The Voice Board

NOTE: I plan on releasing the files for personal, non-commercial use. If you need a copy or have suggestions based on personal experience as a caretaker, please contact me. Thanks!

I gave my mom her voice back through design

My mom recently suffered a massive stroke that affects her speech and swallowing functions. I created a board to help her communicate, and the feedback has been so strong, I've decided to share this to help others. 

Mom can see and hear just fine, she can even talk a bit, but the words don't come out and even the simplest sentences take a lot of mental and physical effort. She's now in hospice and her health is declining rapidly. Even so, she has her humor and wants to talk. So, how can I help her?

First, I noticed a few basic requests. Thinking on the concept of 'decision fatigue' I realized that Mom has something similar; basic requests are equally fatiguing as complex ones. Perhaps I can make a list of basics that she can point at.

I listed the possible requests with input from my siblings. I categorized them and weighted them. 

I observed that her dexterity is somewhat limited, so I clustered the main requests in the center of the board, while edge-cases were, well, on the edge, requiring more effort to reach.

I experimented with typefaces, leaning on my days at Monotype. I knew that Humanist Sans typefaces are highly legible. 

I also knew that people read by recognizing word shapes, so I avoided capitalizing words. After some tests, I settled on Atkinson Hyperlegible, a typeface released by the Braille Institute for use in extremely low-vision situations.

Next, I tried a few sizes. Mom picked the smallest, but over time, she went with the middle size.

My first iteration used color to differentiate requests, but once printed, I saw that the contrast is reduced, so I went with white background and colored border. 

Next, I varied the size of the borders. Larger borders work well if optic center is injured, 

but in this case, Mom chose the thin borders.

A few other design thoughts:

I chose paper over creating something for a tablet. Glare from screens is an issue with patients with brain trauma (no citations right now, sorry). Paper also means no batteries, no updates, and paper is extremely lightweight.

The lamination may create sharp edges that injure frail skin. I will add tape to the edges and round corners.  I may also experiment with matte laminate.

When she's in a wheelchair or in bed, the sheet angles away from her face. I tried creating a simple table, and also tried an Ikea lap desk. I had high hopes for that, with a small beanbag, but it became too heavy to be comfortable. That was an unpleasant surprise as the desk is only a few ounces in weight.

What's next:

I would like to release this to anyone who wants a copy for their personal, non-commercial use. I need to figure out how best to do this. Contact me.

I would love to hear from others, so I can make new designs to help other conditions. Again, contact me or forward to a friend.

I want to make a more modular format and add other labels and options.

I need to re-draw the pain chart, adding words to the illustration. I'm not 100% certain that the illustration is copyleft, as indicated on the site I got it from. 

I need to create something -fast- for Mom to communicate when she's too tired to open her eyes. That's next.

An apology

I realize this may be poorly written. There are big gaps in my methodologies. I have no citations. There are design mistakes. This web page is crap. I may fix them in the future, but in the meantime, I'm going to go take care of my Mom.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 You may use this design for your personal, non-commercial use only. If you need a copy, contact me.