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What is This and Why Do I Need It?
When I was diagnosed with ALS, one of the first things I was told was to bank my voice because someday I would have to rely on a speech generation device to communicate. As a professional communicator and self-proclaimed sales guy extraordinaire, the notion of losing the ability to speak was terrifying.
I began poking around the Web researching options for what is referred to as Voice Banking. This is the process of recording over 1600 sentences and phrases, most of which are nonsensical, for use with a speech generation device.
This technology works by taking the phrases you recorded, pulling them apart, and reassembling the words you want to say on-demand via the speech generation device of your choosing.
The oldest and most commonly used voice banking service is Model Talker. This is the service I used. There are newer and more advanced voice banking technologies out there like the Voice Keeper and Vocal ID.
Unfortunately by the time I was about halfway through the recording, my voice was on the way out. I submitted the recordings I compiled hoping it was sufficient enough to reproduce a recognizable, albeit a synthetic, version of my voice. What came back was unusable and disappointing.
Regardless of whether you choose to, or are able to bank your voice, the technology that allows you to speak is the star of the show.
Already Using a Speech Generation Device?
I reviewed three different speech generation devices, finally settling on the Tobii Dynavox PCEye Mini. There are many others out there, though I have had the most success with that one.
No matter which device you choose, the process to acquire it will go something like this.
3 Fairly Simple Steps
Step 1 – Meet with Your Speech-Language Pathologist
Chances are that you already have a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or seeing one has been recommended to you. This is where the (insurance-based) journey begins.
Typically, SLPs work at hospitals and rehab centers. If you need help finding one in your area, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) provides a searchable directory to find SLPs near you who specializes in Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC).
Your SLP will conduct an Augmentative and Alternative Communication/Speech Generating Device (AAC/SGD) assessment to determine your communication needs. This consists of the SLP asking you a few questions, and an egregious amount of paperwork for them.
The SLP will help you determine what type of device is most appropriate for you. I highly recommend you do your own homework on the AAC devices on the market. Your SLP may only be familiar with the tools presented by their facilities approved vendors, and they may not be appropriate for your needs.
Once your needs are established and a device has been selected, the SLP will complete the AAC/SGD report.
Step 2 – Get a Prescription
After the evaluation with your SLP, you or your therapist will need to forward a copy of the speech evaluation to your physician. The physician will need to complete and sign a prescription and complete any insurance or state Medicaid required forms.
It is also recommended to ask your physician to write a letter of medical necessity and provide documentation of your most recent face to face with the doctor.
Important – Do not attempt to purchase the device on your own without a doctor’s involvement. With any medical device, the insurance company wants justification from a doctor that you really need this device. Without this, you could find yourself stuck footing the bill.
Step 3 – Compile the Justification Packet
The AAC tech company will provide all the documents necessary to acquire the device of your choice through insurance. It behooves them to help you fill it out properly.
I’ll let you in on a little known secret. The company selling AAC tech, or any device designated for medical use, can charge more to insurance companies than they can to your average consumer off the street. Why? Because they can.
The justification packet will constantly consist of the following components.
- A personal information form
- An assignment of benefits form (this says you’re responsible for payment if insurance doesn’t pay)
- The evaluation from your SLP
- Your doctor’s visit note
- A prescription for the exact device you selected
- A copy of the front and back of your insurance card.
- Note: Your insurance company may have additional requirements.
Whether you have dysphagia from something like ALS, or Muscular Dystrophy, or a stroke has made it difficult to communicate, you deserve to participate in life and make your voice heard!