ATU350 – Speak Modalities with Dr Oliver Wendt


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Speak Modalities with Dr Oliver Wendt Chief Science Officer
App: GroupMe |
Download SPEAKall! on iTunes:!/id478863940?mt=8
Download SPEAKmore! (free) on iTunes:
Learn more about SPEAK MODalities at or call 765-588-3470
Visit the SPEAK MODalities YouTube Channel for intervention ideas:
Like SPEAK MODalities on Facebook:
Follow SPEAK MODalities on Twitter:

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——-transcript follows ——



  1. OLIVER WENDT: hi, this Oliver Wendt, and I’m the Chief Science Officer of speaking modalities, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 350 of Assistive Technology Update.  It’s scheduled to be released on February 9, 2018.

I’m excited to spend this episode with a friend of mine, Dr. Oliver Wendt, who is the Chief Science Officer at SPEAK MODalities.  I’ve known him from Purdue University and he has been growing his business, winning some awards, and even showing up on Sunday morning television to talk about apps and autism and communication and all kinds of great stuff.

We have a segment from Bridging Apps where they talk about GroupMe, interesting stuff.  We also have a sneak preview into next week’s episode where we interview a group of our staff members here who went to the ATIA conference for the first time.  It’s the first timer’s guide to Assistive Technology Industry Association conference.

We hope you check out our website at, sent us a note on Twitter at and it a project, or call our listener line.  We love your questions, comments, and you might even hear your voice right here on the show.  The number is 317-721-7124.


Many of you might have been to ATIA, the Assistive Technology Industry Association, conference in the last couple weeks, and some of you couldn’t.  I couldn’t and I’m a little bit jealous.  We had a lot of folks here at the in data project attend, and we brought them together to talk about what was their first experience alike.  In fact, next week we are going to focus our entire show on this first timer experience for ATIA.  But here is a quick sneak peek.

SPEAKER:  Hello my name is Tracy Castillo and I’m the reuse technician at the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads.

SPEAKER:  Hi, I’m Nikol Prieto.  I’m the community outreach coordinator.

SPEAKER:  I’m Justin Amber.  I’m the equipment loan specialist for the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  One word to describe your experience overall, just pick one word.



TRACY CASTILLIO:  That’s two words

JUSTIN AMBER:  I want to say overwhelming, but that’s a good thing.

WADE WINGLER:  Good overwhelming?

JUSTIN AMBER:  Yeah, a good overwhelming.

NIKOL PRIETO:  I was inspirational.  I think that’s always how I feel about assistive technologies.  Seeing all the new technologies and new ideas is inspirational, and seeing what other people do with their projects.  And to pat ourselves on the back to see how well we are doing in comparison.


WADE WINGLER:  So if you went to ATIA or you’ve always wanted to, join us next week when we talk about the good, the bad, and the coffee at ATIA.  Interesting stuff and you’ll get to know some of our staff members here a little bit better next week on Assistive Technology Update.


WADE WINGLER:  Each week one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps cost so here’s an app worth mentioning.

AMY BARRY:  This is Amy with bridging apps, and this is an app worth mentioning.  This week’s featured app is GroupMe.  GroupMe as a free messaging app available for iOS, Android, and also through your web browser on the computer.  It allows users to send direct messages and group messages from mobile devices without fees or message limits.  GroupMe is a comprehensive app that is very helpful with its calendar and gallery for photos and documents that have been shared.  The app is designed to help multi-person chats, although you can send a direct message to anyone in your contacts by simply adding them to your group me address book.  In the app, you create personalized groups you can invite others to join.  You can add new members at any time and share the group with any group me member with a unique URL.  Interacting with your friends, caregivers, and others is easy from scheduling events to sharing pictures.  GroupMe is great for coordinating with friends since the app makes it easier to get in touch with several people at once.  GroupMe is great for all ages and abilities, but we see its potential impact for persons in the special needs community.  GroupMe is available for free at the iTunes and Google Play store and is compatible with iOS devices and Android devices.  For more information on this app and others like it, visit


WADE WINGLER:  We spend some time on the show talking about augmentative communication and autism, and there is a lot of intersection between those who topics in the things we care about here on the show.  Today I’m super excited to have somebody who is kind of a rock star and recently famous, and I’ll tease him a little bit about this, in the industry.  He is D. Oliver Wendt who is the Chief Science Officer at SPEAK MODalities.  I know him from some of our Purdue University connections and have actually known him and considered him a friend for years.  Lately he’s been winning some awards, even on some national television shows, and we are going to talk about those things and also what’s happening with the products and research that he’s doing focus on augmentative and alternative communication.  Enough my rambling.  Oliver, Dr. Wendt, how are you, sir?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: I’m excellent. Thank you for having me on the show.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s always good to have you.  This is going to be episode 350, so that’s kind of fun.  It’s sort of an anniversary episode.  You been on our show at least once, maybe twice before.  Not everybody is going to be remembering or familiar with you and your background.  Tell us a little bit about your background academically, professionally, and why you became interested in assistive technology.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: As you can hear from my accent, I’m originally from Germany. I came to Purdue about 18 years ago to get my doctorate in a very new area that, at the time, was called augmentative and alternative communication.  AAC is really about developing and researching new interventions and technologies for individuals with severe communication disorders who do not have their own voice to speak and participate in education and society.  I did my doctorate with Lyle Lloyd, a very famous pioneer in the field.  I finished in about 2006 and became a faculty member at Purdue University in the department of speech language and human sciences in special education.

Most recently about four years ago, I started a little assistive technology company in the Purdue research Park by the name of SPEAK MODalities.  The mission of SPEAK MODalities is to develop and provide evidence based AAC software for individuals with severe autism or severe development of disabilities.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m going to sidetrack us a little bit because I knew Dr. Lloyd fairly well over the years. I remember at one point he called me and said — I don’t know if you know the story or not.  He said Wade, you have to pay attention to this kid Oliver.  He’s really sharp.  It’s been a while.

WADE WINGLER:  He was a great guide.  When I was applying for my first faculty positions, there was always one sentence that he was right you can my recommendation that stuck out to me a little bit.  He was always writing, well, this guy has the unique ability to ask very big questions.  And not only that, he also has even more fashioning ability to come with solutions to solve those problems. I’ve always thought he was just saying that, but nowadays I feel I’ve embraced that as a mission for our company in our research lab, and we are really tackling larger problems that we want to solve in the areas of alternative and augmentative communication.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s great.  You’ve grown into the shoes that Lyle put out for you.  That’s awesome.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Absolutely.

WADE WINGLER:  I know that a lot of our audience are going to be familiar with augmentative communication solutions and apps and those kinds of things.  But there really are some things that are different about SPEAK MODalities and the approach that you take with SPEAKall and your products.  You’ve given us an overview.  Let’s drill down into that a little bit.  What really makes what you’re doing different from some of the other products and solutions on the market?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Our product focuses specifically on teaching those with autism and development of the lay and not simply [Inaudible] device. Other solutions are more of these clicking buttons and providing speech output type of devices. We are actively targeting language learning as well as generalization, which is often a particular difficulty for the learners on the autism spectrum or those with developmental delays.  Also, our apps can follow the learning as language skills entries and learning needs grow.  Most importantly, app development is supported by federal research grants and foundation grants, so we are really producing research based, truly evidence-based approach to research, product development, and intervention development.

WADE WINGLER:  In my experience in the industry, there is always a back and forth between the product and the sales in the manufacturing side versus the research side.  You really have one for in both of those areas, right?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Right. That’s the unique situation here at Purdue.  We can translate developments and interventions that are coming out of the research lab onto the assistive technology market because we now have entrepreneurial supports in place that we didn’t have many years ago.  The entire environment here at Purdue has grown to a degree where it’s easy for a faculty member to engage in commercialization efforts and provide a really strong product because the research supports and pushes it into the market.

WADE WINGLER:  Absolutely.  That makes a ton of sense.  Give us just a quick overview view of what the product offerings are, and then we are going to talk about things that are new with the product lines.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: We are offering a suite of evidence-based support speech and language training software programs. Our premier products are SPEAKall and SPEAKmore.  They are scientifically supported by the national institutes of health.  In more detail, our entry-level application SPEAKall facilitates the development of functional communication skills, natural speech production, and social pragmatic behaviors.  Once basic communicative functions such as requesting and labeling items, once those basic functions have been established, and the learner makes the first steps towards more natural speech production, intervention then continues with the follow-up application SPEAKmore.  This app teaches advanced language concepts and generalization to help the learner acquire more communicative functions.  And SPEAKmore, learners are exposed to that language learning task that helps them understand simple to more complex language concepts adjust the relationships between actions and objects, agents and objects, objects and adjectives, and so forth.

In general, our app development is based on the idea that new mobile technology such as iPads and other tablets offer more in his learning opportunities for those on the autism spectrum or those with development of the legs.  In our design philosophy, we are trying to put highly iconographic symbols on the display to appeal to the visual spatial processing strengths and autism.  We know there are certain learning characteristics in these populations that we need to fine tune our interfaces to.  In a similarly vein, we are providing both digitized and synthetic voices that contribute the speech model that the learner can imitate.  In general, a mobile technology is very advantageous for these individuals because tablets are lightweight and are very portable.  They are highly motivating to use.  They are easy to program for the family member and the practitioner.  Overall, a mobile tech solution is much more socially appealing and less stigmatizing than some of these older, bulky, high-tech dedicated speech generating devices.

WADE WINGLER:  I want to talk about some of the new things coming out with the new version of SPEAKall.  I want to brag any for just a moment.  You won an award in November, right? Can you tell me about that?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: I have to tell you, 2017 by far was our most successful year. In the spring of 2017, we were awarded the Edison Gold award for the best product in the language learning category.  Then it went on, and a few weeks later we won the education business plan competition over at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  Later in the fall, as you said in October 17, we won the best product design award in the medical devices category at the electronic component news impact awards.  It’s been a fantastic year.  We couldn’t be happier.  Everybody here at the team and the company at Purdue University, we are just amazed about the impact and the success that this little company has had so far.

WADE WINGLER:  That I see one CBS Sunday morning on television not long ago?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Yes, you did. To top things off, this is like the icing on the cake, CBS came along and asked for an expert interview to help support another fantastic story out of New York City.  There is a classroom with many learners, many students, young adults and adolescents with severe autism or other intense learning disabilities.  The music teacher started to incorporate tablets and iPads into the music education.  With the help of those mobile tech solutions, the students were able to perform fantastic music plays and acts and songs that, without the technology, they would have never been able to do.  A nice side effect was that through the enhanced music education, the city started to communicate better, their overall learning improved.  We’ve seen other outcomes in addition to learning music and playing songs.  It’s been a fantastic success story that the music teacher was able to enhance so much development in his students.  And then CBS came over here and wanted to know some of the scientific facts and we talked about the research and the product development that they are doing here at Purdue University, and we were able to put another perspective on the success story.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s great.  Congratulations.  Like I said in one of our emails recently, I need your autograph next time I see you face-to-face.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: We want to keep our feet on the ground here and serve the communities that we are devoted to, be humble, and not let this distract us from what’s really important here which is to serve our customers.

WADE WINGLER:  There you go.  I’ve always appreciated your humility.  Let’s talk about some of the things that are new with a product line.  You mentioned that there is something new happening with SPEAKall, and then something called speak together.  Tell me about these things.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Over the last year, we were very fortunate to have a research and development grant from the National Institutes of Health that helped us to advance and integrate some new technologies within our current product suite. One of these new advancements is called speak together.  Speak together will integrate sort of an add-on component onto our already established SPEAKall application.  What speak together is going to do is a new cloud-based management system to share content and vocabulary between different devices and users.  So imagine your child with severe autism who uses a tablet for communication is learning a new lesson in the classroom or in the clinic, then it’s an easy thing for the practitioner or teacher to ship this over to your device at home, and you can continue that same lesson in your home environment.  By enabling intervention across environments, between clinics and schools and home environments, we can maximize the benefits of such AAC intervention as more regular, more intensively the student uses this, the better the benefits and overall effects are going to be.  So that improvement is called speak together.

And then we have another nice improvement to our existing products suite.  This is the PCS, preschool core vocabulary.  What that means is that our latest version of apps are going to be equipped with the picture communication symbols.  Those are the most widely used graphic symbols in the current school system all over North America.  The new preschool core vocabulary is going to enable language learning to a better degree.  It’s going to enhance vocabulary helping to build up new words and sentences for beginning communicators.  This is where most of the students that we serve on the autism spectrum and developmental disabilities, that’s where they are.  They are at the emerging, beginning language stage, and we need to facilitate that with vocabulary and graphic symbols.

WADE WINGLER:  When we talk about the product suite, just some technical questions about what’s the cost, what platforms are they available on.  Are they all currently available? What does it look like?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Speak together and the preschool core vocabulary are going to come out this week within the next 7 to 10 days. The pricing model is going to change a little bit right now.  SPEAKall is available for $40 on iTunes and Android, and this is going to change to a subscription-based model where the user pays $70 per year.  We had to increase the price just a bit because we have more back and cost to maintain the cloud-based management system and the server that is associated with that.  We still think that we have a very competitive pricing model compared to other, bigger apps in the market which are to a whole lot more.  We can still be affordable because our product development is supported by federal research grants.

WADE WINGLER:  Overall it follows the arc of the expense of augmentative communication systems in general.  We remember when they were all very expensive all the time in all cases.  This is so much more cost-effective.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Yes, it is. Another good argument to look into mobile tech as a replacement for some of these older, bulkier, dedicated devices. Some of them may still serve a purpose.  For example, you have a learner with multiple disabilities who needs a lot of adapted access to get to the vocabulary, managed graphic symbols on the screen, a have a dedicated device provides those chances.  But in many cases you have [Inaudible] kids with severe communication disorders [Inaudible] through mobile tech solutions these days.

WADE WINGLER:  I know you have a lot of new things happening, and 2017 was an amazing year.  What kind of things are on the horizon for you? As you look in your crystal ball for SPEAK MODalities, what kinds of things do you see?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Where in the process of writing the next grant application to the national institutes of health to help us broaden our products suite even more. We want to create a very early entry-level application to assess the readiness of a learner with severe autism or severe developmental delay for mobile tech software program or solution.  Oftentimes these individuals, the families are coming to us at the clinic, and they are saying we found this app and have a tablet ready, can you start working with the child right away.  But the learner may or may not be any point at high technology is the very best solution.  We have an idea that is called speak one.  The first word that is being activated on a mobile tech device to see what type of symbols does the learner need, how large does the symbol need to be cow what type of speech output what they prefer, overall can they consistently and reliably activate graphic symbols on the screen.  That helps us to make the AAC assessment process much better, much more effective, much smoother for everybody involved.

On the other end of our product suite, we hope to create a marketplace where we are taking the cloud-based management one step further by opening up a forum, a space for everyone to share their lessons, their content.  Let’s say you have developed a great lesson plan or so activity with graphic symbols where you’re taking your child with severe communication disorder to the zoo in Indianapolis.  Why should that not be shared with another family that makes the same trip with their child with a severe condition disorder the next weekend? People are creating a lot of content here on their mobile tech devices, and we want to open up a marketplace or a place for sharing that content between the stakeholders, between the teachers, the clinicians, and the families.

WADE WINGLER:  That sounds like some exciting stuff.  There are a lot of new things going on with SPEAK MODalities.  That’s great.  I want to shift gears a little bit and put you into a different position.  If you could clear up one myth about augmentative communication for the world, what would it be? If you could solve one myth and get people to think correctly about it, what would it be?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: The number one biggest myth that we consistently hear is AAC will prevent my child from developing his or her own voice. There is this fear, this misconception that once I am putting an AAC device or mobile tech solution in front of the learner with is a very communication disorder, at this individual will never get to acquire natural speech.  However, here in the research lab and others across the country, we have consistently been proving through experimental research that this is absolutely not true.  The opposite is true.  Through strong, effective AAC interventions, you can actually enhance natural speech production via targeting functional communication with the AAC solution at the same time.  This is the biggest misconception.  Let me reiterate one more time, it is not true that AAC prevents natural speech production.  The apps it is the case. AAC intervention will facilitate the developed of the natural voice in the learner who uses an AAC solution.

WADE WINGLER:  Take that out, you and listening audience, take that out and tell everybody that it does not delay speech.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Please contact me if you need any research studies or data, hard-core data, to prove that this is the case. This is a really the number one biggest obstacle that everyone in the field is facing with providing AAC intervention.  We have to fight this myth.

WADE WINGLER:  We have about a minute left in the interview.  We do assistive technology because of the people and the lives that are impacted.  Tell me a story about somebody whose life has been changed based on your work.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: We’ve heard one great testimonial from a school in Kentucky where the speech language pathologist and the special education teacher were giving up on a certain student by the name of Devon. Devon had severe autism and, as is often the case in severe autism, there were a lot of problem behaviors.  The student was always hitting others, always hitting himself.  That was preventing him from advancing through the school system, from going to middle school to high school.  He was not very capable.  It was difficult for the teacher to have him and a more inclusive classroom, and the speech language pathologist stumbled across SPEAKall and over time was able to give this student a means of communication to replace the problem behavior.  So instead of hitting or being aggressive towards others, the student would communicate what frustrated him, what things hurt, what was an uncomfortable situation for him.  The overall communicative status improved to such a degree that the entire situation with the problem behaviors resolved that the special education teacher, the general education teacher, everyone was becoming much more relaxed, much more positive about the situation.  He was finally able to graduate from middle school to high school and be able to participate much better in a general ed inclusive classroom.  It was a great success story.

You can look it up on the blog called (spelling?). It’s an AAC block specifically for the community of AAC practitioners.  It’s a very inspiring story.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s what it’s all about.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Yeah.

WADE WINGLER:  We are about out of time, but before we go, if people wanted to reach out to you for that research or if they want to learn more about SPEAKall cost be together, some of the things you have going on, what kind of contact information would you like to provide?

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Look us up on our YouTube channel by googling SPEAK MODalities. Feel free to visit our website at

WADE WINGLER:  Dr. Oliver Wendt is the Chief Science Officer at SPEAK MODalities from Purdue University in a good friend.  Thank you so much for being in our show.

  1. OLIVER WENDT: Thank you so much for having me. Best of luck, good success with hopefully many more years to come with the assistive technology update.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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