put in touch with Elisabeth Nuboer.
“She was fantastic – she answered our questions and sent us links to other families who had set up GoFundMe pages to help raise money to fund the purchase,” she said.
Deciding to move forward, the family set up a GoFundMe page for Oscar – which was funded in only eight hours, enough to purchase, plus a little extra the family used to purchase an Xtreme case and a keyguard to help make touch access a little easier.
With funding cleared, the next step was to record Oscar’s voice. His preschool teacher had a friend who was an audio engineer, who was happy to donate his time to help the family.
He recorded a sample of Oscar’s voice, then cleaned up the audio file for clarity which the family then sent in.
Two months later, Oscar’s “voice” arrived.
“They got the voice right,” said Mary.
Oscar Goes to School
|See Oscar’s reaction to his voice on Odie|
This year, for the first time Oscar will be in an integrated classroom, not a special ed class.
For Mary, it’s an emotional moment.
“He gets everything the other kids get,” she said. “And his teachers have been great, working the device into his educational plan and rewarding vocabulary building with incentives.”
In order to help smooth the path with his classmates, Mary came in to talk to the class about Oscar’s device and help demystify it for them.
“It really helped with the kids’ curiosity,” she noted.
In addition, Mary was able to get a photo of each child and create a classroom page, for quick communication.
Opening New Worlds
For Mary, the journey has been one she wouldn’t trade for the world.
“If any parent is having apprehension about the device, don’t. It’s like any new technology: it can be intimidating. But if you put in the work to know the device it’ll make a world of difference. It can be such a good tool.
“Knowing what your child is thinking…it means the world.”