On the Job with AAC in Colorado

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Here’s an assistive technology success story perfect for both National Disability Employment Awareness Month and AAC Awareness Month. Many thanks to the Colorado AT Act Program, and congratulations to Eliane Kleingeld!

Following her total laryngectomy, Eliane Kleingeld was faced with how to return to work without her voice. Ms. Kleingeld is a nurse with 47 years of experience, and at age 71 she was not yet ready to retire.

The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation referred Eliane to the Colorado AT Act Program which is a component of CIDE, the University of Colorado Denver’s Center for Inclusive Design and Engineering. CIDE additionally offers an AT clinic that provides augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) among other evaluations. Eliane knew she needed advice and an opportunity to find a speech generating device (SGD) that would match her needs, abilities, and preferences.

She’d come to the right place.

At the AT clinic, Eliane received a comprehensive AAC evaluation and an opportunity to trial different devices with speech output to find what worked best for her.

Two images of a woman seated at a desk holding a tablet computer. On the left she is gesturing toward the screen with her index finder; on the right she is holding the display up for the photo and smiling.
Eliane Kleingeld with her AAC device.

Short-term device loans (or “trials”) are a service every State and Territory AT Act Program provides, in addition to guided demonstrations of equipment. Visitors, including the general public, come to discuss their goals, learn about AT, and borrow devices to find what works best for them in their own environments (work, home or school). Equipment loans help inform a future purchase and can also fill a short-term need (such as when an individual’s own equipment is out for repair). AT Act Programs demonstrate and loan devices to individuals of all ages, including children and seniors, and for all kinds of disabilities.

Eliane trialed SGDs with recommendations made by CIDE’s speech-language pathologist and with assistance from the Colorado AT Act Program. She concluded the Wego 7A by TalkToMeTechnologies was her best fit.

A 12 X 9 AAC display for the Wego 7A. Shows 9 dozen buttons including a QWERTY keyboard, buttons with single whole words, and other options.
The Wego 7A display.

The Wego is a tablet computer with a customizable (“dynamic”) display of options for creating messages and triggering pre-recorded messages. Pre-set word buttons help build novel responses quickly and are useful for initiating and supporting social interactions. The keyboard with word prediction allows for typing unique messages.

For more predictable interactions, Eliane has programmed buttons with pre-stored phrases that may be quickly selected to convey her personality and humor, and some for use with a job interview… her number one priority.

A Wego 7A with attached handle and legs for a stand. On the device speaker are the letters T T M T   S P K R.

Eliane used the Wego to obtain temporary employment with local food delivery services, and to communicate successfully with customers, staff, and her employers. In this way, she gained experience with it as she waited for the right nursing opportunity to come along.

About returning to her career, Eliane emphatically told clinic staff, “I can do everything I used to be able to do, except talk. I can do my job with this device.”

Recently this point was well-received. In July, after a successful interview using her pre-programmed Wego 7A, Eliane was offered a full-time position at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver!

Thank you, Eliane, for your dedication and essential service.

Find your State or Territory AT Act Program

More Resources:

Speech/Communication Assistive Technology – the What, When, Who, and Why (from the AT3 Center)

Assistive Technology Solutions for Employees with Speech Impairments (from the Job Accommodation Network)

Ideas for Employers and Employees (from the US Dept. of Labor for National Disability Employment Month)