Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Best iPad Stand (and it fits most cases!)

In August I attended that ISAAC conference and scoured the exhibition hall, checking out a ton of communication related projects. I came across RJ Cooper's booth, which had the most interesting, unique, and yet simple iPad stand I've ever seen. I dropped my iPad (in its heavy Griffin Survivor case) into the stand and it didn't tip. I jogged (ok, I waddled--I was 8 months pregnant) the stand over to the AMDI booth, and it could even handle the iAdapter.  I was intrigued.  Ours finally arrived the other day (it took me a few months to place an order, with the new baby and all) and it's exactly what we were hoping for.  Check it out: 

When the primary user of an iPad is a preschooler with a handful of motor issues, you don't skimp on the case.  Subsequently, we've used the following cases:  the Otterbox Defender, the Griffin Survivor (still in use on our educational gaming iPad), and the AMDI iAdapter (still in use on the iPad that is my daughter's communication device- "the talker"). These cases have one thing in common--they are heavy.  And the problem with heavy cases is that it's very difficult to find a good stand for them---one that can hold a heavy iPad in place without tipping over or having the iPad slide off.  Finally, though, we've found the perfect stand---and it works with pretty much any case on the market.

This is the fixed-angle stand (although that's a bit of a misnomer, as it is somewhat adjustable) by RJ Cooper.  It's a simple metal stand with two strips of what he calls "Stick & Suck" adhesive material on the bottom.  I wish I could explain this stuff, but it's hard to put into words (which is why I'm including the video at the bottom of this post).  It looks like double sided foam tape, but actually is made of thousands of microscopic suction cups . . . so it doesn't feel sticky, it feels grippy (there's a difference).

the bottom of the stand

  the grippy parts line up with the surface that you're working on

This stand can hold the Griffin Survivor case with no problem---no tipping, no falling, nothing (frankly, even the built in stand that comes with the Griffin Survivor can barely hold it up).  

It's even sturdy enough to handle Maya's talker, and the AMDI iAdapter stand is considerably heavy and bulky.  It fits securely in.  This is a perfect back-up stand for the iAdapter, as I know one person who's already broken and/or lost multiple iAdapter stands.

It's hard to say more about the stand, because it's pretty simple: it's metal, it grips the table but isn't sticky, and it miraculously doesn't tip over.  It seems pretty indestructible, too, which is nice. Here's some video, showing the down sides of two other stands that we tried, in addition to showing how this one grips but doesn't stick:

This stand is $39 (plus shipping) and well worth it, in my opinion.  If you're interested in the stand you can order it here---it's the "fixed angle stand".  (Also, tell them that you were referred by me, and maybe in the future they'll give me some free stuff to review.  Just kidding.  Not really.)

Disclaimers: I don't work for RJ Cooper and this isn't a paid review. I saw the stand at ISAAC, loved it, and bought it with a discount through his website. I am not a review blogger and I only take the time to review something that we've tried and loved, so that others who are looking for similar solutions can find them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy Anniversary (one year with AAC)

A year ago today I downloaded Speak for Yourself onto Maya’s iPad.

And everything changed.

After over a year of searching for a communication solution, meetings with representatives from Dynavox and Prentke Romich, a failed attempt at using Proloquo2Go, a lot of PECs work, the creation and utilization of the Word Book, and a miserable assistive tech evaluation from the DOE (thanks for nothing guys, seriously) . . . I had nearly given up.  We were fresh off of a failed trial with a Dynavox device and I had begun emailing the creators of several big name apps, asking a ton of questions and re-evaluating whether maybe one of them would fit.  I was feeling kind of low . . . here I was, starting the search again.  A Facebook message from an SLP friend pointed me towards SFY, which was brand new to the market.  As I’ve gotten many such tips, I didn’t pay it much mind and only had one eye on the computer as I watched the SFY demo video . . . but it didn’t take long for it to have my full attention.  I watched it again.  Then I called Dave over to the computer and said “Ok, you have to see this. I think this is it.” 

And it was.

A year ago today, I downloaded SFY and played with it for a few minutes before Maya demanded to see it---and I told Dave to grab the videocamera so we could record what her initial reaction was. It was good. She liked it as much as we did. To be fair, she liked any communication system that we introduced (well, besides the Dynavox device---too many pop-ups and moving words---she gave up on that one quickly). She liked Proloquo2Go when it let her talk (but I had to customize it to not hold much vocabulary---too many folders to keep track of), she liked the Word Book when it helped her get more detailed thoughts out (but it had no voice). Speak for Yourself had both.  It had the potential to have a massive vocabulary (which she understood---she would tap the Babble button, all of the words would light up, and she would squeak with excitement) and it had a literal voice.  She could tap “milk” and hear a loud, clear voice say “milk” . . . for a kid who only gets to hear her voice in her head, hearing her thoughts spoken aloud must be pretty exciting.  At least that’s my guess, based on the way that her little face would light up (and sometimes still does).

And so, she had a voice.

Well, mostly.

It’s not that simple, of course---here’s the app, it talks for you, good luck learning the vocabulary and grammar.  We’ve done a year’s worth of work, and grammar (as in subject-verb sentences, multi-word combinations, etc) is just emerging. But the power of words---even just single words---is amazing.  Truly. 

Imagine if you could say nothing. (That was Maya 2ish years ago)

Now, imagine if you could say things with a communication board/book, but were limited to the words on hand. So, you could say “chicken nugget” if you were hungry, because it was in the book.  But if you saw a picture of a shark on tv and you wanted to talk about the shark, you couldn’t, because “shark” wasn’t in the book. (That was Maya a year and a day ago.)

Now, imagine if you could say anything, just using single words instead of sentences.  (That’s Maya now. Well, mostly. She doesn’t have every word, but she learns where new words are every day.)

Maya can tell me what she wants to do (paint, read, dance) or what she wants to play with (book, bus, princess) or where she wants to go (school, dog park, diner).  She can randomly say something that seems out of place (the name of a school friend, ferris wheel, thunderstorm) and suddenly I know what’s on her mind, at least in a general way.  She can translate her own speech---when she’s making a sound pointedly at me and I can say “I don’t understand, can you tell me with your talker?” and most of the time, she can.    She can make jokes . . . and she’s quite the clown.  After accidentally hitting “fuzzy navel” at breakfast one morning she saw that it cracked me up, and it’s been a favorite button ever since.

Without SFY, I wouldn’t know Maya.  “AAC let me know who my child really is” is a common refrain among parents (and siblings, and grandparents) of AAC users, and for good reason.  I had no idea that she understood concepts (like weather) or wanted to make jokes (like fuzzy navel) or was starting to spell (M-A-Y-A).  And there would be absolutely no way for me to know these things without an app.

No, scratch that.  Not “without an app  . . . without Speak for Yourself.  AAC is not a one-size-fits-all industry, and we tried several not-quite-perfect things before finding SFY.  It has been our perfect fit.
So here we are, a year later.  And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t been an easy year.  

When the news of the lawsuit broke, I panicked.  When the app was removed from the iTunes store, I re-panicked.  When the app was removed from the android marketplace, I panicked again.  I had no idea what we would do if this app, which had become Maya's voice, disappeared.  I loved SFY, and as I got to know the creators of the app I really liked them, too . . . but I couldn’t help but worry. When faced with a lawsuit not only designed to dismantle their business, but also aimed at them personally, it seemed that the most logical solution would be to quietly concede.  Yet Heidi & Renee (the co-creators of SFY) shouldered the stress and expense and frequently made it clear that this wasn’t about money, it was about protecting the voice of the app’s current and future users.  They fought the good fight for the right reasons . . . and a year later, the app is back in the iTunes store and the android store and we don’t have to worry about losing it, ever.  I normally don’t get personal while discussing Speak for Yourself, but I would be remiss in not mentioning them this time. If SFY had been created by different people than this anniversary might not have existed, because the app very well could have disappeared back in March.   Heidi and Renee, I am forever grateful not only for the intelligence, creativity, knowledge, and planning that went into creating such a well-designed communication app . . . but also for the strength and conviction that it took to fight for it, and for us.  Thank you both.

Happy anniversary, Maya.  A year and a day ago, we knew that you had so much to say.  Today you can speak for yourself, in a simple but increasingly clear and clever way.  Here’s to an ever-more-wordy future.  I can’t wait to hear all of the (ridiculous, sweet, sassy, funny, clever, naughty, silly, sneaky) things that you have to say.