Life with MS

Innovations in Assistive Technology: Budget-Friendly Assistive Technology Products for Individuals with MS

By Marissa A. Barrera, MS, MPhil, MSCS, CCC-SLP
Assistive technology products are designed to provide additional accessibility to individuals who have physical, speech, hearing or cognitive difficulties, impairments, and disabilities. The term assistive technology or adaptive technology (AT) is a broad term that encompasses numerous assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices. The use of AT in the home, education, and work environment is protected under Sections 504 and 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. If you or your loved one has difficulty speaking, communicating, or swallowing, then check out these innovative AT products designed to improve your quality of life!   
Augmentative and alternative communication
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a category of AT products designed to enhance communication for those with impairments in the production of spoken or written language. AAC systems are extremely diverse and are dependent on the capabilities of the user. They may be as basic as a set of pictures on a board that are used to request help, food, or other basic needs or they can be sophisticated speech-generating devices that operate similar to computers and are capable of “speaking” and storing thousands of phrases and words with a touch of a finger or gaze of an eye.
Your problem: Low vocal volume, fatigue when communicating over time, vocal projection. 
AT solution: ChatterVox
Approximate cost: $200-$300
Description: One of the most popular AT devices in my MS specialty practice, the ChatterVox is an affordable and easy-to-use personal portable voice amplifier. With the ability to boost your volume by as much as 18 decibels, this small amplifier and speaker uses a rechargeable battery and comes in a stylish black fanny pack. With the choice of a traditional headset microphone, light weight collar microphone or a small pencil microphone, the ChatterVox can be used daily or just as needed (i.e., when giving a lecture or speech, when speaking in a noisy restaurant or store, or only during times of high fatigue.)
Your problem: Difficulty speaking, forming sentences, expressing thoughts and ideas.
AT solution: Verbally by Intuary for iPad
Approximate cost: Basic app is free; premium app is $99.
Description: With more than 200 speech and communication related apps available for downloads at the App Store, the task of finding the right AT app to promote communication can be daunting. Search no more! Verbally is an AAC app designed to speak your ideas, thoughts, and feelings all the while minimize typing and the actual need to speak out loud. Verbally has changed the lives of more than 50 of my MS patients in 2012 alone.
Additional users of Verbally could include individuals with ALS, stroke, TBI, aphasia, Parkinson's disease or laryngectomees. Some of the innovative features of Verbally include its wide variety of voices, its core words grid that over offers over 50 essential English words that only require one finger tap to speak, and its core phrases grid which stores over 12 common phrases to foster fast and easy communication. Its text prediction feature learns the words and names you use most often and predicts them as you type them in the future making expressing your thoughts significantly faster than typing and less effortful then speaking. Verbally even allows users to compose emails and will send your messages once you are connected to WiFi.
Assistive technology for cognition
Assistive technology for cognition is an increasing popular area of technology that supplements and assists cognitive processes such as focus, attention, memory, organization, management, planning, and sequencing of events/activities.
Your problem: Difficulty remembering to take medications, events, birthdays, and appointment. Limited fine motor skills; unable to use pen and paper to generate and organize to-do lists and errands.
AT solution: Asana
Approximate cost: Website is free; iPhone/iPad App is free.
Description: Asana is a free website and Apple app that centrally organizes all aspects of your life. Known as the most versatile project management program on the market, Asana is essentially a highly customizable to-do list with features that can easily bring order to projects, events and tasks big or small. Used by many of my patients (who are in school, the workforce, have difficulty remembering events and/or being organized), some of the helpful features of Asana include minimizing typing by using keyboard shortcuts, the ability to follow tasks or projects in a colored coded fashion, easily share to-do lists with friends, family and co-workers, assign/delegate tasks to individuals in your support network, and automatically receive daily email notifications politely reminding you of upcoming events and tasks. Visit their website to watch one of their excellent short educational videos.  
Assistive technology for swallowing
Assistive and adaptive technology for swallowing is an often under-recognized area of specialty products that can significantly improve safety when eating, promote mealtime independence and improve nutritional status.
Problem: Difficulty swallowing, coughing or choking on food, slow eating, wet vocal quality during or after a meal.
AT solution: Guardian Therapy by Spectramed
Approximate cost: $250- $350
Description: Since the development of an oral formulation (pill) disease-modifying therapy for MS, individuals with MS now more than ever need to monitor the safety of their swallowing. Dysphagia is the medical term used to describe difficulty swallowing and is believed to occur in 50 to 55 percent of individuals with MS. If you or a loved one experiences food going “down the wrong pipe,” difficulty controlling food or saliva in your mouth and/or find food in your cheeks after you’re done eating, then Guardian Therapy by Spectramed may be your solution. 
A fundamentally different approach for the treatment of dysphagia, Guardian Therapy uses neuromuscular electrical stimulation to promote improved strength, timing, and reeducation of swallowing musculature. Guardian Therapy is a non-invasive treatment administered by a certified speech-language pathologist that utilizes a small portable stimulator that generates customizable electrical pulses. These pulses flow through a wire (lead) to a pair of small electrodes placed under your chin. The electrical current passes into the body and causes an electrical reaction in the motor nerves, resulting in a muscle contraction.
Treatment sessions last only 30 minutes and use of Guardian Therapy can prevent muscle disuse atrophy, promote muscle re-education, strengthen weak swallowing muscles, reduce the occurrence of aspiration, and increase the speed of swallowing. This highly effective treatment technique is safe, affordable, and can prevent the occurrence of deadly pneumonia. Contact 800-643-1917 to learn more about availability of Guardian Therapy in your area.
Remember, AT should always promote greater independence by providing technological enhancement and support that enables you or a loved one to perform tasks or skills that you were formerly unable to accomplish, or that were difficult to be accomplished. If you have questions about the role of assistive technology in speech, language and swallowing as it relates to MS or would like to know more about the featured products contact me at the phone number or email below.
Marissa A. Barrera, MS, MPhil, MSCS, CCC-SLP is the owner of New York Neurogenic Speech-Language Pathology and co-owner of the Aspire Center for Health and Wellness. She is a licensed speech-language pathologist, a multiple sclerosis certified specialist and professor of acquired motor speech and swallowing disorders. With private practices located in Midtown and the Upper West Side of New York City, Marissa and her clinical team feel privileged to provide therapeutic services to hundreds of MS patients each year. An avid supporter of telehealth (a.k.a. Skype therapy), Marissa provides therapy to patients all over the world via the internet. Apart from being a clinician, conducting research and teaching are two of her passions. She has written several research articles and gives lectures across most of North America. Marissa is proud to sit on the Clinical Advisory Council for the NYC chapter of the National MS Society and the Medical Advisory Board for the MSF. In 2010 she was the recipient of the MS Rehabilitation Fellowship and in 2012 Marissa was invited to serve as distinguished faculty for Consortium of MS Centers. Call Marissa: 212-453-0036, email her at, or visit:
(Last reviewed 11/12)