New UCF FAAST lab uses technology to help speak

Alejandro Genovesi’s parents have tried multiple speech therapy methods and found only frustration as the 5-year-old struggled through a massive speech impediment, or they did until they found the FAAST Lab.

It’s a new offering at the University of Central Florida and one of only six labs like it in the state.  There, Alejandro meets with staff who hand him and iPad covered in pictures. Alejandro works through games with his teacher, pressing images on the screen, and quickly forming perfectly composed sentences through a digital voice.

"He's really come out of his shell. He's not embarrassed, he's not frustrated, he's not shy with people anymore,” said dad Joey Genovesi.

The FAAST Lab is the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technologies. Staff in the lab study various apps, gadgets, and technologies to develop ways to put them into practical use for people with impairments.  A lot of the team’s work is for kids like Alejandro; using iPads and picture-based games to help them through speaking issues. However the lab works with just about any sort of tech they can find to reach a goal for someone.

"Something to open a jar, a Wi-Fi doorbell camera, we even have options for individuals who can't use their hands at all,” said Director Dr Jennifer Kent-Walsh rattling off a few of the items in their large inventory closet.

The lab has only been at UCF for a few months, but already Dr. Kent-Walsh said they’re seeing results. They’re even looking for more people, mostly kids age 2-5, to join their studies, learn to work through their impairments, and help the team to give more people in the area a better life.

"That is our goal: for them to do everything they want to do in their everyday lives,” she said.