Speech Thoughts

The History of Technology Assisted Rehab – Home Computer

Technology assisted rehabilitation in speech therapy has come a long way since 1986 when I directed the computer assisted rehabilitation department at Welkind Hospital in Chester NJ. The internet as we know it today was still a decade away. Mainframe computers were the norm at such places as the Prudential and NASA and the thought of what was being called the “home computer” was inevitable, it was just a matter of time.

Speech Therapy DeviceHome computers came at a time when, unlike today, there were few competing technologies. It was pre-internet, IPHONE, and even Best Buy. So when computers finally appeared on store shelves, I made multiple trips to my local Toys’R Us (because that’s where they were believe it or not) just to catch a glimpse. Finally, after summoning the courage and money to purchase, I took my Texas Instrument TI-99 home to unbox.  From the moment I turned it on, the power of this technology to help those needing speech therapy was evident. It was just a matter of figuring out how.


To gain a sense of the time and the excitement, that surrounded the “home computer” please view this YouTube video of Steve Jobs announcing the MacIntosh computer. Even though none of the software presented specifically has to do with speech therapy, the potential of this machine help is easy to imagine. A device that speaks, presents images, word processes? Gee, I wonder what one might do with all that?

And wonder we did

Computers Helped Speech Therapy Advance

Using “home computers” from companies such as Radio Shack, IBM, Commodore, patients with Cerebral Palsy typed messages.  People who communicated pictures boards now typed out full sentences. People who never spoke: spoke. Minds that had been bottled up for decades suddenly unlocked. There was a new technology in town, and it was here to help.  It was just a matter of finding, or even writing software to meet the person of the moment. If the text was too small, we made it larger, if words moved too fast, we simply slowed them down.

We programmed word lists consisting of family names and other words of relevance for stroke patients to identify and say. Often we stacked the deck with words we knew they could say – to help build confidences – before graduating on to new words.

What struck me back then, was how readily patients accepted the “home computer” into their rehabilitation program. It added a dimension to the therapy conversation that gave the therapist and patient a new road to take.  In some ways, it lessened the one on one pressure on a patient of having to say a word.
As the therapist, then and now, we follow the technology of the moment. Commodore comes out with a speech recognition module, and stroke patients use voice to turn lights on. Apple invents the Ipad, and it becomes an ACC device of choice. Did Apple intend for that to happen? Not really, and that’s the real fun of what we did back in 86 and still do today. We adapt, discover and invent ways to use the “home computer,” and the like to help people we serve.

Just because it was designed to do one thing does not mean it can’t also be used to help!  Thinking outside the box is how we continue to advance this amazing field and help everyone in need!