A middle-aged woman makes plans over the telephone to get together with a friend, even though she cannot talk after suffering a stroke.
She is able to communicate using a hand-held device that speaks for her. University of Virginia neurolinguist Filip Loncke has the only research site in the United States using the apparatus - a barcode reader called the B.A. Bar that was developed in Switzerland by the Federation Suisse des Teletheses and made available in that country in 2001.
Loncke, an assistant professor in the Communications Disorders program of the Curry School of Education, will discuss his work on Feb. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.
From children with autism or Down's syndrome to adults who have speech loss due to a stroke, more than two million Americans are not able to communicate easily or at all with words.
One of the advantages of the B.A. Bar (pronounced BA-bar) is its versatility - it has been used with people from the ages of 2 to 89 and has helped them learn or relearn how to speak and become more independent. Loncke and his research team are using it for several research and clinical applications.
The barcode reader provides auditory feedback when passed over the same kind of black-and-white strip used on grocery store products. In this case, the device is first used to program the barcodes with words or phrases; the barcodes can then be fixed to objects, pictures or places. The user scans the barcode with the device, and it says the word or phrase. Loncke's research shows that it is more helpful than simple pictures.
The barcode reader is easy to use - an adult can learn it in one session, and a child with Down's syndrome can become confident with it in six or seven, says Loncke, who has been working with the B.A. Bar for two years. He has partnered with the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Va. to work with some of its clients.
Loncke has found that after several sessions of training and practice, adults with aphasia, or speech loss, were able to recover and pronounce significantly more words from listening to a bar-coded list than from a written list. "It may be an indication that the added modality by the speaking barcode reader helped the participant in word retrieval," he says.
Speech and literacy skills are important objectives in the education and rehabilitation of individuals who use augmentative communication, Loncke says. "For this reason, it is important to find out how the use of a speech-generating communication device affects the development (and the use) of internal speech."
The device functions as "a great research tool" in furthering the understanding of how humans process language. Comparing use of the barcode reader by people with normal speech to those with impairments, he has found that it does not replace the brain's normal formation of language before it is spoken, for example.