By Tim Hayes
Communicating seems like such a simple, take-it-for-granted part of life. But for those whose physical, mental or emotional conditions prevent or impede the ability to communicate, the ramifications can be devastating.
Fortunately, Pittsburgh has served as the home base of an innovative company for decades that has dedicated itself to bridging those gaps – and today the technological tools available are truly breathtaking.
Tobii DynaVox, based on the South Side, employs a team of enthusiasts who are passionate about helping people with special needs. Their goal is to make a real difference by creating solutions that help people communicate with their environment, thereby living a richer and more independent life. And even though the company had its genesis here, its products and services enhance people’s lives worldwide.
DynaVox formed in 1983 as Sentient Systems. Collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University and the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, a device called the Eye Typer was created for a woman with cerebral palsy who could not speak. Tobii (leader in eye-gaze devices) and DynaVox (leader in touch device) came together as one company in 2014.
Solutions offered include software and practical tools that can be used on iPads and other tablets, laptops, mounted on wheelchairs and assistive devices. Some serve as the “voice” of the user, while others interpret communications from outside. Certain technologies enable users to communicate by touching a screen, while some operate solely by tracking eye movement. The array of options is ever-expanding and is designed to help users overcome as many barriers to easy and open communication as possible.
On the software side, Tobii DynaVox has developed communication software and language systems based on extensive research and knowledge to support every individual throughout his or her communication journey in every part of life, from speaking first words to becoming literate and independent. Tobii DynaVox products and services not only benefit users, but also the people around them – parents, siblings, grandparents and caregivers as well
as others encountered in everyday life. The goal remains helping users to unleash their inner strength and potential, giving them the autonomy, power, and freedom to decide what to say and do on their own terms.
The company states very clearly that it does not create simple “apps,” and for one very good reason. Apps, for all of their appeal and apparent ease of operation, often lead the unique population of Tobii DynaVox users to become static in their communication. Instead, the company offers communication solutions that every individual can grow and develop with throughout his or her life.
Tobii DynaVox, part of the Sweden-based Tobii Group, has emerged as the leading provider of touch- and eye-tracking-based assistive technology hardware and software for those with communication and mobility challenges. Thousands of individuals with disabilities such as aphasia, autism, cerebral palsy, ALS, muscular dystrophy, Rett syndrome and spinal cord injury have benefited from its offerings.
Other companies within the Tobii Group share our extensive knowledge and experience in eye tracking and gaze interaction with Tobii DynaVox, helping to spur additional innovation and development of new applications.