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May 2019’s unique AAC cocktail hour started with a conversation and a question: “How can we get people to more deeply understand what a person with ALS experiences when they lose their voice?”

The ALS Association DC/MD/VA Chapter hosted a brain-storming session with the LC Technologies staff, and the outcome was a vision to immerse hundreds of people in what it is like to use alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices. This vision became a reality at the 2019 ALS Association’s Dine to Defeat ALS Gala in Washington DC. The ALS DC/MD/VA chapter featured 3 types of AAC devices for guests to use during cocktail hour before their annual gala, each highlighting a different method used by people with ALS to communicate every day. The cocktail hour started with education, telling guests that approximately 75% of people with ALS will need the assistance of a communication device. Bartenders were ready to take drink orders in 1 of 3 ways:

Method 1: Point to the drink you want on a picture icon menu. Some people with ALS experience loss of voice but retain the ability to move a hand and spell or indicate their wants on a communication board. This is not only a simple way to communicate, but this type of AAC device does not require power and can be used almost anywhere! However, it requires adequate arm and hand strength to use continually.

Method 2: Write on a Boogie Board. Some people with ALS are able to write down their thoughts. The Boogie Board is unique in that it provides a writing surface that can be erased with a touch of a button—a simple, battery-powered device that is low cost and allows the person to generate any written message.

Method 3: Eyegaze communication via the Eyegaze Edge®. Many people with ALS eventually lose their speaking voice and arm strength and mobility. Using the glance of their eyes, they can access communication boards, type on a keyboard, send text messages, and use the functions of a computer. This communication method allows the person to stay connected to loved ones and the world around them at a whole new level.

The staff at LC Technologies developed an Eyegaze Edge® visual cocktail menu that included featured wines, beers and non-alcoholic drinks. Guests were blown away that after a short period of calibration, they could look at their selection, and place it in the chat window visible to the bartender! Not only did they walk away with a drink for the evening, but a deeper understanding of what their loved ones with ALS go through every day to communicate.

This event was a brilliant example of how corporate partnerships work together to reach an end goal—helping individuals and families affected by ALS by increasing awareness and education, and providing working solutions to increase the ability to communicate across all stages of ALS. LC Technologies is committed to making communication easier for people with ALS with an Eyegaze system that is low-fatigue, highly accurate and simple to use for as many people as possible. This immersive experience was possible because of a shared vision with the staff at the ALS Association DC/MD/VA Chapter to engage our community in service to those with ALS.