Hacking AAC – a family effort

So I’ve talked about my brother Richard’s use of AAC in general terms in various parts of this blog, I’d like to illustrate a specific example today (for a quick introduction to AAC and my work within it – have a look at the relevant page).  For those keeping track, this is a handy example of what I mean by the hacker model.

Richard is a current user of Proloque2go on the iPad, but his first device was a much-abused Dynavox box.  It genuinely changed his life and I’ll be forever grateful to both Dynavox and the staff at his college for that. But it was *abused*, dribbled on, dropped, run-over (that one wasn’t by Richard) and withstood all those things with dignity and a genuinely excellent warranty service.

On the software side we had a more subtle problem.  Richard quite likes the idea of playing with settings, but he’s non-literate, so there’s a reasonable chance he’s going to take a punt at ‘restore factory settings’ to see if that makes something fun happen (and indeed, over the years he has perplexed the most confident of support and repair staff).  To make sure that he didn’t end up with a vastly reduced vocabulary we put the editing functions of the device behind a password.

However, it turns out that there is a feature that isn’t in the manual and wasn’t known to most of the Dynavox support staff at the time – Richard discovered that he pressed down on the power button for long enough (on the order of 30 seconds or so) the device would reboot itself and in the process remove the password protection: working out how Richard was achieving his trick also needed a certain amount of detective work on our part.

I’ll admit to a large degree of personal, and professional pride in my little brother at that point.

However, this was not ideal, and rather than restoring the device from a backup every hour or so, we had to do something about it.

So the first step was to disable the power button. First attempt was to glue a washer over the top of it, of that only a long pointy thing could be used to press the button.  This was reasonably successful until some over enthusiastic poking broke the button entirely…

With that damage done, the hole was covered with a penny. (I should say that, despite the photo, it’s held on by much more than just a bit of tape).


This left us with the small problem of how to switch the device on and off again. To solve this, the Dynavox support team (a collection of good eggs) suggested using the switch-access lines (which Richard didn’t use).  Fairly enought, but we had no switch handy.  On the other hand, by scavenging a part of the radio kit from a light aircraft (what do you mean you don’t have one of those in your garage?) we had a handy (if detonator-shaped) control for switching the power.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 21.17.01

Which in turn, meant that we could later make ourselves a  ourselves a ‘switching on key’ out of an old bit of headphone wiring

DSCN0757 When the key was plugged in, the circuit completed and we had a switched on device. We could put the key somewhere safe, leaving the device reasonably secure again, if mildly less pleasing to the untrained eye.

dynavox 2

Leave a Reply