Thursday, February 17, 2011

Taking it to the (V)max

For the last week, I’ve been zipping around town in my wheelchair listening to songs by the Scissors Sisters, Pet Shop Boys, Siga Ros, Radiohead and more. The music comes from my Vmax, the speech device attached to my chair, which I operate via a camera which tracks a dot stuck onto my glasses (funny how such a high-tech device relies on a piece of foil!) and which I got in June and have written about here periodically.

It is like having a big iPod, and it’s great fun - although I don’t know if Medi-Cal would approve. (I was actually given the pc features by mistake.) I feel further liberated - like this is another way I can be myself and also perhaps reach out and connect to others ("Hey, trip out! How are you playing that music?").

I have been finding out how to do more things with the Vmax, especially now that I have someone who can really help me with it and even as I come to terms with the speech component’s limited value. I can play Concentration on it, and it looks like I’ll soon be able to text with it and maybe get on-line and read the paper, although my company representative has warned me that a virus would ruin the speech device. Another recent discovery is that, since the Vmax is really a laptop, it can be put into hibernate mode so that I don’t have to wait the eternity it takes to boot up when I turn it on. The tech people at the company didn’t think of this. (Speaking of turning it on, the power button is small and difficult to use, especially as it is right under the camera. I guess it’s assumed that an attendant would turn it on.)

As I’ve indicated, I have been learning that the speech component is very effective at times and not so much at other times. It really depends on the setting I’m in and who and how many people I’m dealing with. In general, it works best when I’m one-on-one with a stranger or someone who is really uncomfortable with my speech. It helps if people how I use it. People who are familiar or somewhat familiar with my speech tend to be impatient with it, although it can sometimes come and in handy. I’m also finding it good to silently compose an entire statement before having it spoken aloud.

It was a huge help when, some time ago, the therapists who I have been working with told me to "use it when you need it." It was like I thought they’d be angry at me for not using it all the time. Now I don’t feel so guilty if I don’t or forget - less likely now that I have the tunes! - to have the Vmax attached to my chair, although I often find that I should have it when I don’t. On a rainy day like today, for example, although I now have a great clear plastic cover with which I can still operate the Vmax, I won’t take it out unless I know I’ll really need it.

There is a new unit out now, called a WPAC, that I want, which enables the Vmax to run off my wheelchair battery. If I had this, I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to conserve the battery - a whole other adventure (the hibernate mode helps a bit) - and running out of power. I recently found out that Medi-Cal won’t pay for it - "not medically necessary" (like the MP3 player!) - but I think I’ll have another option for paying for the unit, which costs almost $400.

Well, these are some of the adventures I’ve been having with my new Vmax, which some people have been asking about. I am still thrilled with it, even with its challenges and limitations, and my next adventure will be taking it on a plane this weekend.


  1. I know you... you just like saying dirty words on it! (and LOVE you for it!)

  2. Do you find yourself getting "addicted to tech", rather like someone that gets one tattoo, then tons more? It's rather nice to see you comfortable with techy assistive devices--what developments would you like to see, other than the battery aspect? XoX