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Brian Whitmer: Supporting Open & Free AAC Symbols, Communication Boards, & More

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This week on TWT, Chris interviews Brian Whitmer, CEO of CoughDrop, about OpenAAC.org and the “open” movement to give AAC users access to materials, provide a free set of symbols to everyone, allowing communication boards to be moved from one system to another, and more!

Key ideas:

🔑Many AAC developers do not allow communication boards to be moved from their AAC communication system to other systems. This can lead to users being stuck on old, broken equipment when a system or device is no longer supported.

🔑Giving control back to the user can be good for developers as well as users

🔑The communication workshop (https://www.coreworkshop.org) is a growing collection of free materials, videos, and prompts for teaching words and ideas to AAC users.

Before the Interview:

  • Chris discusses programming robots with Carly, a general education student, to teach core words to young children.
    • Building acceptance by incorporating general education students into therapy.
    • Challenges that are authentic and really impact others are a great way to learn.
  • What is the Open Education Resources Movement?
    • Educational resources should be able to be copied & grown upon (#GoOpen).
    • You can use open source materials for a wide variety of purposes, typically without having to pay for it.
    • Open source information at creativecommons.org
  • Chris and Rachel are presenting at AAC in the Cloud Presentation at 5 pm EST on June 25th!
    • Topic: Technology hacks that can help increase productivity and team collaboration oration when it comes to AAC.
    • Chrome extensions, websites, technology to maximize time and productivity
    • Collaborating with team members & communicating with parents.

During the Interview:

  • Chris interviews Brian Whitmer, CEO of CoughDrop
    • Discussion of why Brian started CoughDrop
    • Brian was co-founder of the company that created Canvas
  • What does “open” mean? 
    • Open content – releasing content with a open license – anybody can take the content and use it.
  • Working to create open standards for interoperative ability – you create a communication board in one system, and you can export it and upload it to a different system.
    • Brian shares that some developers want users stuck in their system because they make more money if people stay with their software.
    • Interoperative ability allows users who know one board on one system to move to another system if a company goes out of business or their system is no longer supported.
  • Giving control back to the user can be good for developers as well as users
  • Products that are end-of-life can really impact some users
  • Discussion of Openaac.org
  • People should be able to import and export their communication boards
  • There should be a free library of symbols that don’t require a subscription
  • Communication workshop – A growing collection of ideas, materials, videos, and prompts for teaching different words and ideas to AAC users. Open to everyone, content is approved and everyone has access.
  • AAC Shim – Brian’s daughter has Rett and needs software to support eye gaze. Her only mode of access to technology is through AAC. 
    • 3rd party tools should be able to be launched within an the system (e.g., facebook app, browsers). AAC systems do have integration for these tools, but they have to be integrated directly by the developers  keeping up with this doesn’t always happen on the developer’s part.
  • AAC in the Cloud – free online AAC conference. Library of resources that continues to grow. 
  • Open logging format – being able to export anonymous data that is valuable for researchers. Many studies in the disability space have very small sample sizes. We want to be able to say we have thousands of communicators who have been using their system for years – we can answer questions like the most commonly used words by AAC users.
  • The more we can give AAC users the chance to succeed and advocate for themselves, the more they will surprise us. 

We want to know what you think! You can connect with us at our Facebook group Talking with Tech, on Twitter, and Instagram (@talkingwithtech)! Also, please subscribe and post a review for us on iTunes – it helps others to find us!


Hosts: Rachael Madel and Chris Bugaj

Producer: Luke Padgett

Audio Engineer: Michaela Ball

Music: “Ebb and Flow” by Fabian Measures

June 5, 2019

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