From the press release (blockquotes omitted):

Don Johnston, the assistive technology developer known for its literacy-based programs for individuals with disabilities, just released Improv™, its new AAC software at the 2012 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, FL.

Improv Improv gives AAC users new options to engage in faster, impromptu and more meaningful conversations. The technology brings a whole new approach to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and is designed for individuals who are non-verbal, but have some literacy skills and beginning concepts of letters.

Improv will significantly increase a user’s independence and the ability to socially interact to connect with teachers, friends and family members on a more personal level. Each time a person communicates with Improv, the software automatically learns the new words and statements communicated through the device. Those learned words and phrases are called up quickly in future conversations.

ImprovUsing alphabetic input (text), Improv does not limit the user to symbols like traditional devices. While alphabetic input is typically slower and requires a high level of literacy, Improv leverages the popular Co:Writer word prediction engine which speeds up communication and becomes a voice for beginning writers. Users simply tap out a few letters of a word and Co:Writer expands their thoughts into complete phrases and sentences; then Improv reads it aloud.

“We are part of a written society where email, social media and texting play as much a role in our dialect as in-person communication,” said Ben Johnston, Director of Marketing for the company. However, using the alphabetic system for AAC users requires a little magic—it has to speed up writing and adapt to beginning writers. Improv does this through Co:Writer and new innovations like Instant Topic Dictionaries and Phrase Prediction.”

Instant Topic Dictionaries build new vocabulary on the fly from nearly any topic like a favorite book, band, restaurant or vacation spot. With Phrase Prediction, users can communicate in sentences with just a few touches on the screen. Phrases are saved in lists and can be scheduled around daily activities, school classes, field trips or doctor visits. Improv’s software ‘brain’ intelligently learns the user’s communication style and auto-adapts its dictionaries for future communication.

Kevin Johnston, Director of Product Design for Don Johnston Incorporated said, “One of our first collaborators and a person who truly inspired our development process is Dr. Kristin Rytter.” A quadriplegic since birth, Dr. Rytter used Co:Writer in the early 90s to write and communicate. She completed her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from the University of Washington and used Co:Writer to write her biography, People Who Raised Me Beyond. “She has amazing fortitude and gave us immeasurable perspective and insight,” adds Johnston.

Many U.S. schools and hospitals tested Improv during development, including K. White, an Assistive Technology Specialist for a Wisconsin public school. Ms. White used the program with eight elementary children, all non-verbal with fairly mild to severe autism and shared important insights from both a teaching and user perspective. “Educators and parents learned a few important lessons. First, non-verbal children communicate more deeply when they can select specific words (usually nouns) to express their thoughts, rather than in categories. Second, Improv’s ability to automatically accumulate students’ words and phrases to help build their own life stories and communicate from this collection is incredibly motivating. The technology engaged students. They could now share more of their own ideas in relevant phrases and sentences.”

Improv is compatible with any Windows-based computer, tablet or dedicated AAC device. The software is easy to set up with no programming. Parents and practitioners who work with individuals with autism, aphasia, ALS, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and cognitive disabilities such as Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs), Assistive Technology Specialists and hospital clinicians will want to watch a brief demo.

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