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Rick Hohn is a motivational speaker with cerebral palsy. He also helps develop speaking devices and computers for DynaVox Technologies. He is speaking at information fairs with parents of children with cerebral palsy, or other conditions that may affect speech.
The DynaVox devices offer a touch screen that allows the user to input his or her thoughts. The device can then say it out loud in a synthesized but realistic voice.
“My goal is to have this as acceptable as wheelchairs,” Hohn said. He used a stick on his head to tap out the message into the keyboard of his DynaVox device that is still in the testing phase.
Hohn is speaking at eight fairs as part of a campaign to familiarize disabled people around the country with DynaVox products.
The device, which is no bigger than a laptop computer screen, can help users write, use the internet, talk, and even work as a remote control to turn on the stereo across the room.
“If you are a paraplegic, or quadriplegic you have a wheelchair 100 percent of the time,” said DynaVox CEO Joe Swenson. “But if you can't speak, about 2 percent of the time you have a device that allows you to do this.”
“The rest of the time, up to 98 percent of the folks out there are playing yes-no questions with their eyes – if it's yes I look up, and if it's no I look down.”
About 75,000 people are currently using the assistive cerebral palsy devices in Europe, Australia, the United States, and Canada. There are about 3 million people in the United States alone with severe speech disabilities.
DynaVox devices vary in price depending on complexity. Hohn himself uses a device with a personal computer, Internet access, and a synthesized voice with unlimited speech capabilities. His machine can run as high as $8,000
Others who can't spell, or form thoughts well could use a simpler device with a digitized voice, and 2,150 programmed messages that costs about $2,000.
However, “Nobody pays for a device out of pocket, 100 percent,” Swenson said, because insurance, schools, and sometimes local organizations are usually happy to pick up at least a portion of the cost.
If you or a loved one has cerebral palsy, contact a cerebral palsy attorney to find out about your legal rights.