Ask the Expert

Featuring Carrie Bruce, PhD, CCC-SLP
Sr Research Scientist, School of Interactive Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
Member of MSAA’s Healthcare Advisory Council


Question:
Due to my MS, I have trouble speaking and writing at times. Is there anything out there to help me?

Answer: When communication skills are impacted by MS or related treatments, a person’s quality of life can be significantly impacted. Even minor changes in a person’s speech or written communication can make it difficult to function at work, stay in touch with family or friends, and manage conversations with people in the community. There are various strategies and products that can help with writing and speaking.  A quick check of catalog and online companies shows thousands of writing aids, keyboards, voice and speech aids, and other products for improving communication.  Several online resources offer unbiased listings of these types of assistive technology, including assistivetech.net and abledata.com. Additionally organizations such as ataporg.org operate lending libraries or equipment closets for these products. In most cases, these specialized products meet the particular need for which they were designed and make it easier for a person to communicate.

Another option is to leverage devices such as tablets and smartphones that have useful built-in features and the capability to run applications (apps) that make it easier to write, type, speak, listen, and read information. For a person who has a hard time writing, speech input can be used to compose emails or texts, dictate documents, make shopping or to-do lists, and search for information. Word prediction and completion can also be helpful in offering suggested words that a person can choose from instead of typing the whole word. If a person has difficulty speaking, email and text messaging can be alternatives to phone calls or face-to-face conversations. Some people also find it helpful to use Skype, Facetime, or other video/audio calling apps because the visual connection makes it possible for callers to see each other’s faces and share other viewable information (e.g., an object that is the topic of discussion). Additionally, tablets and smartphones are able to run apps that produce spoken messages based on what a person types or selects from pre-stored choices.

New features are constantly being developed for smartphones, tablets, and other devices that are potentially helpful in overcoming communication difficulties. Don’t worry about staying on top of the latest trends, just focus on finding a solution that works well for you. For more information and additional resources, please contact an MSAA Client Specialist at (800) 5320-7667, ext. 154.

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