Thursday, August 20, 2009

Here's a D.I.Y. Budget-Friendly AAC Option: The Envue Digital Photo Album

We've had trial runs of several different AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices, but don't actually own one yet. As a result, I'm always on the lookout for creative -- (and cheaper!) -- alternatives.

Our current experiment involves the EnVue Digital Photo Album.

I chose the EnVue because of its large, clear 3.5" screen and user-friendly control buttons. I also liked it because it looks like an oversized iPod (which makes it extra-appealing for my son), but it is actually made of plastic and is very lightweight.

(Truth be told, "lightweight" here is implying a bit of "flimsy"...but I have come to view electronics as semi-disposable in our household, so I'm fine with its somewhat temporary feel.) (Oh, and there is also the beware of flying objects problem in our household, so, again, I'm fine with the nice, lightweight flimsiness; it won't do much damage.)

Another feature the enVue has that seemed intriguing is the thumbnail view option (labeled below as "Thumbview"). I like this because it provides another way to navigate through the photos, allowing you to see 9 photos at a time and then select the one you want.

I had planned to load a bunch of photos on the viewer that were loosely grouped by topic (eg., Self Care, Food, School) and then use the thumbnail view to navigate to the desired topic & image. In reality, it didn't work as well as I had hoped it would as the buttons are fairly slow to respond. Max prefers to simply arrow forward and back, pressing repeatedly until he finds the picture he wants. It isn't terribly efficient for quick communication, but it does make for a fun treasure hunting game along the way. And, in the end, he still gets there.

Click on the photo to see all the technical details.

Another feature I like about the EnVue photo viewer is that the memory card is optional, which gives Max one less thing to fiddle with and/or misplace. The internal memory can hold up to 60 photos, which is sufficient for our purposes. The product box contains everything you need to start using the device, including a cable which connects the viewer to your computer's USB port. The photo editing software starts automatically when you plug it in, which I appreciate because it means no downloads or CD-ROM to mess with!

However, I should warn you that the editing software is less intuitive than you might think at first glance.

Screen shot of the photo editing software interface. Looks simple, right?

Problem #1: It is possible to scroll through the photo images without scrolling through the accompanying file name; as a result, you might end up loading the same picture file over and over even though you were clicking on a different image. You'll see duplicates appearing on the right half of the screen if this happens, but if you're trying to select and load quickly, you need to stay alert.

(You're so lucky, getting the added benefit of my experience.)

Problem #2: Photos must be loaded in the order in which you want them to appear; you cannot move or organize them once selected. For random photos, this is not a problem; for a slide show with text or chronological order, plan accordingly! If you forget to include a picture that needs to be towards the beginning, you will have to delete and then reload all the subsequent photos in order to get it up there. (I would have saved a lot of time had I known this in advance! You're welcome!)

Though it would force you to sacrifice some degree of control over the editing that connecting to a computer permits, using the memory card would greatly simplify the loading process.

In fact, I think it would be a wonderful way to send photos back and forth between school and home. It would be quite simple to photograph a class party, or field trip, or other "hot topic" and then just pop the camera card in the viewer to send along with your child. (I'm going to try that method next and let you know how it goes! Maybe it's not as easy as it sounds.)

Want to know what Max is watching? CLICK HERE to find out!

The EnVue Digital Photo Album is no longer available from the official product website, but it is still listed at (wide range of pricing, from $19.99 to $67.50!) and at WalMart (currently on clearance for $20).

The EnVue is not perfect, but it is a very handy shape and size and offers remarkably good photo quality -- all at an affordable price! I'm quite excited by it and think it's well worth purchasing at its current clearance pricing. (But if you have $67.50 to spend, I'd encourage you to look for an alternative product.)

I'd love to hear about other products (digital photo viewers, in particular) you come across that would lend themselves well to this type of D.I.Y. portable AAC usage! Any others out there I should try?

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1 comment:

Lisa said...

Hi, I just found your blog, I love your writing and I love, love, love Max! I am a special education teacher of kids with multiple disabilities. One of my students has microcephaly, cp and apraxia. Like Max, she tends to "find" her words during the Signing Times tapes. Keep writing, I love your perspective and your sense of humor!