I will admit that I have been a naysayer about Dynavox's new Maestro AAC device. My reasons for my less-than-impressed attitude are two fold.
First I find Dynavox's arrogance repugnant, take for example this quote, "When asked about the iPad at leading communications company, Dynavox, some of the representatives felt the device was helpful, but not to be relied on in assisting those with autism or other special needs." (The Examiner). Really, Dynavox? Really? Since when do you get to decide what can be relied on for AAC? Is it because it isn't a Dynavox or is it (more likely) that someone is offering an AAC solution with a price tag way way under the $8,000 you charge? Everyone knows you charge that price because it is the top price the government will allow you to charge. Tech prices in all other sectors drop over time as components become less expensive, but not for AAC. Proloquo2Go has leveled the playing field for AAC as far as offering a complete language solutions of the same quality or better than the big players in the field at an affordable price. Now well know AAC companies like Saltillo are jumping on the iPad bandwagon, offering AAC solutions for a price users, families and schools can afford. Meanwhile Dynavox proports to be the field of AAC to help those with communication disorders and instead shows the kind of attitude shown in that the quote above (and others like it) which demonstrates what they really care about is making money for their stock holders before helping anyone.
Second I continue to find major faults with Dynavox's software system. Both InterAACt (and Gateway before it) mix symbol sets without regard for the needs of the user, often times the symbols for a single word (i.e. "sorry") is different on the same pages within one system. InterAACt has built in visual display scenes, which are poorly researched for most AAC users (research has found them useful for aphasia and young children with autism, which is only a percentage of AAC users), and those visual scenes are nearly impossible to remove. Additionally InterAACts varibles are hard on those who need keyguards and the "emergent" communicator level lacks important vocabulary like, "feelings". Essentially is is almost easier to program from scratch than it is to reprogram a Dynavox for many users.
Those things remaining true this past week I participated in a Maestro trial for a young adult user. This user is currently using a Go Talk 20+. This users is definitely ready for dynamic display. We were looking for a lightweight device for this ambulatory user to be able to carry which had a large and bright screen and a key guard to assist in access issues for to fine motor control. A number of devices have been trialled unsuccessfully, the PRC Springboard was difficult cognitively, the Saltillo Alt-Chat had a screen which was too dark and too small for our users vision issues, the Xpress was both too cognitively difficult and too small, Proloquo2Go on the iPad didn't have fine motor setting or a key guard that would help with the fine motor issues and the Dynavox V and Tobii C-8 were too heavy.
Since we had a Dynavox rep coming out to demo an Eyemax for another user we asked for a Maestro for this user. I was thrilled to see that the Maestro seems to be a perfect match for our user. It is only .4 ounces heavier than the Alt-Chat, but the screen is large, bright and clear. The key guard eliminated most (though not all) of our fine motor access issues. Thus the only remaining problem was the software (with it's mixed symbol sets and key guard defying variables), thus we choose to make some pages from scratch for our user. The page we mostly used, one we were calling "Bossy Betty" had words like "go", "on", "in", "under", "table", "corner", "outside", "chair", "come back" and "sorry". Thus in what had to be the funniest demo I have ever been to I spent a lot of time under the table, in a chair, outside and in the corner. This was the most communication we have ever seen out of this user in one time.
We will try again with the Maestro next week and then begin the long and arduous trek towards funding if things work out so well again. (And a long trek it will be with that $8200 price tag.)