Here is my history in communicating. I received my first communication aid when I was 6 years old. It was called a bliss board. My speech-language therapist taught me Blissymbols, visual-graphic symbols that represent words. The Blissymbols were laid out on a board in categories such as verbs, prepositions, adjectives, and nouns. The board was made of cardboard and had a plastic covering with a yellow bag. (Yes yellow bag, not very good for my image) Symbols were pasted on the cardboard and had the equivalent English words above the symbol.

The bliss board did not really work in the real world. By ten years old I gave up on using it, as it was too much hard work. My closed friends could understand me so the teachers used to ask my friends to translate what I was saying.
The one advatage is you can have a gossip to a friend without anyone else understanding me.

It was frustaining sometimes when no one was there to translate for me. I used to say forget it!! When I was 15 years old I received a light talker. It was the first voice synthesizer augmentative communication devices' had, and it was not very clear. The light talker allowed me to pre-program messages under icon sequences.
For instance, pressing a key with "drink icon" in it, followed by a key with an icon of a pointing-finger on it, might result in the retrieval of the sentence "Please will you go to the bar?" Whereas "drink icon" plus a person icon might retrieve "Do you want a drink?"

Without my light talker I wouldn't be able to do many things. I don't think I would have got on as well at college, as I didn't have any friends coming with me.

The light talker was a valuable tool for socializing. For the first few years at college I learnt more outside the class room by socializing. It was like going into a new world.

The light talker has made me much more independent as I can order take ways. (very important) I used to always to go into the pizza shop, as it was easy access to get into. They would get the money out of my pocket after I had typed in the order. Then they would put the food in the bag and hang it on my wheelchair.

As you can see I am much more independent with the light talker. I really needed a new one as after finishing at university I decided to set-up my own web design business called Therefore when I am meeting my new clients I rely on my talker. Three years ago I tried getting a new up to date model from the NHS, as my talker was 12 years old. Well, let's just say I am still waiting. Now I know why people are still using bliss boards, as it is really hard to obtain a talker from the NHS.

On the NHS a person can received hearing aids, glasses, special shoes, wheelchairs/sticks, etc…. So why not provide a speech synthesiser? I think speech synthesisers are essential to a person who requires them. If a person was hard of hearing and also had a very poor speech, he/she would obtain a hearing aide to allow the person to help hear people talk to him/her, but he would find it very hard to reply back without a speech synthesiser!
The speech synthesiser is important and essential to the quality of a person's life, so I think it should be free on the NHS as it's an aid for communicating!

To buy a new talker to suit my needs will cost £6,500!! No-way I could afford one, and after waiting for 3yrs for the NHS, so in October 1993 I decided to build one from the following.

I bought a normal laptop computer. I wanted one with 2 batteries together, so I went to Pc world, Curry's, Comet etc to see if I could find a laptop with 2 batteries. The assistants looked at me as they thought I did not know what I am talking about. If I asked a question they would tell my mum the answer. She would say, "don't tell me tell him." Anyway I didn't find a suitable laptop in Hull, so I went on the Internet and found one with 2 batteries. I wanted 2 batteries because laptop batteries don't last long. This particular laptop has 6 hours continues use, so it should suit my requirements.

After buying a laptop I needed a Switch interface and Software. I bought these from Sensory Software Company. The grid software was unsuitable for my needs as the grids are designed for children. So I have redesigned 90% of the grids - I am still working on them as the grids are not perfect yet. The english languge is very complex so it is never ending. My idea is to have multiple of grids, as I will be faster. On my old light talker I had one grid with 128 icons. I needed to press icon sequences for a pre-stored word. This process is very slow for a switch user and it is very hard to remember the sequences for each word.

For example if I'm saying on the light talker the following-:

"I am going shopping"

I = 2 icons (I + I =I)
Am = 2 icons (I + InterJ =am)
Going = 2 icons (Frog + ing= going)
Shopping = 3 icons (apple + house + ing= shopping)

Total 9 icons to press or 12 clicks on the switch

On my new system

I will go in to the 'go' grid, it will display the following

To go
I'm going
I'm going to the
I was going
Are you going

So I will select "I am going" = 2 icons or 3 clicks

And then it will jump back automatically to the main grid

I would go to the building icon and select "shopping" = 2 icons or 3 clicks

Total = 4 icons pressed or 6 clicks on the switch

On the light talker I had to click the switch 12 times but on my new system it is only 6 times. This means the new system is twice as fast and less effort for the switch user.

Finally I needed to get the new system mounted on my wheelchair. So I e-mailed Barry Taylor at Medical Physics Hull Royal Infirmary and asked if they could mount it on my chair for me! Thanks

All together the new system has just cost me £1,500. This is a fraction of the cost of the £6,500 talker. My new system is 8 times more powerful and the screen is 3 times bigger then the £6,500 talker.