Zygo-USA Optimist MMX-3 Specifications

Zygo-USA Optimist MMX-3 Specifications
A Discussion Paper on the
Convergence of Augmentative and
Alternative Communication (A.A.C.)
Devices & Portable Computers
Rebecca Gallio
Rehabilitation Engineer
Research & Development
Regency Park Rehabilitation Engineering
Ben Symonds
Rehabilitation Engineer
Research & Development
Regency Park Rehabilitation Engineering
Portable Computers with A.A.C. Software – Perceived Benefits
Current ‘Off-the-Shelf’ Laptop Based Communication Systems
Current ‘Off-the-Shelf’ P.D.A. Based Communication Systems
Custom Systems Used by C.C.A. Clients
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Problems Associated With Custom Systems
Laptop/ Tablet Computer Considerations
Custom Laptop Based Communication Systems
Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Appendix A Specifications – ‘Off-the-Shelf’ laptop/tablet based A.A.C. devices
Appendix B Specifications – Laptops
Appendix C Specifications – Tablets
Appendix D Things to consider when choosing a laptop for A.A.C.
Sandra Stewart & Sue van de Loo, June 1999
As computers become smaller, more powerful, more compact and portable, with longer
battery life, the desire to explore their use as a communication device with appropriate
software has become an area of interest. Computers are becoming integrated into
everyday life at school, work and in the home. They can be used for multiple tasks, such
as communication via email and Internet, word processing, an in depth source of
information and other forms of problem solving. It is perceived that the use of a laptop as a
communication device will provide greater independence to the user and provide the user
with other options in different environments without changing devices. It is also perceived
that the cost of setting up a custom system using a laptop and A.A.C. software is cheaper
then buying a communication device. This report will compare ‘off-the-shelf’ and
customised systems in order to see if this perception is true.
Another aim of this report will be to investigate the benefits associated with using portable
computers (laptops) as communication devices. Some of the current ‘off-the shelf’ laptop
based communication systems available on the market will be presented and some
associated advantages and disadvantages for each of these systems will be discussed.
There are three clients within C.C.A. (both child and adult services) who utilise a laptop
based communication system and have been using these relatively successfully. However,
these systems have experienced some problems and the related complications will be
briefly discussed.
To clarify the terminology used in the report, the following definitions are necessary:
‘Off-the-shelf’ systems refer to integrated, speech-generating devices that can be
purchased fully packaged with communication software, switch and joystick
interfaces, amplified audio, etc built into the one complete unit. They are devices
based on laptop technology and built on Windows or Mac operating systems, thus
providing access to standard P.C. (personal computer) software such as word
processing, Internet and email. An example ‘off-the-shelf’ system is the Mercury.
Custom systems refer to the use of a standard laptop (or tablet style) computer and
Windows or MAC operating system to set up a customised integrated system.
Features such as communication, environmental control and switch/joystick access
are enabled by connecting additional hardware and installing relevant software.
Thus this is a solution with the potential to achieve the same ultimate functionality
as an ‘off-the-shelf’ system, but can be customised to address specific needs.
Laptop – this term is used to describe a non-desktop or ‘portable’ computer.
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Portable Computers with A.A.C. Software – Perceived Benefits
There are many perceived benefits that have been outlined for the use of a portable
computer as an A.A.C. device. The main advantage is ready availability of many computer
functions without having to change devices (ie: multiple uses for a single system), however
there are many other perceived advantages including:
Integration of systems to easily move from communication software to other
software. In situations like the classroom this would be of great benefit, since the
user’s one piece of equipment can have multiple uses. For a student who can’t
write it may be beneficial to have a laptop to carry out word processing tasks in
the classroom. Use of a laptop that incorporates both A.A.C. and word processing
functions would remove the need to swap between separate devices.
Computers are perceived as more ‘normal’ or mainstream as opposed to
dedicated devices. Teachers and parents may be more willing to assist in the use
of the A.A.C. device if an integrated system is used as they are likely to find them
less ‘intimidating’ than dedicated communication devices.
An integrated system, which is reliable, durable and easily mounted, would save
time, money, and effort. More and more children are included in regular schools
and staff and peers intuitively understand computers better. This creates the
potential to increase the use of A.A.C. with a laptop and decrease the required
support and training.
Change over software as user’s needs change ⇒ more scope for change.
Computer games for users, which could develop a user’s functional and cognitive
Cost benefit ⇒ laptops are perceived to be cheaper than a dedicated A.A.C.
device, or ‘off the shelf’ system.
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Current ‘Off-the-Shelf’ Laptop Based Communication Systems
As the interest in using laptops for communication has increased various companies have
started to produce communication systems. A few of these are listed below with a brief
summary of their key features. Detailed specification sheets, including prices, for these
devices are included in Appendix A.
The Gemini is an A.A.C. device and Macintosh® tablet style computer.
This device will run communication software, educational software and
allows Internet access. It supports a variety of access methods, making
it adaptable to a variety of user needs. The standard package is preinstalled with Speaking Dynamically and Boardmaker from Mayer
Johnson. Other pre-installed software includes Microsoft Internet
Explorer, Microsoft Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator, Adobe
Acrobat Reader, QuickTime, AppleWorks, and America Online.
The Mercury is a “ruggedised” Windows XP tablet style computer that
has been designed for use as a communication device. It has a built in
touch screen, jacks for connecting access devices such as switches and
joysticks and improved speakers for communicating in noisy
environments. It can be loaded with windows compatible communication
software and provides Internet access. A universal remote control has
been built in to give the user environmental control capabilities. The built
in desk stand and mounting plate are compatible with C.J.T. Enterprises
(C.J.T.) and Daedalus Technologies (DaeSSy) mounting systems.
Optimist II
The Optimist II is an A.A.C. aid based on a hand-held tablet-size,
personal pen computer loaded with a Windows 98 operating system. It
incorporates a touch screen for direct selection and also provides switch
and joystick access. An audio amplifier module increases the volume
and clarity of output to assist speech in noisy environments. It can be
purchased with a variety of speech synthesis and A.A.C. packages
depending on the user’s specific needs.
Freedom 2000 Extreme toughbook
The 2000 Extreme Toughbook is a computer-based communication
system that has been built using the ‘ruggedised’ Panasonic Toughbook
as a platform. Ruggedised features include a removable hard drive
mounted in shock-absorbing gel and encased in stainless steel. It is
water and dust resistant and is protected by a tough magnesium case. It
comes pre-loaded with either E.Z. Keys or Talking Screen.
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Freedom 2000 toughbook
The Freedom 2000 Toughbook is again built using one of the
ruggedised Panasonic Toughbooks as a platform, but is not quite as
rugged as the Extreme Toughbook. It has a magnesium-alloy protected
L.C.D. display and shock-mounted components. It comes pre-loaded
with either E.Z. Keys or Talking Screen.
Current ‘Off-the-Shelf’ P.D.A. Based Communication Systems
There are also some communications systems on the market that use the window C.E.
environment allowing for a compact system that looks exactly like a personal digital
assistant (P.D.A.), but can be used for communication. These platforms are smaller and
lighter than laptop based systems, providing longer battery life. Two examples are given
Polyana is an A.A.C. aid based on a modified Windows C.E. device. The
Polyana also incorporates an audio amplifier to enhance the volume and
clarity of voice output.
Chat P.C. 2
Chat P.C. is built on the iPAQ palm-top computer with a specially
designed protective rubber cover and an additional audio amplifier. The
device has DecTalk speech output, recorded speech capabilities and
comes with over 3000 Mayer Johnson P.C.S. symbols. Users can also
be given access to Pocket versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and an
M.P.3. player.
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Custom Systems Used by C.C.A. Clients
Within the organisation, speech pathologists and occupational therapists have worked
together to produce some custom laptop systems for C.C.A. clients, which are successfully
being used for communication and schoolwork. The following cases briefly describe these
systems and some of the problems that have been encountered.
Case 1
Client background:
• 7 years old in a mainstream classroom.
• Athetoid Cerebral Palsy.
• Quadriplegia.
• Speech can be intelligible in context.
• Vision and hearing unaffected.
IBM platform (DELL Inspiron Computer).
Chosen for compatibility with school system.
Custom Designed mounting cradle and arm. To place laptop in view.
Discover switch.
Discover Switch was too bulky and needed
to be placed in a more compact box.
External speakers to improve volume.
External speakers needed to be placed on
the chair, as the built in speakers on the
laptop could not be heard over the noise in
the classroom.
Discover Switch
for P.C.
Ability to custom make scanning arrays.
Mouse emulation features more efficient than other available
Client had 3yrs prior experience with this.
Tool to assist with literacy skill development .
Simplified toolbar to facilitate independence with printing/saving/etc.
Word processor with synthesised voice output and a range of voices.
Availability of file storage gives access to pre-made stories.
Provision of word (and next word) prediction software, abbreviation
expansion and ability to learn the users vocabulary. These features
allow rate enhancement & savings in switch hits required.
Literacy support for spelling difficulty.
Talk mode allows toggling between word processing and voice
Provides a range of source dictionaries.
Write:outloud v.3.
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• The process of setting up a customised mounting cradle was a complex, timely
process and the mounting caused problems with wheelchair stability.
• Speakers were difficult to mount due to bulk, but were attached with Velcro to the
side of the chair.
Case 2
No client background.
This laptop system provides a means of communication and is also used for schoolwork
eg: written work. The computer is on for most of the day allowing for both response and
initiation of conversation. The wheelchair joystick is used to access the computer, using a
customised system. Using a switch the joystick can be toggled between computer and
driving mode. The computer screen needs to be lowered by an attendant to allow visibility
when driving. This means the lid is left slightly ajar to be able to see clearly when driving
but also to “speak” readily if required.
Toshiba Satellite Pro 480CDT IBM laptop
with external Floppy drive.
Customised wheelchair joystick to operate
Trackball Mouse
Able to toggle between driving and
computer mode with a single switch.
Used when joystick is not functioning
properly as there are sometimes problems
with the custom system.
Mounting system.
Clicker 3.
Dynavox .
Provides an on screen keyboard.
• Not enough memory for software needs.
• Computer has frequent breakdowns and screen freezes due to:
o Joystick mouse.
o Cable connections.
o Memory overloads.
• Dynavox sound must be manually switched on every time it is used.
• External floppy works inconsistently.
• Battery life not long enough.
• An attendant is required to plug in the cable.
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Due to the problems that were experienced, after three years of use a new laptop
integrated system is being produced. This system consists of some features from the old
system, some upgrades and some replacements. The new system incorporates:
IBM platform (DELL Latitude Computer).
Customised wheelchair joystick to operate
Mounting system.
Able to toggle between driving and
computer mode with a single switch.
This system is being carried over from the
past communication system.
Need to adapt the joystick to include right
mouse button.
Must be adapted to fit with new hardware.
Clicker 4.
Provides an on screen keyboard.
Allow use of any word processing program.
Upgrade to Clicker 3 used in previous system.
Familiarity with program.
Combines writing and communication software in the one
Has communication features not available in Dynavox.
No known clashes with other systems.
Eliminate software/soundcard clashes with clicker software.
Allow the use of one software program.
Speaking Dynamically
Case 3
(Price & Noble)
Client background:
• 36 year old male.
• Athetoid Cerebral Palsy.
• No speech.
• Some communication using facial expressions and gestures.
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IBM platform (Viewmaster Pentium 75
Mounting system.
Interface for use of wheelchair battery.
Mouse Keys box.
Help with accuracy in key selection.
Enables the laptop to be moved from side to
side as required.
The laptop must be charged with a mains
supply once a month to preserve the battery.
Mouse access.
E.Z.Keys for windows.
Chosen after consideration of physical access needs and
personal preferences.
Rate enhancement features.
“Side Talk” feature used for communication.
DECtalk Express
speech synthesiser.
• Mounting system needed to be redesigned to allow for better visibility when driving
and foam padding was added between the tray and the computer to decrease the
effect of vibrations.
• The computer is run off of the wheelchair battery and connected via a cable. This
wiring connection is vulnerable to damage and needs regular maintenance.
• The durability of the system has caused a problem; the cables are vulnerable to
damage but can be easily replaced. However, interference was reported on the
screen after about a year and needed to be replaced. Due to the high cost of this
replacement a new laptop was purchased instead.
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Problems Associated With Custom Systems
Discussions with therapists who have had experience setting up custom integrated
systems revealed several key issues that should be considered when considering laptops
for A.A.C. The following table gives a summary of these issues and offers some potential
solutions for each. These and other issues are discussed in greater detail on the
subsequent pages:
Identified key points to explore and
address when considering laptops
for A.A.C.
Potential solutions used in existing integrated
Durability of laptop computers –
standard laptops can be prone to harddrive, screen and port damage.
In other systems durability is addressed using
ruggedised computers, including the Panasonic
Toughbook, which will take more disruption then an
ordinary laptop. Pen-Tablet computers are also an option
as they are light, portable and durable. They also have
touch screens to allow easy access to the
communication software.
Fujitsu sell plastic screen protectors for their tablets and
soft cases that allow use of the device whilst in the
The problem of vibrations with mounting seems to be
remedied using a piece of foam (or other shock
absorbing materials) between the laptop and the tray,
stopping any damage caused by the vibrations of the
Adding battery powered speakers to increase volume
and improve sound quality. Companies like Gewa
manufacture mini amplifiers that can be attached to
increase volume.
A customised heavy duty lock in/easy release electronic
connector maybe a potential solution if it is necessary to
remove the tray and/or laptop regularly, this connector is
easy to both lock and release.
Laptops can be powered from the wheelchair battery
requiring connection from the wheelchair to the laptop
allowing the computer to run longer then its battery can.
Tablet PCs, such as the Fujitsu, provide the option for an
outdoor viewable reflective L.C.D. screen.
Fold-away mounts that allow a device to be swivelled out
of the way are available and accommodate most A.A.C.
devices, laptops and tablets, but are very expensive.
Switch adapted mouse or keyboards can allow a switch
user some access to standard laptop programs.
Some of the tablets offer programmable application
launch buttons.
Computer mounting, in particular
reducing and avoiding problems
caused by on-going vibrations, stability
of chair after adding the mounting
Volume and voice quality eg. In
classrooms or pubs where there is
background noise.
Wearing and breakdown of cables and
port damage due to cables being
connected and reconnected.
Battery life for laptops.
Visibility; when driving, when outdoors
in direct sunlight.
Access method.
Access to laptop programs.
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Laptop/ Tablet Computer Considerations
With the advancement of technology and the increased durability of commercial and
personal laptops, the use of computers for communication devices becomes an attractive
possibility. With the development of many different brands of tablet computers this
customised option becomes even more attractive providing increased portability getting
close to that of a dedicated communication device. However there are many points to
consider if attempting to replicate the functionality of the ‘off-the-shelf’ A.A.C. systems. A
few of these considerations are listed below, however it is strongly recommended that the
document “Things to Consider when choosing a laptop for A.A.C.” (Appendix D - written by
Sandra Stewart & Sue VanDeLoo) be read to gain a comprehensive understanding of the
required considerations. This document is slightly dated but nevertheless provides some
very useful information.
How will the user access their device?
If switch access is required then an additional switch interface (and possibly the necessary
software) must be purchased. Switch adapted mice or keyboards can also allow a switch
user some access to standard laptop programs. These options will result in extra hardware
that needs to be mounted and therefore additional cables. Thus you will have to consider
mounting of the switch interface as well as the computer and switches. For Words Plus
software the Micro CommPac is a device that provides a switch/joystick interface plus an
external amplifier for improved voice output. If using Sensory Software programs then you
might consider Gewa’s Mini Amplifier with Switch Interface. This product can also be
purchased with an in-built Gewa Prog module for P.C. based environmental control.
Many of the current tablets and some laptops provide programmable application launch
buttons, which may enable easier access to some of the standard windows applications,
without having to locate and select icons.
If the person is a keyboard user then it is not necessary to have a touchscreen (this could
save significantly on cost) – however, if it is foreseeable that a touchscreen might be
required in the future then it could be wise to purchase a tablet (i.e. Fujitsu Stylistic) or a
touchscreen laptop (i.e. Toughbook) to keep your options open.
Keyboard users are not ruled out from tablets as they generally allow connection of a
keyboard, but again this may introduce an extra cable. Bear in mind that keyboard and
mouse additions may decrease the portability of the system as well as the available room
on a wheelchair tray top. Tablets, such as the Compaq, have a removable keyboard that
provides the ability to change from tablet mode to notebook P.C. mode with relative ease.
The Toshiba and Acer tablets can be converted from tablet to notebook mode by simply
swivelling the screen (shown in Figure 1).
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Figure 1: Toshiba Tablet P.C.
What software is required?
There are many communication software products on the market such as:
• Speaking Dynamically Pro
• WiVox
• E.Z. Keys talking screen
• Write out loud
• Writing with symbols
• Winspeak
• Discover
• Win bag
• Dynavox
• Clicker 4
• The Grid
The above programs often have access options built into the software allowing clients to
use the program with switches or other access methods. These features are not always
included within the windows environment in which case it is difficult to use the Internet,
word processing and other windows software. In order to be able to obtain switch or
alternative access to windows software on a computer it will be necessary to use further
software, such as the Hands off program, E.Z. keys, Discover, or The Grid. This becomes
an additional cost in setting up the system and requires additional training for the clients.
How durable does it need to be?
If the user is rough on their equipment then the ‘ultimate’ rugged computers are the
Panasonic Toughbooks that are widely used for police and military applications. These
computers have been tested to military standards and can withstand rain, coffee spills and
heavy dust. The hard-drives are shock mounted so the laptop can withstand heavy
vibration and drops of 3 feet (see the Toughbook website for further details and
information http://www.panasonic.com/computer/toughbook/home.asp).
If you don’t require military standard, but still require a slightly more rugged system then
the Fujitsu Stylistic tablets may be acceptable. Pen Tablet Magazine (Walker, 2002)
suggest that “Fujitsu, who have been in the pen tablet business for a long time, have
learned through years of painful experience exactly where the weak points are in a tablet,
so their products tend to be more durable than average” (not even close to the
Toughbooks however). They utilise a magnesium case and shock mounted hard-drive to
achieve an increased durability. The Fujitsu has been widely used as an A.A.C. device and
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is the basis of some systems put together by Gus Communications, so it has quite a
documented track record.
Figure 2: Panasonic Toughbook. (Picture from http://www.panasonic.ca/English/Office/notebook/ruggedfeatures.asp accessed 12/5/2004)
If durability is not a major consideration for a given client, then the purchase of a standard,
non-durable laptop would offer quite a large cost saving. Care needs to be taken if this
direction is followed – if you get it wrong and the laptop breaks down do to an issue like
hard-drive damage then the user may be without the device for long periods. Worse still, if
the device is particularly badly damaged, the whole process of purchasing and setting up a
laptop system may have to be repeated.
What technical support is available?
If the system fails then it may severely impede the user’s ability to carry out their day-today tasks. Thus, it is important to investigate the level of support available to minimise
downtime. For example, both Dell and Compaq provide 24x7 telephone technical support
within the warranty period, and lifetime or ‘limitless’ warranty’s can be purchased.
What are the user’s needs?
This includes present and future needs. For example, if the laptop is going to be used to
control an E.C.U. (environmental control unit), such as the GEWA Prog III, then it must
provide an R.S.232 serial port, which some of the tablet computers do not provide.
Similarly, some switch boxes require a P.S.2 port, which is not necessarily provided on
newer P.C.s Thus it is important to consider the devices that will/may be interfaced to the
computer and ensure the chosen product can support all required hardware.
What is the sound like? Are additional amplifiers or speakers required?
Generally the standard speakers on a laptop/tablet computer will be inadequate for
communicating in all but the quietest environments. Addition of speakers is a simple
option, but will again contribute more cables, possibly take up tray top space, and
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introduce further mounting complications. Another option is to use a device such as the
Micro CommPac or Gewa Mini Amplifier. The GEWA amplifier (available through ZYGO)
comes in three different models; (1) with only amplifier, (2) with both amplifier and
possibility to connect switches and (3) including amplifier, connection for switches and a
built in IR-transmitter for environmental control.
Figure 3: GEWA Mini Amplifier. (Picture from http://www.gewa.se/svensk/laddahem/Manualer/809060.pdf, accessed 12/5/2004)
If intending to use the standard laptop speakers it pays to listen to and compare brands, as
there can be a substantial difference in the quality and volume of output. The Compaq
laptops for example provide superior audio features (volume and quality) to many others
and this may be adequate for some communication purposes.
How often do they use the device? How long must it be turned on? What power
sources are available?
Most laptop computers have a battery life of only 2 to 4.5 hours but, as with sound, it pays
to compare brands. For example, the Compaq Evo N620c notebook claims up to 6 hours
of battery life (10 with an additional battery), which is double that of the Dell Performance
Latitude C840, which only claims 2½ -3 hours. Bear in mind that this stated battery life is
the maximum, and in reality will always be less.
Users who require extended use will need to use either a mains supply or, if available, a
wheelchair battery. Use of the wheelchair battery will require a wheelchair power adaptor
(this is integrated with the Mercury system) and the drawback is that it reduces the drive
time of the wheelchair. If this is an issue then it may be necessary to add an additional
power pack to supply the laptop. Most laptop manufacturers offer an optional automobile
battery adaptor at an additional cost (Compaq is $135), but be aware that this requires a
12-volt input, whereas wheelchair batteries will generally provide 24 volts. A custom laptop
power supply, that converts a 24-volt wheelchair supply to the required laptop input
voltage, can be purchased for around $200, and this is probably the best option to pursue
if powering directly from a wheelchair.
What issues arise concerning mounting?
Most ‘off the shelf’ A.A.C. devices have a mounting plate attached, however the need to
buy compatible mounting systems can elevate the cost of mounting the device on a
wheelchair. If the communication device is going to be tray mounted then it is often
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possible to mount a laptop for significantly less than an ‘off the shelf’ A.A.C. device
(approximately $500 vs $900). However, mounting the communication device on the flip
up tray of a manual wheelchair will compromise stability and thus more complex
assemblies, such as the Daessy mounts, may have to be employed. If this is the case, the
cost of mounting a laptop/tablet may be significantly elevated above that of an ‘off the
shelf’ device. Thus there are advantages and disadvantages for either option and
ultimately the cost of mounting is going to vary depending on the type of wheelchair, the
mounting position, the type of device, etc.
There are many variations in mounting needs that have not been discussed, as it can
become a very complex issue. It will be necessary to assess specific mounting needs and
then consult a mobility and seating specialist and an engineer to determine the mounting
issues for each specific case. In short, mounting of both a custom laptop/tablet and an ‘off
the shelf’ system will involve specialist input and neither can be considered more cost
effective than the other (the cost can only be assessed on a case by case basis).
Who will implement the integrated system?
If intending to set up an integrated system with a laptop/tablet then it will require someone
with the relevant technical expertise. This will be an added expense and may bring the
ultimate cost of implementation in line with the ‘off-the-shelf’ products, depending on the
complexity of the system. This factor may rule out a laptop solution for many cases, unless
someone involved is willing or available to offer their technical expertise at little or no cost.
Thus the issue of who will implement the system (and at what cost) must be clarified
before making the decision to embark on such a project.
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Custom Laptop Based Communication Systems
There are countless options available if intending to set up communication software on a
laptop or tablet P.C. The following options are simply an illustration of potential systems,
and their cost using 4 different laptop/tablet P.C.s; the Fujitsu Stylistic Tablet, Compaq
Tablet, Panasonic Toughbook laptop and Dell Inspiron laptop (the stated prices are as
advertised in April 2004). The final decision will of course be governed by the specific
needs of a given user. In any of the examples given below, the laptop/tablet shown could
be exchanged with another, as long as the chosen P.C. has adequate memory to run the
software (check with the software distributor), and it provides the necessary ports for
connection of peripherals, such as the E.C.U. and switch interface. For example, the
Fujitsu Stylistic 3500 is the only tablet of those shown that provides a serial port, which is
required for the Prog III. The choice of laptop/tablet may, of course, increase or decrease
the total final cost, but the aim is to select the most suitable P.C. for the intended user
(make sure you have read “Things to consider when choosing a laptop for A.A.C.”).
Three of the examples shown utilize touch-screen P.C.s, however if this is not a required
feature then the cost may be lowered by purchasing a standard screen laptop. If E.C.U. is
to be controlled with the P.C. alone then it is possible to purchase a Prog III without
keypad function (reducing the cost by ~$200).
The final point regarding this cost analysis is that the additional cost of actually setting up
and implementing the given systems cannot be factored in. As mentioned previously, this
cost will vary depending on the complexity of the system and the availability of a willing
participant. The time of engineering, therapy and IT professionals can be a costly resource
that may contribute significantly to the total cost of the system.
Example 1
Laptop/Tablet + Speaking Dynamically Pro + Switch Interface + E.C.U. + Speakers
• Speaking Dynamically Pro and Boardmaker (requires a mouse/keyboard switch
interface) - $1178.
• Clicker U.S.B. switch interface - $299.
• Prog III (with keypad) and cable kit - $1072.
• P.C. speakers - ~$30.
• Wheelchair battery power converter (not shown) - $200.
Total cost
Fujitsu Stylistic 3500
Panasonic Toughbook
73 ($5899).
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Dell Inspiron 600M
*Fujitsu Stylistic 3500 shown below. (Picture from http://www.infocater.com/stylistic3500.shtml accessed on 12/5/2004)
Example 2
Laptop/Tablet + Speaking Dynamically Pro + Switch Interface
(If you don’t need E.C.U. and your chosen P.C.’s built in speakers are adequate).
• Speaking Dynamically Pro and Boardmaker (requires a mouse/keyboard switch
interface) - $1178.
• Clicker U.S.B. switch interface - $299.
• Wheelchair battery power converter (not shown) - $200.
Fujitsu Stylistic
3500 ($6000).
Total cost
Toughbook 73
Dell Inspiron
600M ($2098).
Compaq Tablet
P.C. ($2575).
*Compaq Tablet shown below. (Picture from www.tablet-central.com/ compaq_pcs.htm, accessed on 12/5/2004)
Example 3
Laptop/Tablet + E.Z. keys + Micro CommPac + E.C.U.
• E.Z. keys with Micro CommPac and DECtalk - $4770.
• Prog III(with keypad) and cable kit - $1072.
• Wheelchair battery power converter (not shown) - $200.
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Total cost
Fujitsu Stylistic 3500
Panasonic Toughbook
73 ($5899)
Dell Inspiron 600M
*Panasonic Toughbook 73 shown below. (Picture from http://www.smoothroad.com/products/toughbook/p73.asp accessed 12/5/2004)
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If we consider the combined cost of hardware and software, a custom laptop system may
appear to be significantly less expensive than an ‘off-the-shelf’ device. A custom system
also offers the cost advantage of not always including additional (and sometimes
unnecessary) functions, such as E.C.U., which are integrated into the ‘off-the-shelf’
packages. However, these “extras” that ‘off the shelf’ solutions offer may be considered an
An advantage that ‘off-the-shelf’ systems have is that they come with pre-installed
hardware and communication software, and therefore the customer receives a complete
product that should work and interface seamlessly in the given configuration. With a
custom laptop system there may be initial teething problems whilst getting the system up
and running (this is not to say that an ‘off-the-shelf’ system won’t have its share of
problems). This raises the question as to who will actually get the system up and running.
As already mentioned, the expense involved with getting a suitably qualified professional
to implement the system could elevate the cost of a custom system to be on par with the
‘off-the-shelf’ systems. This also raises the issue of hardware/software support and who
will provide such support. An ‘off-the-shelf’ device carries with it the warranties and support
of the manufacturer, to some extent.
Care must be taken if you intend to purchase an ‘off-the-shelf’ system, as some of the
products do not appear to offer any advantage over a custom made system. This appears
to be the case for a few laptop systems more so than tablet systems, however this may
change as tablets gain popularity in the mainstream market, thus reducing their cost. The
Freedom Toughbooks are an example where an equivalent custom system could be put
together, for a significant cost saving, without compromising any function. Of course this
assumes that whoever puts the system together and installs the software is experienced
and capable of setting up such a system.
If a fully integrated tablet style system including E.C.U., switch access, joystick access, etc
is required then the Mercury (or similar) would be a wise choice. The ‘off-the-shelf’ device
minimises the number of cables and connections by integrating hardware such as switch
interfaces, wheelchair power adaptor and E.C.U. into the package, thus improving the
long-term reliability of the overall system. If funding is available for the ‘off-the-shelf’
device then there seems no reason to attempt to replicate the system. However this
document has shown that if cost is an issue then it may be possible to construct an
equivalent, cost-effective system. Sacrificing features such as durability and touchscreens,
if they are not deemed necessary, can reduce the overall cost of the system, but it would
be advisable to exercise some caution in pursuing this alternative.
One big unknown is the cost of mounting either a laptop/tablet or commercial A.A.C.
device and this could easily contribute anywhere from $500 to over $1000 to the total bill.
If intending to set up a custom laptop or tablet based A.A.C. device the most important
Page 18 of 27
point is to ensure that you have explored all the information available. Make sure you
understand all the potential issues and problems and have discussed the idea with a
suitably experienced professional. Investing time in the ‘research’ phase will ultimately
save time and money in the end, by increasing the chances of a suitable system with
favourable outcomes for the intended user.
Page 19 of 27
Price, L. & Noble, G., “Using a Laptop Computer as a Communication device”.
Stewart, S. & van de Loo, S., “Things to Consider when Choosing a Laptop for A.A.C.”,
June 1999.
Walker, G., 2002, “How to select a Tablet P.C.”, Pen Computing Magazine, December
2002 Issue, http://www.pencomputing.com/frames/textblock_tpc_select.html
Assistive Technology, Inc - Assistive Technology, Inc. provide innovative software and
hardware solutions, such as the Mercury and Gemini A.A.C. devices, for people with
special needs. http://www.assistivetech.com/prod-index.htm
Compaq/HP online store – detailed specifications and prices for Compaq and H.P. P.C.’s,
Dell homepage, http://www1.ap.dell.com/content/default.aspx?c=au&l=en&s=gen
GEWA - speech aids, computer adaptations, telephone aids and remote controls adapted
for different types of housing environments.
Gus Communications – this company sell a variety of windows based speech products.
They have packaged systems using the Fujitsu Stylistic, Panasonic Toughbook and
their own Communicator 35 & 25. http://www.gusinc.com/complete.html
Panasonic Toughbooks homepage – this gives detailed specifications on the
Toughbook range. It also explains the ruggedised features and the durability testing.
Toshiba homepage, http://www.toshiba.com.au/
Words Plus – This gives information on the Freedom 2000 Toughbook A.A.C. devices.
Z.D.Net Australia – 5 Tablet P.C.s tested. This page reviews and compares the Acer,
Toshiba, Fujitsu, Viewsonics and Compaq tablets.
Zygo Industries – For information about the Optimist A.A.C. device. Zygo Australia
specialises in electronic communication devices and technical aids for people with
disabilities to assist with independence in daily tasks.http://www.zygo-usa.com/index.html
Page 20 of 27
Appendix A Specifications – ‘Off-the-Shelf’ laptop/tablet based A.A.C. devices
Operating system
Dimensions (w x h x
Battery life
Freedom 2000
Extreme Toughbook
(based on toughbook
Assistive Technology
400 MHz Intel®
Windows® X.P.
Assistive Technology
Mac OS 9.1
Pentium M.M.X.
Intel Pentium III
Windows XP
Windows XP
305 x 232 x 44 mm
345 x 292 x 46 mm
296 x 222 x 36 mm
300 x 292 x 95 mm
325 x 285 x 76 mm
Lithium Ion
Lithium Ion
Lithium Ion
Lithium Ion
Lithium Ion
4hrs continuous
4hrs continuous
4hrs continuous
4.5hrs continuous
3hrs continuous
• U.S.B. port
• Switch(es)
• Wheelchair/joystick
• U.S.B. port
• Headphone jack
• External speaker
• Switch(es)
• Wheelchair/joystick
• Modem
• Ethernet Port
• FireWire Port
• Floppy disk drive
• P.S./2
keyboard/mouse port
• Serial port
• U.S.B. port
• External microphone
and earphone jacks
• I.R.D.A. Infrared port
• Infrared 4Mbps IrDA
• Serial, D-sub 9 pin
• Parallel, D-sub 25 pin
• Keyboard/Mouse
Mini DIN 6 pin
• U.S.B. 4 pin
• Port replicator, 80 pin
mini-jack stereo
• Microphone/line in
256 MB RAM
32 MB SDRAM, 4.1GB
Hard disk
Hard drive
Sound Blaster Pro
compatible. Audio
amplifier/speaker pack
ESS Allegro ES1988S
audio controller
Page 21 of 27
Freedom 2000
Toughbook (based on
toughbook 50)
Words +
Intel Pentium IV 4GHz
• Serial, D-sub 9 pin
• Parallel, D-sub 25
• External video, Dsub 15 pin
• External
keyboard/mouse, MiniDin 6 pin
• 2 U.S.B. ports
• Port replicator,
dedicated 100 pin
• Headphones/speaker
• Microphone/line in
Mini-jack Stereo
• I.E.E.E. 1394
(Firewire) 4 pin
(expand to 768MB),
40GB Hard drive
ESS ES 1988 Allegro
P.C. Audio controller.
Integrated stereo
Communicator 35
Gus Communications
Pentium III 600MHz
Windows 98
331 x 293 x 47
Lithium Ion
40mins (4hrs
additional battery)
Optional external
C.D. ROM/floppy
- PS/2 keyboard port
- PS/2 Mouse port
- D.C. input
- 2 U.S.B. ports
- I.R. (infrared) port
- I.E.E.E. 1394 Port
- Docking Station Port
( 160-Pin )
- ( Optional ) RJ-45 x 1
for 10/100 Base-T
- ( Optional ) RJ-11 x 1
for 56K Fax Modem,
P.C.I. interface
- MIC-In Port
- Ear Phone Out Port
128MB (max 320MB)
-Built-in PCI 3D Audio
-Full duplex support
Freedom 2000
Extreme Toughbook
(based on toughbook
Freedom 2000
Toughbook (based on
toughbook 50)
speakers. Keyboard
volume control
Speech Output
Speech Storage
* Where price has been
Dynamically™ Pro and
Record speech and
sounds with the built-in
microphone or 3
Microsoft voices
Touchscreen, switch,
joystick, speech, onscreen keyboard,
external keyboard and
mouse or alternative
Built-in, preprogrammed signals
for most brands of
T.V’s, V.C.R’s, etc
Speaking Dynamically
Pro, MacinTalk Pro
Winspeak with
Record speech &
sounds with U.S.B.
Switch input, touchscreen, keyboard,
mouse, joystick,
Switches, joystick,
trackball or adapted
mouse, an adaptive
keyboard, voice
recognition or the builtin touch screen
Full magnesium alloy
case. Hard drive
mounted in shockabsorbing gel and
stainless steel case.
Screen is spill and dust
LCD panel. Fiberglassreinforced lower case.
Shock-mounted hard
Talking screen, E.Z.Keys
Talking screen, E.Z.Keys
Micro CommPac with
Eloquence or DecTalk
Micro CommPac with
Keyboard, mouse,
headmouse, switch
access, joystick, Morse
code, touchscreen
Keyboard, mouse,
headmouse, switch
access, joystick,
Morse code,
Communicator 35
-Built-in stereo
Operating : 15g, 11
ms, half sine wave
Non-operating : 70g,
Drop: 3 Feet to
concrete surface.
Dynamically™ Pro and
Wireless keyboard,
mouse, touch-screen.
Option for built-in
environmental control
converted from US to
Australian dollars the
conversion rate used was
1.356. The actual price in
Australia is unknown so this
is only an approximation.
Page 22 of 27
Appendix B Specifications – Laptops
Compaq Evo Notebook
Operating System
Intel Pentium IV M
Microsoft Windows XP
Professional or Microsoft
Windows 2000.
14.1-inch color TFT SXGA+
with 1400 x 1050 resolution
Dimensions , weight
Battery life
31 x 307 x 250
Up to 6 hours or up to 10
hours with the optional
MultiBay battery.
System storage memory
256-MB 266-MHz SDRAM
DVD/CD-RW Combo Drive
Optional floppy
• Keyboard, Touch pad
• Point-stick
• Mouse
• 4 programmable Easy
Access Buttons to provide
one-touch access to
programs/internet, …
Panasonic Toughbook
Panasonic Toughbook
Panasonic Toughbook
DELL Inspiron 600M
Mobile Intel® Pentium® III
Mobile Intel® Pentium® III
Mobile Intel® Pentium® III
Mobile Intel® Pentium® III
Microsoft® Windows® NT
4.0 & 2000
Microsoft® Windows® 2000
and XP professional
Microsoft® Windows® 98SE
Microsoft® Windows® XP
Professional or Home
13.3" 1024x768 (XGA) antireflective, sunlight-readable
TFT Active Matrix Color LCD
with Touchscreen
14.1" 1024 x 768 (XGA) TFT
Active Matrix Color LCD
14.1" XGA display
3.39 kg
3.5 to 5.5 hours
Up to 3.5 hours
256MB SDRAM expandable
to 768MB
128MB SDRAM expandable
to 384 MB
20-30GB HDD
Floppy disc Drive (FDD)
• DVD/CD-RW Combo drive
• 40GB removable HDD
• Floppy
• Keyboard
• Touch pad
• Mouse
• Keyboard
• Touch pad
• Track stick
• Mouse
13.3" 1024 x 768 (XGA)
transmissive, anti-reflective,
outdoor-viewable TFT Active
Matrix Color LCD with or
without Touchscreen or 12.1"
800 x 600 (SVGA)
transflective, sunlightreadable TFT Active Matrix
Color LCD with or without
Up to 4.0 hours (with first
battery), up to 10 hours (with
second battery)
256MB SDRAM expandable
to 512MB
FDD Media bay
Media Bay also accepts:
• SuperDisk drive
• CD-RW+DVD Combo
• Keyboard
• Pressure sensitive
• Pressure sensitive screen
• Touch pad
• Touch screen
• Keyboard
• Pressure sensitive
• Touch screen LCD
Page 23 of 27
Compaq Evo Notebook
• MultiPort
• P.C. Card 2 Type II/1 Type
• Enhanced Parallel
• Serial Port
• S-video TV-out connector
• External Monitor
• PS/2 External
• Keyboard/Pointing Device
• Docking Connector
• Headphone/Line-out
• Microphone/Line- in
• R.J.-11 (modem)
• R.J.-45 (NIC)
• Infrared Port
• 2 U.S.B. Port (U.S.B. 2.0)
Compaq Premier·Sound™
enhanced stereo audio
system. Integrated 16-bit
stereo audio
Price (AU$)
Panasonic Toughbook
Panasonic Toughbook
Panasonic Toughbook
• U.S.B.
• I.R. Port
• Serial
• Parallel
• External keyboard/mouse
• Port Replicator
• Line in/line out mini jack
• External video
• Modem
• U.S.B.
• Serial
• Line in/line out jack
• Port replicator socket
• 10/100 RJ-45 LAN
• Intel Pro/Wireless 2100
network connection
• Modem
• Headphones/speaker
• External video
• 2xU.S.B. ports
• Serial
• Parallel
• External video
• Line in/line out mini-jack
Integrated stereo speakers
Keyboard volume controls
Integrated stereo speakers
Keyboard volume controls
Integrated Stereo speakers
Keyboard volume controls
• Magnesium alloy case
• Moisture-resistant casing
• Dust-resistant L.C.D.,
keyboard & touchpad
• Sealed port and connector
• H.D.D. in shock-absorbing
• Flex connectors between
major components
• Magnesium alloy case
• Moisture and dustresistant L.C.D., keyboard &
• Sealed port and connector
• H.D.D. in shock-absorbing
• Flex connectors between
major components
Page 24 of 27
DELL Inspiron 600M
• Serial
• Parallel
• 2xU.S.B.
• Infrared
• S-Video
• Video 15pin monitor
• Modem -R.J.-11
• Ethernet - R.J.-45
• Audio line out/line in
• Microphone
Integrated Stereo speakers
• Magnesium alloy case
• Shock mounter H.D.D.
• Flex connectors between
major components
Appendix C Specifications – Tablets
Acer Travel Mate
• Spill test
• Drop test
• Shock test
• L.C.D. scratch
Fujitsu Stylistic
LT P-600
• Internal
magnesium frame
• Additional case
• Special plastic
and special resins
• Optional harsh
Case (HEC)
• Shock mounted
hard drive
Fujitsu Stylistic
• Internal
magnesium frame
• Additional case
• Special plastic
and special resins
• Optional HEC
• Shock mounted
hard drive
Fujitsu Stylistic
Magnesium alloy
lower case
protection over
plastic casings
found on other
Tablet P.C’s. In
addition, the hard
disk drive is shockmounted to protect
your data
Compaq Tablet
PC TC1000
• outer shell is a
combination of
magnesium alloy,
polymer, and
10.4" TFT LCD
Simultaneous LCD
and CRT display
transflective SVGA
TFT panel that you
can use indoors
and outdoors.
(You can adjust
the backlighting in
eight levels.)
10.4" XGA TFT,
indoor viewable
(active) digitizer
10.4-inch color
TFT XGA with
1024 x 768
12.1” Poly-silicon
TFT Color LCD;
Mobile Intel®
Pentium® III
Intel Pentium® III
10.4-inch, 1,024by-768
display, meant
primarily for indoor
viewing. (You can
opt for a 10.4-inch
reflective panel for
outdoor viewing.)
Intel Celeron
1GHz Transmeta
Crusoe 5800
1.33GHz Pentium
Sys tem storage
External U.S.B.
128MB or 256MB
External FDD
External CD-ROM
64MB, 128MB or
External FDD
External CD-ROM
Mobile Intel®
Pentium® III
800MHz - M
256MB onboard,;
upgrade to 256MB
or 512MB
max to 768MB
30-60GB HDD
Standard 256 MB
(133-MHz) SDRAM
Page 25 of 27
30GB removable
Toshiba Portege
Toughbook 18
• Designed using
test procedures
• Full magnesium
alloy case
• Moisture- and
L.C.D. keyboard
and touchpad
• Sealed port and
connector covers
• Shock-mounted
• Rugged hinge
• Vibration and
resistant design
10.4'' 1024 x 768
transmissive, antireflective, outdoorviewable TFT
Active Matrix Color
LCD with Digitizer
Ultra Low Voltage
Intel® Pentium® M
(DDR) standard,
expandable to
Additional Ports
Acer Travel Mate
Audio system with
built in speaker
Fujitsu Stylistic
LT P-600
Sound Blaster®
Built in speaker
and microphone
Microphone and
headphone jacks
Fujitsu Stylistic
Sound Blaster®
Microphone and
headphone jacks
Fujitsu Stylistic
STAC9767 with
wavetable, 3D
effect, and 3D
positioning; Dolby®
Utility to emulate
realistic surround
sound using
headphones on
models; built-in
Compaq Tablet
PC TC1000
Sound™ for
enhanced stereo
16-bit Sound
Blaster Procompatible stereo
audio 2 integrated
speakers and
External volume
-2xU.S.B. ports
-Ethernet port
-Modem port
-Video port
-IR Port
-Line in/line out jack
-IEEE 1394 port
-DC-in Jack
-Microphone jack
-Headphone jack
-Modem jack
-IrDA Wireless IR
Keyboard port
-Docking contacts
-Type II PC card slot
/Headphone jack
-Modem jack
-IrDA 1.1
-IR Keyboard port
-Serial port
-Floppy disc drive
-DC-in jack
-PC Card Slot
-Compact Flash Slot
-External Monitor
-Stereo Headphone
-Microphone in
-U.S.B. 2.0 Port
-LED Status
-AC Power
• Docking
• PS/2 mouse and
keyboard ports
• U.S.B.
• Serial port
• Ethernet jack
• Parallel port
• Video port
• Docking
• Type III PC card
• PS/2 mouse and
keyboard ports
• U.S.B.
• Serial port
• Parallel port
2 U.S.B. 1.1 ports
Infrared port (IrDA
1.1-compatible, 4
External monitor
Modem (RJ-11) jack
Ethernet (RJ-45)
IEEE 1394
connector (firewire)
Wireless IR
keyboard receiver
System interface
microphone, and
stereo line-in jacks.
Tablet Dock
provides connectivity
to: RJ-45 port for
10/100 Mb Ethernet,
external monitor, 3
U.S.B. ports, IEEE
1394 port, Line-out,
DC-input power, and
either a modular
Page 26 of 27
Docking Station has
four U.S.B. 2.0 ports,
a VGA port
Toshiba Portege
•Ali M1535
integrated software
•16-bit stereo with
built-in speaker and
•Direct 3D Sound;
DirectSound and
DirectMusic; Full
Duplex and
MIDI support
•Sound Volume dial
•Microphone port,
headphone port
-RGB (monitor) port
-2 Universal Serial
Bus (U.S.B.) 2.0
-RJ-45 LAN port
-RJ-11 modem port
Toughbook 18
Integrated stereo
Keyboard volume
Network Interface
External Video
-D-sub 15
U.S.B. 2.0 (x2)
-4 pin
-Mini-jack Stereo
Microphone/Line In
-Mini-jack Mono
Acer Travel Mate
Fujitsu Stylistic
LT P-600
Fujitsu Stylistic
Fujitsu Stylistic
• Floppy disc drive
• Floppy disc drive
• Stereo line out jack
Windows® 98SE
® 2000 pro,
Windows NT
Workstation 4.0
Touch screen
Docking station
Toshiba Portege
Toughbook 18
Windows® XP
Tablet PC Edition
Windows. XP
Tablet PC Edition
Windows. XP
Tablet PC Edition
Windows® XP
Tablet PC Edition
- Touchscreen pen
- 4 user
application launch
The Compaq
Tablet PC TC1000
comes with
Command Control
Buttons providing
one-touch access..
3 programmable
pen activated
3 programmable
side buttons
-Toshiba Tablet
Pen with hovering
-4 Hardware
Buttons: Windows
Security Button,
PageDown**, and
295 x 234 X 33
272 x 216 x 48
Windows® XP
Tablet PC Edition
Windows® 98SE
Windows® 2000
• Fine touch
• Touch pad
• EMR stylus
• Internet scroll
• Easy launch
• Embedded
numeric keypad
Docking station
251 x 208 x 25.4
1.4 kg
244 x 160 x 28
280 x 215 x 27
301 x 220 x 22
Price (AU$)
Compaq Tablet
PC TC1000
- Wireless
- Wireless mouse
- U.S.B. keyboard
Page 27 of 27
Appendix D Things to consider when choosing a laptop for A.A.C.
Sandra Stewart & Sue van de Loo, June 1999
Define goals.
Define the student’s needs and goals.
(for communication, computer access and environmental control).
i.e.: what are the specific communication tasks the student must perform in order to
function in particular environments?
Consider the communication partners and the communication environments.
Communication environments may include social time, play time, car, shopping etc.
Consider whether a communication system based on a laptop computer will meet
the student’s communicative needs.
What are the student’s communicative needs versus software access needs?
What proportion of time is required for each task?
Young students do not normally spend very much time using computer software each day.
Their communicative needs are present throughout all of their waking hours even when
they are using computer software.
Computing generally forms only a small part of student’s learning in the first few years of
Early school learning is primarily communicative, social and activity based.
Consider whether the student will have access to a computer already within their home,
school and other environments.
Why is an integrated system required?
What benefits does the integrated system offer over a dedicated communication system
with wireless computer access?
If the integrated system stops working the student looses access to everything.
What will the backup plan be?
Powering the laptop.
How will the laptop be powered?
Can it run off the wheelchair battery?
How long will the wheelchair battery last with driving and communicative demands?
What happens when the wheelchair battery goes flat?
Does the laptop have a car charger socket (cigarette lighter) to connect the wheelchair
battery to?
How reliable is it to charge the battery this way?
What cables are required? Will they get in the way?
If the laptop goes flat the student will not be able to access software or communicate.
Can the battery be hot swapped?
Can the user access AC power in the classroom without causing an OHS&W hazard?
Page 28 of 27
Opening and closing the lid.
Can the student do this independently?
How will this impact on communication? eg. dependency, time, effort
Will the lid form a barrier to communication?
Will the lid form a barrier to wheelchair driving?
Is the lid durable enough for the environments it will be exposed to?
If you close the lid does the computer shutdown?
Turning the laptop on.
Where is the on/off switch?
Can the student turn the laptop on/off independently?
How will this impact on communication? eg. dependency, time, effort
Can it be made accessible?
Start-up time.
How long does the computer take to boot up?
This is time the student must wait before communicating.
How long does the communication program take to start up?
Can the communication program be placed in the start up menu?
Will the student be able to get into the communication program independently?
Does the computer have a resume feature?
How long does the resume feature take to return to the program?
Can the time before the device goes to sleep be adjusted so the user can communicate
whenever they want?
If so, how will this affect the battery life? (adjust screen saver settings)
Switch Connection/ Joystick.
Does the computer have a serial port?
Does the software use the serial port?
Is a PS-2 mouse driver required?
Are 2 serial ports required?
What port is required for a joystick? Have allowances been made for this?
If one joystick is required what is involved in toggling between wheelchair driving and
Will an E.C.U. be required?
What port will the E.C.U. use?
What RAM is required to allow other software to be used while the communication
software is minimised for ready access?
How will the speed of the communication software be affected by the other software?
What RAM is required to run the on screen keyboard?
What RAM is required to run the word processor, CD etc?
What RAM will be necessary for future use/growth/new programs etc?
Page 29 of 27
Access to the computer software.
How will the student access the computer software?
If the student is using alternate access an on-screen keyboard may be required.
Is an on screen keyboard compatible with the communication program?
If so, which one?
How flexible is the on screen keyboard?
Will it allow the alphabet to be introduced gradually?
Can the layout be customised to suit the access technique and the particular
program they are accessing?
Can symbols be used for preliterate students?
Can you launch the computer programs from the communication software?
Can you return from the computer program to the communication software?
Can the user load/unload CDs/floppy discs independently?
How is the software loaded?
Does the laptop have floppy and CD access?
Screen requirements.
Does the laptop have an active screen?
An active screen is required for facilitators, otherwise they need to stand directly
behind the student while assisting them to learn their access technique and
communication software.
Laptop screens are difficult to position optimally and can be fatiguing and/or lead to
neck/eye strain for the student, especially as they get taller.
Can the student see the screen in various lighting conditions, including outside?
What is the maximum volume of the laptop for the communication software?
Is this adequate for noisy environments such as the classroom, playground,
shopping centres?
Is an external speaker required?
Which speakers are compatible?
How will the speaker be powered? Will this affect portability?
Where will the speakers be mounted?
Is auditory scanning available?
If so can synthesised prompts play through a private speaker?
Is a printer required? If so, for what purposes?
Who will fund the printer?
What environments will the printer be required?
NB. It is likely the printer will not be easily portable
Can the user use the printer independently eg. Load paper, fix jams etc?
Page 30 of 27
What is the history, proven compatibility and reliability of the chosen software to be
installed on the computer?
Will they perform the required functions to meet the student’s needs?
Is any proposed E.C.U. compatible with the other software?
Can the software drive the E.C.U.? NB. Additional hardware may be required.
Other considerations.
What size screen, keyboard is required?
What windows operating system is required for the communication software and for the
other programs?
Note: Win NT and now Win 2000 will be problematic for all disability/access
Is a CD drive required? If so, consider a built in CD rather than a connectable one.
Environmental Issues.
How will the unit, cables and peripherals be protected from saliva, rain, drinks, dust, paint,
sand etc?
What damage are these likely to cause a laptop?
If a switch skin (clear protector) is used over the screen itself what impact will this have on
visual clarity for the user?
Who will fund these protective devices?
What positions/equipment is the student in throughout the day/night?
How will the laptop be mounted/positioned to allow access?
How much of the day/night will the student be able to access the laptop for
Can a mounting plate be attached to the laptop?
Does the student require their wheelchair tray for other purposes eg. Reading books,
interacting with peers, doing craft, mealtimes? Can the laptop be mounted out of the way?
Does the student need the tray off for activities such as group participation, sand play,
gastrostomy feeds etc? Can the laptop be accessed without the tray on?
How easily can the laptop be removed (especially in emergency situations)?
How easily can the mount be removed?
What cables will run from the laptop eg to the joystick, to the wheelchair battery, to the
speaker, to the CD drive/disk drive, to the printer?
How will these affect transfers?
How often is the student transferred for toileting, position changes, transport etc?
What will happen for emergency access/resuscitation?
How will the weight of the laptop and the mount affect wheelchair stability?
How will the laptop and mount be transported in the car/van etc?
Will the mounting system minimise vibrations in order to protect the hard drive?
Will the student require a new wheelchair and therefore a new mount within the near
Can the mount be transferred to a new wheelchair
Ie: Will the mounting be flexible and adjustable or fixed?
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What is the main purpose of the laptop?
If it is for communication, and is funded for this purpose, the laptop can only be retained by
the student as long as it is being used for communication.
Who will purchase the other software eg. On screen keyboard, educational software,
leisure software?
What will happen to these other programs if the laptop is withdrawn?
Who will fund the wheelchair battery connection, extra batteries, speaker, printer, CD
drive, input device, mounting system, repairs?
Does the laptop come with a carrybag? Is one required?
Does the software have free upgrades?
What is the projected lifespan of the laptop?
Who will provide recurrent/ongoing funding for maintenance, repairs and upgrades?
Who will provide funding for training to non C.C.A. staff and carers?
Who will train the student, carers, facilitators, educators to use the laptop?
In order to support communication they will all need to know a certain amount
about the laptop care, maintenance and operation of hardware and software.
Will sufficient learning time be available to teach the student and facilitators how to use the
computer as well as the communication software?
What will the cost of this extra learning time be in regard to curriculum time and
communicative competence?
Whose responsibility is the insurance?
Consider that different components may have been purchased by different people?
What will happen if the laptop is damaged or stolen at school? Is this covered under the
school’s policy?
If a problem arises how will it be determined whether it is a problem with the laptop, the
software or a compatibility issue?
Who will take responsibility for this diagnosis?
Who will fund the repairs arising from different issues?
Who will pay for computer upgrades?
Sandra Stewart.
Sue van de Loo.
Senior Speech Pathologist.
Technology Consultative Team.
Crippled Children’s Association (SA).
Senior Occupational Therapist.
Technology Consultative Team.
Crippled Children’s Association (SA).
June, 1999.
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