For our inaugural “PossAbilities All-Star” feature, we’ve set high standards. In keeping with the spirit and focus of this regular column, RDAA is celebrating the achievements and acknowledging the contributions of Richard Ellenson to the special needs community.
PossAbilities All-Star: Richard Ellenson, Creator of the Tango and Chief Vision Officer, Dynavox & Mayer-Johnson
Richard Ellenson’s innovative work and continued dedication to the special needs community is fueled by his son, Thomas Ellenson. Tom, now 12 years old, was born with Cerebral Palsy. Intellectually and emotionally on par with his peers, Tom is limited in his ability to verbally communicate, and cannot get around without his wheelchair.
As a former ad executive, Ellenson’s perspective of the world is hyper-oriented around communications. From his viewpoint, everything from breakfast cereals to people, carry their own brand identity. And, as the father of a child with special needs, he is acutely aware of the differences in how people react to and perceive individuals with disabilities versus the mainstream population.
“When I created Tango for my son, it was not only about creating a simple mode of communication, it was to help Tom build relationships,” said Ellenson. “I wanted him to have a device that would work even before a conversation started…when he identified a person he was interested in knowing, he could ‘initiate’ contact by ‘saying’ something cool – without initially sounding robotic. Of course synthetic voices have gotten better over the years, but to really get emotional juice into a first impression, it makes sense to work toward the common ground – not start off with something that sounds unfamiliar.”
Richard’s unique way of thinking resulted in an Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) device called the Tango. Introduced in 2006, the Tango has changed the lives of thousands of children and teens around the world. Now merged with AAC leader, Dynavox, the Tango continues to enable multiple modes of communication, so kids can interact more like their peers in diverse social situations – whoopee cushion sound effects included.
Now the chief vision officer of Dynavox, Richard’s mission is two-fold: The first is to help cast aside negative branding associated with disabilities and open eyes to the amazing spirits shared by so many with disabilities. Ellenson seeks to plant the seed of understanding that people with disabilities are different, just different, nothing more. The second piece is to increase awareness of and access to AAC devices and the innovations going on at DynaVox.
“Today only one in 20 people who need an augmentative communication device receive one. We believe that every individual should have a device the day they need it. Equally important, in our view, is getting the right device for the right person for the right reason, and we’re creating new products that honor not only the right of people to communicate, but the need for others to find this sort of interaction less challenging, added Ellenson.”
To learn more about the Tango, or other DynaVox communication products, check out dynavoxtech.com
This video introduces viewers to the concept of augmentative and alternative communication and how speech communication devices can help those challenged by significant speech disabilities to speak their minds.