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Innovation Makes Our Communities Safer

Brittany Valdez is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

Brittany Valdez

Brittany Valdez is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

As a Graduate Assistant at the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in Disabilities, I work with the state’s Assistive Technology program, West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS), and Partnerships in Assistive TecHnologieS (PATHS). These projects are dedicated to increasing awareness about and access to assistive technology devices and services. Assistive technology is any device that can be used to perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to perform.

The TapToTalk app was first brought to my attention while working on a project to educate public transit drivers in the state about how to assist riders who have issues with communication. To help facilitate communication between drivers and riders, I created a communication system consisting of cards with pictures that depicted common issues that arise while using the public bus system. To increase access to this system, I created an electronic format using TapToTalk, an assistive technology app for smartphones and tablets that allows users to create customized and portable augmentative communication programs by uploading photos and recording audio into specialized “albums.”

Upon completion of the communication system for public transit drivers, members of the PATHS board realized that TapToTalk could be beneficial to other service providers, especially first responders. In partnership with the Kanawha Putnam Emergency Planning Committee, PATHS initiated a project to apply the TapToTalk app to help first responders in emergency situations.

To begin, PATHS contacted representatives from the police department, fire department, and emergency medical services to determine what information is the most vital to obtain in emergency situations. We then created questions that could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” to make the communication system accessible to those with communication issues. Next, we selected and created images to depict each question.

We created separate albums for each service provider within the app so that each album would reflect the needs of the various types of emergency responders. In addition to these specialized albums, we created a generic “Basic Info” album that can be utilized by all service providers.

After the initial completion of the app, first responders in the state were asked to identify additional languages that they felt would be useful. Based on their recommendations, each album was replicated in French, German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. These additional languages can be used by individuals with limited English proficiency when appropriate interpreters are unavailable.

I’ve learned the value of being innovative in preparing our communities for emergencies. We took the TapToTalk app and applied it to emergency situations, and that innovation is making our communities safer. I’m proud to have received the Champions of Change award and look forward to continuing to develop assistive technologies that help individuals communicate with first responders in crisis situations.

Brittany Valdez is a Graduate Assistant at West Virginia University. She works with the West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS) and their nonprofit partner organization, Partnerships in Assistive TecHnologieS (PATHS).