Designer Matt Reamer created a 3-D printed voice box to help his autistic older brother, Dustin, communicate with his family. But his tool, Dustin's Words, became much more than that: It's a customizable voice for people who can't use their own.
Dustin, whose autism makes him unable to speak, struggles when asking his parents for help or having a normal conversation. With the device his brother built, which is set up with the big, familiar buttons of an arcade game, text messages can be assigned to different buttons, which then send things like "I'm hungry" and "I love you" to his family's phones.
Dustin's Words is rugged. It can be kicked, dropped and knocked off tables. It's built to withstand wear and tear in the outside world. Each button has a little icon on it: a shower head, a shopping cart, silverware and a first aid kit. Hit any of those buttons and the alert pops up on a phone.
"While [Dustin] has developed a language that [he] and my mom understand slightly, it takes much effort and time to get his thoughts out into actions or words," Reamer writes on his website. "In designing this experience for him, I learned much more about him then I had known. This device had to be simple to use, not intimidating at the sight of it, iconographic language and a similar textile to what he is used to in his everyday life."
When Reamer realized the potential this has for people around the world like his brother, he created an Indiegogo campaign to fund production on a wider scale. According to the campaign page, the device is built for (but not limited to) helping people with nonverbal autism, nonverbal learning disorder, ALS, Rett Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, stroke victims and anyone with limited mobility.
In order to make each application feel more personal, Dustin's Words is open-format, meaning everything is totally customizable — from the messages down to the appearance.
"Each family has their own set of unique challenges and needs," Reamer writes on Indiegogo. "Thanks to the Noun Project, families will be able to customize the buttons on their device with their own icons. Each device can also be named after the person who will be using it, which will make it feel even more personalized."
Dustin's Words could be the thing that reconnects families separated verbally by disorders or injury. And like the Reamer brothers are figuring out right now, it's a great opportunity to learn more about loved ones who never had the opportunity to tell their story.