A few weeks months ago when Covid-19 first hit hard, Bill Binko reached out to me about an article he'd read and couldn't stop thinking about. We've both had loved ones need to be intubated and saw first-hand the importance of being right there beside them through the recovery process. The article Bill showed me talked about a couple where the wife was put on a breathing tube due to Covid-19, and the ICU was cutting itself off to visitors. The wife's heart rate and breathing worsened whenever her husband left the room, and yet he needed to leave to help protect everyone in the unit. This hit too close to home, and as technologists we couldn't not try to do something about it.
We talked about ideas for how technology could help with this problem. Bill has implemented printable low-tech eye gaze boards in LessonPix for non-verbal communicators to choose from a limited set of options, and I've worked at CoughDrop on high-tech AAC solutions. We brainstormed into the idea of a video conferencing tool with a dynamic, "low-tech"-like eye gesture field surrounding the video feed, and I started developing right away.
We actively vetted the idea with hospitals, and what became clear very quickly, is that while intubated patients could definitely benefit from connecting remotely with their loved ones and providers, a lot of other populations could as well. Students who are non-speaking are getting left behind, feeling excluded and disengaged with traditional video conferencing tools. Individuals in long-term care homes, who are often still strictly quarantined, aren't able to interact with their loved ones. And families aren't able to share the same emotional connections they had in-person when physical distancing doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. There was a definite need for something like this.
Fast forward to today and we are now ready to introduce Co-VidSpeak, a video chat tool meant to connect non-verbal individuals with their loved ones. Co-VidSpeak is open source, which means anyone can put it on a server and run it. But we wanted to make it as easy and accessible as possible, so we are offer a hosted version that can be used for free by hospitals and medical groups supporting intubated or otherwise non-verbal individuals during the pandemic. For others there is a small subscription option available to cover costs.
Co-VidSpeak is browser-based, and it should run on most hardware, so hospitals can use their existing tablets or computers, or families could use their own tablets or phones to set up the connection. Access is granted by join codes and conversations and access logs are not stored, so there should be no private information kept on our servers or exposed to third parties. There are a lot of great features already like keyboard typing, emoji reactions, advance scheduling, video/screen sharing, etc. to help make things more engaging and useful.
Co-VidSpeak is a personal investment for us. We have worked hard and fast to get something that can make a difference as quickly and broadly as possible, and it's been great to hear all the ways people are finding to use Co-VidSpeak. There really isn't anything like this out there right now. The main expense will be bandwidth due to video feeds, everything else can be a donation of time from the CoughDrop and LessonPix teams. If we can find more financial support then we can offer it to a broader base for free, so if you are interested in supporting this effort or know someone who is, please consider making a contribution to Bill's non-profit organization ATMakers.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us so far. We are always looking for feedback and input on how to improve things!