Often in life, there comes a time when we find ourselves to be "Someone Else". Some things just happen to "Someone Else" but never really impede our own daily routines. In 1999, I became "Someone Else" when my firstborn daughter suffered traumatic brain injuries during her birth. Suddenly, those "inspirational" stories on TV and the special parking spots and 36" doorways came crashing down and I found myself to be in a whole different world that had previously been populated by Someone Else. Now I get advice and information from "They"; "They" say this, "They" say that.... I'd really like to meet "They" because so much of his information is bad.
One of the effects of Kayla's injuries is that she has no motor skills to speak of and no way to speak of them in the first place. She has now developed skills that will allow her to work simple switches with her head. With a switch on each side she can make simple binary choices by pressing a pad with her chin or cheek. So how do you make this work for speech? Well, there's always this device but notice it is more than $70 when a year or so ago we got a similar device free in a fast-food kid's meal and it looked like SpongeBob Squarepants. From $0 to $70 in 6.5 seconds. Unbelievable.
So began my quest for the affordable device.
Step 1: What Is It?
Okay, here is what we are making. This is a device that will be attached to Kayla's wheelchair. 2 devices actually, one left and one right. On the box is found a pair of switches, a microphone, a speaker and a 1/8" mono phono jack.
To operate this, a helper records a message using the microphone and one of the two switches. The second switch allows the helper to test the message for suitablity. The box is returned to its place and the lead from a head switch is plugged into the 1/8" jack. Once the head switch is positioned for use, the user can activate the message at will, providing a degree of communication where there had been none.
Step 2: Materials
After a quick Google, I found this site where I was able to get recordable sound modules intended for greeting cards. Radio Shack provided the rest.
#1 - 1 Recordable sound module
#2 - 2 panel-mount switches to replace the stock switches on the module. One momentary Normaly Open and one momentary Normaly Closed
#3 - 1 panel-mount 1/8" audio jack, mono
#4 - 1 project box of suitable size to hold the components. Get creative with this. I intend this as a Christmas present, so I am out of time to come up with a funny/clever enclosure. I welcome all ideas in the comments section!
Step 3: Determine the Component Layout
Now that you have your parts, determine how you want the controls laid out. The switches should be easily accessed without being in danger of accidental activation or damage. The speaker should not be covered, and should be some distance from the microphone. I haven't experienced any feedback with it yet, but why take chances? Your module may work differently than mine.
The speaker fits neatly in the lid, so here is where it will live, with some nice neat little air holes. The mic will mount in a hole below that, with the switches in between. The phono jack will be in the top of the box and the circuit board will have to be happy with the base of the box.
Step 4: Electronics Mods
First thing to do to the module is replace the stock switches with your new ones.
The record function was controlled by pressing two buttons simutaneously. I cut off both buttons, shorted one pair of leads and soldered the NO switch to the second pair. When pressed, the new switch will activate the record function.
The play function is handled by a spring switch that was intended to be interupted by a piece of paper as a greeting card is opened and closed. When the card is opened, the paper pulls away from the contacts, the switch makes contact and maintains the circuit until the recording has completed. The switch stays closed and the circuit shuts down. To play it again, the switch must be opened to "reset" the recording then closed to start play. This is why a NC switch is needed for this part.
Step 5: The Box Step
Now that the mods are mostly complete, it's time to fit the junk in the trunk. We laid out the panel earlier just because I wanted to do something while my new soldering iron warmed up. Now it's a matter of putting it all together.
The speaker is Superglued in place behind the screen we drilled. I just used a series of drops around the perimeter to secure it.
The buttons attach with included hardware, pretty much self explanatory. Same with the phono jack.
The microphone got hot glued behind its little screen. I wasn't sure the CA wouldn't ruin it.
The circuit included a tiny little LED for the purpose of making sure that you were properly activating the buttons to record. This just happened to fit in a hole that the speaker didn't quite cover, so I hot glued it in place also.
Step 6: Mount Up!
To attach the box to the chair in a secure, useable way, we will use straps of hook and loop fastener. I want to say "Velcro", but I don't know how to put that little trademark thingy in the text. I'll glue and screw (redundancy, redundancy, redundancy) a strap to the back of the box and then it can be wrapped around the handlebars or chest straps of the chair.