Lucia is an AAC user who has always loved spending time on a computer. Because of her physical motor control difficulties, Lucia uses a switch under her foot to control her device. She shares her journey with assistive technology below – from a typewriter with a keyguard to high tech AAC.
It began with a typewriter
I started out using an IBM Typewriter with a huge extended keyboard, followed by a Smith Corona Typewriter which was tiny in comparison. I would type with my right thumb and used a keyguard with the typewriters so that I wouldn’t press more than one key at a time
I was always extremely slow – I still am, but I absolutely love spending time on a computer. I took to computing straight away. I have always loved learning and did a number of IT courses straight after finishing College. I enjoy writing emails, creating my autobiography, and doing online shopping.
I joined a swimming club and volunteered to help write a short newsletter for the club. I was still using my typewriter with a keyguard at the time and would prepare an A4 page for them each month. Then I joined Diomede Social Club and my volunteer work really took off.
The Chairman and his daughter helped me find a computer to use with my keyguard, and I joined the Committee. I was in charge of typing out the key dates for the next calendar year, making sure everyone received a birthday card from the club and writing letters to thank people for coming to events and running activities. After this, I began doing more work as a volunteer for other non-profit organisations and took on more responsibility.
In October 2012 I lost the use of my right arm without any warning. I woke up one morning in terrible pain and could not use my computer for three years. It drove me crazy. I had to stop my volunteer work. I was so bored and felt depressed.
In 2015 my physiotherapist put me in touch with Nikky and Aimee from Assistive Communication Service. On their first visit, it took just five minutes for them to decide the equipment I needed and arranged a date to come back and show me a programme called Grapevine. They were brilliant from the word go and it felt like I had known them for years.
I took to Grapevine like a duck to water. I knew it was the programme for me. I was able to type again – and I was faster than ever!
This worked perfectly for a few years until the software stopped working properly for me and have been discontinued. I tried to make do and continue to use it, but it wasn’t working for me that well anymore.
Nikky continued to visit me regularly to see how I was getting on. She arranged for Adam from Smartbox to join us one day. He wanted to observe how I was using my current device with Grapevine and see what else I wanted to achieve.
Creating Gridvine in Grid 3
Adam and his colleague Jay had a look at Grapevine and created a similar version of the app in Grid AAC software. It took me about a month to get used to this new version, but Smartbox did a brilliant job. We worked together to make sure it would work the way I needed it to, and now it enables me to do even more than I could before!
Before I used to write a paragraph in a day, and now I can write 100 words an hour. For me, this is absolutely great! Writing is the way I communicate. It’s what feels natural to me. For some people using AAC the voice part is really important. For me, it’s being able to type my messages for people to read on my screen.
As well as my computer using Grid Vine on my computer, I have a smaller communication aid with Grid 3. Grid 3 is a great help when I go out or go on holiday. I also use it when I have video calls with people I don’t see very often. I find it very handy when I go to see my family in Italy, as it’s much more portable than the large screen I usually use.
My disability was caused by damage at birth. My parents were told that I would be like garbage all my life. I think we have proved them wrong!
I would like to thank Nikky and stress how wonderful she has been to me. I could never thank her enough for all the help she has given me over the years to get me where I am today.
Nikky Steiner, Assistive Communication Service
Nikky is the Principle Speech and Language Therapist at Assistive Communication Service, Central London Community Healthcare NHS trust.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Lucia since 2015. It has been a wonderful experience and we have learnt a lot together during this time. Lucia is often my “go-to person” if I have a new project or idea I want to explore. Lucia is very modest about her skills. In 2015 she became adept at using a foot switch and Grapevine software to enable her to have full access to her computer. However, when this software stopped being supported we naturally became concerned as to how we were going to move forward.
The hardware she used such as robust foot switch and joycable had also been “upgraded” or discontinued and these began to be harder to support.
So we needed to future proof and asked Smartbox to take up the challenge of recreating Grapevine in Grid. This work began in February 2020 and continued throughout the pandemic. Never was there a more important time to ensure that people could maintain communication and digital skills. I am extremely grateful for Smartbox’s time and patience in recreating many of the unique features of Grapevine software and listening to Lucia’s feedback and feature requests. Lucia benefited from having a combination of a face-to-face visit with a video link to Jay from Smartbox. She was at the heart of the design and continues to achieve and develop new skills such as participating as a presenter at the AAC London CEN via Zoom.
It has highlighted the need for professionals and AAC suppliers to really consider how they support people who use their hardware/software and the impact when items are no longer available. Change has been something we have all had to manage particularly over the last year. The development of the Grid Vine grid set hopefully will be a positive change for others to explore too.”
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