Finding Himself Through Technology

When Daniel was first referred to the Specialised Assistive Technology Centre (ATC), he was in a stroller. To communicate, he could round his lips for ‘no’ and move his lower [...]

Daniel Tan is a bright and sometimes cheeky 21-year-old young man with a great sense of humour. He enjoys chatting with friends and family, sends text messages to his friends in Indonesia and spends copious amounts of time on the Internet.

However, unlike most 21-year-olds, Daniel has cerebral palsy and is not able to talk. He also has hearing and visual difficulties, is in a wheelchair and can only move his left thumb. Daniel has a communication device which he operates with a ‘jelly bean’ switch. He mvoes around using a powered wheelchair and through the use of a scanning software, is able to access the computer.

We explore Daniel’s amazing journey towards finding his voice and discovering his hidden potential through technology.

This article was first published in SPD UPDATES on 31 October 2014.

When Daniel was first referred to the Specialised Assistive Technology Centre (ATC), he was in a stroller. To communicate, he could round his lips for ‘no’ and move his lower jaw for ‘yes’. This meant that Daniel had to wait for others to ask him questions before he could communicate needs, wants, thoughts or opinions.

An Systematic Language Based Augmentative and Alternative Communication System

Daniel needed a ‘voice’ – a way to express himself. Although Daniel had functional receptive language skills, he did not have strong literacy skills. The system needed to be symbol based but also give Daniel access to a wide range of vocabulary.

Daniel’s initial method of using Yes/No responses meant that he needed to wait to be asked questions before he could communicate. It did not promote independent communication. The decision was to give Daniel access to a voice output, as through this he could independently communicate.

A device that used semantic compaction was introduced. Daniel needed to combine the different symbols to form words and formulate sentences. The system allowed him to potentially have access to about 5,000 words.

Access Method

As Daniel was only able to use his left thumb, he would not be able to directly access the device. Daniel needed to use a jelly bean switch and a method called ‘scanning’ in order to access the symbols that he wanted. As Daniel had visual difficulties, auditory prompts were required initially to train him on the locations of the icons. The auditory prompts were decreased and eventually faded out completely.

Mounting System and Powered Mobility

Finally, Daniel needed his voice to be with him. His device was mounted to his wheelchair with a Daessy Mounting system. He also acquired a powered wheelchair which he could operate with a joy-stick.

Daniel could now communicate independently and go wherever he wanted in his wheelchair!

However, that was only the beginning.

Computer Access Scanning Software

While training at ATC, Daniel expressed that he would like to learn to use the computer. As he was using switch and scanning for his communication device, Daniel was taught how to use Discover Pro, a scanning software. He learnt to access the computer with his jelly bean switch. Soon, he was surfing the internet and listening to music.

Other means of Communication

As Daniel now had an effective means of face to face communication, the team wanted to explore other means of communication. Daniel’s communication system had the capacity to be modified for phone access. The team configured the device so that Daniel could send text messages and through the use of voice output, make calls to others. The phone communication gave Daniel a new form of independence as he was now able to communicate with individuals that were not within his immediate proximity. He could now perform tasks such as text messaging his dentist to schedule his own appointments.



Other needs

Finally, Daniel’s communication system was configured so that he could remotely control his air condition, his Starhub TV Channels and his lights. He also developed an interest in photography and for a while was extremely interested in using a switch adapted camera. However, like many 21 year olds, this interest proved to be short-lived, and was soon replaced by the internet and computer!

Daniel today….

Today, assistive technology is an integral part of Daniel’s life. Technology has brought independence and unlocked hidden potential. Lily, Daniel’s mother commented “We knew Daniel was smart, but we didn’t realise how smart he actually was until he got his Pathfinder (AAC system) and computer software.”


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