To preface my review I should mention the other dynamic display devices my students, past and present, have used that act as a comparison in my head. I have had students with the Freestyle, the Gemini, the Mercury and the MiniMerc from Assistive Technology, Inc., the ChatPC from Satillo, the Optimist 2 from Zygo, and the E-Talk from Great Talking Box. Before there were dynamic display devices I worked with students who ran Speaking Dynamically (not Pro, just Speaking Dynamically) on old school laptops mounted to their wheelchairs and before that I worked with a Light Talker, a Macaw by Zygo and many, many communication books and boards made by photocopying symbols from a book, cutting them up, coloring them, gluing them to pages and laminating them.
Back to the Dynavox DV4/MT4, I have had a DV4 in the classroom for almost a year. A first I was worried about the speech therapist choosing a device I didn't have experience with (especially since the last device, the Optimist II had been and continues to be a disaster for us), but a few demonstrations from the local vendor and I was on board.
When the device arrived it was tricky to learn a whole new system of programming. While some features are similar to Speaking Dynamically Pro and the platform the ChatPC uses, many are not. Furthermore much of the more "advanced" programming I wanted to do was not in the manual and directions can only be found on the website.
Once it was up and running, however, I grew to love the DV4 as did my student. I think her favorite feature is using it to play MP3s, she has a friend in the class who loves music and will (verbally) request songs, she loves to be the DJ. She also takes great delight in using it in the community to order at coffee shops.
My favorite features of the DV4 are:
- now that I know what I am doing I can make new pages in minutes
- being able to make pages in minutes means I can program a month worth of academic pages, based on my lesson plans for the next thematic unit, in an afternoon or two
- the battery lasts the entire school day 99% of the time
- it plays MP3s, which makes my student happy - if she's happy I'm happy
- the untapped potential for environmental controls that my student will be able to take advantage of once we figure them out
- the online resources are rich and online courses can be used for my professional development
- the fact that everything saves automatically as you program
- the included carrying case is safe, well padded and easy to carry
- the glare isn't as bad as some other devices
- the fact that you can combine cells to make bigger buttons with in a page if you need to
- the pre-programmed pages are not difficult to figure out and are a nice guide
- the feature that automatically adds personal information to pre-programmed pages makes the initial use of the device easier
- in the nine months or so we have had it we have not needed to get it repaired, knock on wood, that is a record compared to the Optimist and the ChatPCs
- the volume can be adjusted to make it loud enough to be heard in the cafeteria or community and quiet enough to use in the public library
- the constant need to do a soft reset during programming
- the lousy mount that has to be held in place by, I kid you not, a pink shoelace I tore out of the package during a community based instruction trip when the mount kept dropping the device to the floor *this is not the DV4 or Dynavox's fault, this is the fault of the cruddy mount company*
- the manual doesn't have anything more than the absolute basics
- the lack of vendor support (this may be unique to our situation, the person for our area was replaced right after we received the device and we can't seem to get his replacement to show up)
- the key guard is poorly designed (as in my students fingers are constantly getting caught in it and I had to add velcro to it because it kept falling off
- the volume in controlled inside the communication pages or control panels - no external knob or lever for quick fixes that are so often needed (that is the only feature I like about the Optimist II)
- the rental price is outrageous
The benefits of the Dynavox Dv4/MT4 are multiple and the complaints pale in comparison. I have recommended this device to other teachers in my school and now there are quite a few students with them in our community. The next time we are in the selection process for a dynamic display device I will definitely by pushing for a Dv4/MT4 if it is right for the student.