(Release from the Rome City Schools):

The ability to communicate is vital. We are profound, sentient beings with the fundamental need to relay information and connect with others. It’s easy to take the ability of verbal communication for granted when you have no fathomable idea what it’s like to be without it.

On Friday May 6, the ability of vocal expression was opened up for two RCS Special Education (SPED) students.

Clayton Smeltz, CEO of Forbes AAC, flew up from Florida himself to present Benjamin Furtado and Joshua Mendez-Paiz with the life-changing gift of two speech generating devices from the Forbes AAC ProSlate series.

Forbes AAC is a division of Forbes Rehab Services Inc., which has been providing innovative assistive technology to individuals with all levels of disabilities since 1987.

“These devices are for people who can’t talk,” Smeltz explained, “so there’s some sort of expansive speech disorder. It really is a total life changer.”

Smeltz explained the workings of the devices. “On the screen there are vocabulary layouts, different words that are age-appropriate.”

“There’s a speaker on the back of the device,” he continued, “so when you touch the buttons on the front of the device you can formulate a sentence and the audio comes out of that speaker on the back.”

What is unique about the device is that the speaker, or sound pod, is removable and can be worn on clothing or on a neck lanyard.

Smeltz explained that this simple feature has a big impact as it allows the individual’s voice to come from their body so that when they do communicate with another, that person looks at them instead of the device.

Tanya Woods, RCS assistive technology specialist, affirmed, “This is extremely important for these students. Everyone has the right to communicate, so we want to make sure that we give them the tools that they need to do so. This is an exciting time for the kids. We have devices here at school, but these are their personal devices that they get to take home and work with to be able to communicate outside of school.”

When developing their product lines, Forbes AAC has given great consideration to the appearance of the devices in addition to their impactful function.

“They’re medical devices but we’ve built them around iPad technology,” Smeltz explained.

He recalled growing up in a wheelchair and having disdain for the durable medical devices that felt as though they only created more of a spectacle.

“So, we were aiming to make medical devices that look like everyday technology,” he added.

It was the vast connective pathways of technology that led Smeltz to RCS. He said that an Instagram post on Easter Sunday alerted him of this particular opportunity to assist.

“My wife and I are followers of Christ and we felt moved to help,” he said. “It was our understanding that these particular kids were denied by their insurance company, they had no other option. So, we wanted to step up and help them out. Our company is centered around giving a voice to those without voices, so it’s just been a real blessing to be able to come up here and do this.”