Adaptive Computing: Gemini Augmentative and Alternative Communication Device

The Gemini Augmentative and Alternative Communication Device is designed to help people with learning, communication, or computer access difficulties lead more independent and productive lives. There are many communication devices available for people with disabilities, but unlike most of the others this is an actual computer, providing access to the Internet as well as any software applications the user installs. Built on the body of an Apple iBook, the Gemini, designed by Assistive Technology, Inc. of Newton, Massachusetts, features all of the capabilities of the Apple product, as well as additions including enhanced stereo sound, multiple USB ports, a touchscreen, a wheelchair joystick input connector, and connectors for 2-4 large switches for users lacking fine motor skills. Gemini delivers a considerable amount of computing power: the PowerPC G3 processor runs at 300 megahertz, and the unit has 160 megabytes of built-in memory with a 3-gigabyte hard disk.

The unit is small and portable. Because it's built from a laptop, Gemini is lightweight (6.6 pounds), with dimensions comparable to a coffee table book. Most Gemini users are students who use Gemini at home and at school, often carrying the same unit around with them. Thus, it comes with a padded carrying case and fold-away handle, as well as a back-pack-style carrying case. The case can easily be hung on the handles of a wheelchair, and wheelchair mounting options are also available.

As an adaptive technology, Gemini is quite versatile, suited to a range of input methods, including touchscreen, switch input, on-screen keyboard, external keyboard, joystick, headmouse, and other pointer devices. Although Gemini comes with a suite of software tools including Dynamically Pro, Boardmaker, and one other option (see accompanying story), users can easily augment its capabilities by loading other applications.

Gemini users can get on the Internet in a variety of ways. Gemini houses a built-in 56K modem and a 10/100BASE-T Ethernet port. Apple's AirPort wireless feature is available as an option for those seeking a wireless solution. As with a standard computer, all the user needs is an Internet Service Provider and an e-mail address. A built-in CD-ROM drive is there for music lovers or those working with CD-based assignments.

Assistive Technology offers Gemini in a basic package plus a variety of hardware and software bundles. The Gemini kit includes the Gemini AAC Device and Computer, USB microphone, USB keyboard, USB mouse, on-screen Gemini keyboard, AC power adapter, user's guide, and a one-year limited warranty. Bundles vary from the "Classic" to the "Deluxe" Wheelchair Bundle. The Classic includes the Gemini kit, Speaking Dynamically Pro and Boardmaker software, USB floppy-disk drive, USB 3-port hub, additional battery and charger, a table-top stand, and one communication solution option. The Wheelchair bundle adds a wheelchair battery adapter and wheelchair mount. The deluxe model includes a zip drive, AirPort card and base station, and optional Dynamically Pro boards. www.assistivetech.com.



Adaptive Software Communication Solutions

The Gemini Augmentative and Alternative Communication device comes pre-loaded with Speaking Dynamically Pro and Boardmaker software, sold by Mayer-Johnson. Speaking Dynamically Pro, created by King Software Development, turns a Macintosh or Windows computer into a communication device. It is appropriate for communication programs for individuals who cannot speak, for use as an interactive tool for inclusion of special-needs students in regular classes, in a training program for learning communication and language skills, and as an educational tool to encourage literacy.

The customized dynamic screens are versatile and easy to use. Users can create new boards or work with the 90 ready-made boards, tailoring them to fit individual needs. Users can click on buttons on the screen (setting them to speak), change screens, type messages, or do other tasks. Speaking Dynamically Pro features text-to-speech functions; recorded (digitized) speech; the ability to put pictures, photos, or text on buttons; sentence-building activities; sound effects; link boards; auditory scanning; highlighting function; QuickTime movies; button magnification for low vision; and easy use of graphics. Users can resize, paint, flip and rotate, and add color to backgrounds. The product is accessible through mouse, joystick, touchscreen, trackball, head-pointing device, alternate keyboard, or switch using built-in scanning modes.

Boardmaker is a graphics database containing more than 3,000 picture communication symbols in bitmapped clip art form. Created by the staff of the Erinoak Center in Ontario, Canada, the program allows users to build customized boards of symbols and letters to enable communication with individuals or groups. Finding and pasting pictures is easy. Users can adjust the size and spacing of the pictures, as well as print and save boards for future use. Files can be saved onto disk or imported into desktop publishing software. Available in 10 languages for Macintosh and 17 for Windows, users can build communication boards in a language without having to know how to speak it themselves. The product comes with a user's guide and explanatory videotape. www.mayerjohnson.com.

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