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Defining a Self Image

Posted Jul 16, 2014 - 10:53am

_By Kevin Williams

Kevin and his friend Jane

Hello, this is Kevin again, a PRC ambassador from North Carolina. In my last blog post, “Motivate to Self-Advocate”. I discussed how communication partners can get involved with encouraging an augmentative communicator to use and be more self-sufficient with their device. In this post, we are going beyond just using the device by discussing how communicating with a device can impact a person’s self image. This discussion is actually a speaking presentation I recently did in Atlanta for the ISTE Communication Playground.

The communication playground is a hands on experience with communication assistive technology for reading, writing, and Alternative & Augmentative Communication (AAC). The playground took place in Atlanta, GA at the 2014 conference for the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE). The communication playground was put on by the Inclusive Learning Network formerly known as SETSIG. PRC was represented by two employees and two ambassadors showing what augmentative communication is and how it impacts education and the greater society as a whole. I was asked to do a presentation to enlighten educators about using an Aug Com device and the etiquette to use when speaking to an Augmentative Communicator without really knowing much about the field of AAC. So I thought at this point in time everyone in America at least has experienced communicating through a device such as a cell phone at some point; and as education professionals they deal with building a student’s self image in order to succeed in the classroom. So I thought this discussion covered all of the topics.

Kevin presentingKevin presenting at ISTE

Disclaimer, all the inappropriate placed punctuation is done intentionally to have a good cadence when speaking this presentation aloud through my device.

Defining a Self-Image with AAC

I am speaking to you all today, about how to teach and interact with people who use devices, like the one I’m using now, to communicate. This is by no means a technical talk about technology, but more of a discussion of some of the issues and hurdles that a device user has with assimilating the device into their everyday life. In order to use a communication device effectively, the device cannot just be a tool, but an extension of the person. Users and their families may have real issues with depending on an electronic device. If that is the case, then the device usually sits on the shelf and no help to anyone. As education professionals, you can have a real impact in shaping the self image of a device user. which is just as delicate as shaping the body image of a female student, during these times of twerking and airbrushing that supposedly defines their bodies, according to the media. While discussing the social issues for using an electronic device in everyday life, I will describe some traits of device users, that could aid those who are unfamiliar with interacting with someone like myself, feel more comfortable in doing so. With that said, let’s get started; shall we?

Over the past month or so there has been a video of the spoken word performance, “Look Up”, by Gary Turk, has went viral, among my friends on facebook.

Look Up

The content in this performance calls for people to look up from their mobile devices and interact with the people around them. it’s a good poem, and it tugs at the sentimental and arguably simple memories, people have of when devices, were not integrated into how people intimately communicated with each other. it’s arguable because, many of those who shared this video, also grew up talking on phone with their friends, felt isolated, and alone, but their feeling of nostalgia won’t allow, them to see that assimilating technology is just apart of human evolution. For that fact, many people share this video, to express their fears and misguided disdain of the prevalence of mobile devices in society.

As an augmented communicator who has spent the majority of my life communicating and interacting with people through what essentially is a mobile device. Everytime I see this video on my facebook time line, I get upset at people, especially those who I consider my friends, not seeing the evolution of technology truly being integrated into a person’s life, to where they are productive with interacting with the world around them, rather than isolate themselves from it. people who truly integrate devices into their life, are not so oblivious, that their missing out on what’s going on around them. Yet it is a skill that needs teaching and advocacy to those with limit exposure to mobile devices. It saddens me that most people who shared this video are seemingly clueless on how interacting in person while using a device has a different set of rules and behavior. These rules are most commonly classified as disability etiquette when talking to people using AAC. But as the Universal Orlando commercial, named “best vacation ever”, shows, the so called “online” generation, who also have fully integrated mobile devices into their Life. displays similar behavior to people who use AAC, in how they communicate through their devices.

Best Vacation Ever

In the commercial, there is a family on vacation at universal studios. the father is so interested and focused on how much time the daughter spent on the phone while having fun at the park. That He didn’t realize how much she was actually paying attention, and was “in the moment” of every adventure they had on vacation. Yet when she communicated to him using her device. It was a surprised to him to see the vacation through her eyes. This may be a heartfelt, and surprising commercial to many, but as an augmented communicator who has no choice but use a “mobile device” to talk. Both videos show how the general public likes using devices, but has no clue or etiquette when interacting with a person with a device. Notice, I did not include any type of disability when saying a person with a device. This can be for interacting with a person like me with an Augmentative Communication device, or a person using a smartphone or tablet. In the information age, it is imperative to recognize, how crucial it is for everyone to assimilate with communication devices in an efficient way, or perish with communicating effectively in society. it is equally important for a person Not to attach themselves with a particular version of the device, but the idea that the technology is essential part of their life and deal with change of technology.

I feel that the community of people with disabilities and those who support and teach our population needs to pay attention and address this growing concern of the general public towards access of mobile devices and human interaction. The attitude of the public towards mobile devices will have an adverse affect on how assistive technology devices will be developed, used, and funded in the future. Not only because now many Augmentative Communication devices use the same hardware, but many of the popular ways to communicate on mobile devices share traits with those used with an AAC device for spontaneous conversation.

One of most obvious but most difficult traits for people to get use to when a person using a device is being listened to without having eye contact. Which from the two videos immensely flusters people, because it breaks a long standing social norm of conversation. No eye contact doesn’t mean the communication partners are being ignored while the person is using the device. If the communication partners say something that needs a reply, they will be responded to accordingly. From my own experience I know I’m tracking everything that goes on around me through my hearing while looking elsewhere.

A common awkward moment I run into even when not composing a message is when talking to women, and especially those that are self-conscious about their body. This issue also leads to more common issue of eye contact between male and females. My eyes drop from eye contact while talking, because I am listening to the conversation and formulating my response or tracking a second conversation around me. Furthest thing in my mind with majority of the women I meet is anything sexual. It is me composing sentences in my head, and because I am usually typing a reply I don’t pay attention to making eye contact. I am focused on other things. Yet it never fails that a female get this “oh my god” look on their face, because they think I’m looking at their boobs. I can’t explain “no i’m not looking at your boobs”, because most of the time it takes longer for them to register what I am saying when I am composing word by word and my explanation creates just another awkward moment. Just usually shake my head and really concentrate on my device.

Another trait of behavior when communicating through a device that takes the public some getting use to is what I call spontaneous utterance grammar. Spontaneous utterance grammar is grammar or the lack thereof in text messages, tweets, facebook statuses, and augmentative communication device messages that are in the moment of unprepared thoughts.

I find many people think just because it is printed text that every word that is produce should be perfectly written. When an spontaneous utterance is not perfectly written, the composer is ridiculed and corrected. Especially by teachers and parents of those who use AAC reading over the shoulder. Correcting misplaced or misused words are fine, but correcting punctuation and spelling when the augmentative communicator is composing in the moment is never a good practice. Some misspelling are done based on the Communicator’s knowledge of the speech synthesis engine and it’s pronunciation of words. In my particular case since I use DECTALK, I naturally spell heteronyms differently to get the correct meaning. Heteronyms are words that are written identically but have different pronunciation and meaning. Exemplified by the following sentence. “Since the grandmother lives with the family, she has a greater impact on the children’s lives.”

Saying that sentence on my Accent 1000. I would have typed “children’s lyves” with a “y”. Even though it’s spelled wrong, I know from experience how it sounds. Since heteronyms are spelled exactly the same, it is not something you can correct in the device dictionary. Dedicated AAC apps and devices have dictionaries for the speech engine to retrieve the correct pronunciation of a uniquely spelled words. There can only be one pronunciation per word. Dealing with nuances like this is why I know grammar written for a Speech Generating Device to speak is totally different from written language that a person would read in an e-mail or a blog post.

Kevin at ISTECommunication Playground

Another case for using bad grammar with electronic devices is just being in a rhythm of cranking out a long utterance and having a brain fart on a spelling of a word or creates a long run on sentence. The person doesn’t want to break stream of thought on the point they are trying to make because when generating spontaneous utterances no one thinks about grammar first. Especially during a conversation where they are emotionally invested into the conversation. To paraphrase “Sweet Brown”, ain’t nobody got time to proofread their utterances before another person has already interpreted the message and responding to it.

This issue is not limited to those who use AAC, but any person who use their mobile device with social networking apps to give real-time in the moment accounts of what’s going on around them are communicating in the moment. When communicating in the moment, grammar always takes a backseat to the content. Even Typing out stream of thought is the factor behind many social network posts that have less than perfect grammar. Those who vocalize never have to think about grammar without a electronic device. You never see any person get corrected for a run on sentence when talking to another person. “You didn’t say period between those two sentences.” is something you’ll never hear during a normal conversation. This is why written grammar should be distinguished between conversational and formal written grammar. When doing formal written grammar where reports and essays are being submitted and graded, then all students should be held to high writing standards. Yet if the student is responding to a question or having a spontaneous conversation, then the grammar shouldn’t be as important as what is said.

When teaching an augmented communicator good social and academic habits with their device, it is paramount that the device is seen and thought about as a positive extension of the person and not something that should be minimized in their life. It is confusing and contradictory when someone that an augmentative communicator openly indicating and advocating that too much time using a mobile device is a bad thing, but when a person cannot understand something in an augmented communicator’s slurred voice; they immediately look to a device as a solution to not talking or not being understood. Communication is not a problem to solve, but the way a person communicates is an extension of who they are and apart of how they fit in into various social groups. For many people their identity is tied to a social vernacular or a regional accent. Like the southern draw, African American Vernacular, Surfer/Hippie lingo, Hip hop Slang, King’s English, or American English. This is not just important to the person who’s speaking or non-speaking, but the family and friends surround them. If they feel that the device is just a machine and not apart of them in the eyes of friends and family. The device will just sit on the shelf. This is why teaching a person to have a positive speaking identity for themselves communicating a device in todays society is just as delicate as teaching a young female to have a positive body image. There is no one absolute solution to this issue except for having an open discussion about your own thoughts using mobile devices and how you see them impacting society. With that I will end it here. Thank you for listening.

Kevin with Betsey and ChristineCommunication Playground

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