My daughter Maya is four years old and has a developmental disability that leaves her unable to speak. A few months ago, she began using an iPad app called Speak for Yourself (SfY) to communicate, and since then Maya’s progress has been staggering. She politely makes requests, tapping out “I want cookie please.” She makes jokes, like looking out the window at the bright sunshine and tapping “today rain” and laughing (what can I say, 4 year olds don’t tell the best jokes). And a few days ago she looked at my husband as he walked by and tapped “Daddy, I love you.” Life-changing. Seriously. Thanks to Speak for Yourself, Maya can speak to us, clearly, for the first time in her life. SfY has given this hope to families just like ours all over the country.
But now Maya is poised to become a very real, very human, and very adorable casualty of patent law. The creators of SfY were being sued for patent infringement by Prentke Romich Company (PRC) and Semantic Compaction Systems (SCS), two much larger companies that make designated communication devices (not iPad apps). In response to complaints from PRC and SCS, Apple removed Speak for Yourself from the iTunes Store. It disappeared. It no longer exists. Gone. So now what will happen to Maya’s voice, and the voices of all the others who rely on SfY?
Apple, PRC and SCS should return Speak for Yourself to the App Store immediately, and it should remain there throughout litigation. And PRC and SCS should guarantee that Speak for Yourself's availability to families like mine will not be jeopardized no matter the result of the lawsuit.
At the moment, we still have the app. But we are now shadowed by a huge, impending threat. With the removal of Speak for Yourself from the iTunes store, the SfY team has lost the ability to send out updates or repairs to the people who are currently using the app. At this point, an update from Apple to the iPad's operating system could render SfY useless. Our app could stop working, and Maya would be left unable to speak, and no one would be able to help us.
I don’t understand why Apple decided to remove the app. No court had ordered the removal of the app from the iTunes store. This app is not a game, it’s a necessary, irreplaceable voice for people with disabilities. Why would Apple decide to pull it so arbitrarily?
I also don’t understand how Prentke Romich could think that this was a reasonable or ethical move to make. PRC is a 46 year old company whose entire client population is comprised of children and adults who are unable to speak. Their motto is “We Believe Everyone Deserves A Voice.” How can they reconcile their mission statement with their strategic removal of Speak for Yourself from the market, effectively blocking access to new nonverbal users and potentially causing the app to become inaccessible to the current users who are using it as their only voice?
My daughter cannot speak without this app. She cannot ask us questions. She cannot tell us that she’s tired, or that she wants yogurt for lunch. She cannot tell her daddy that she loves him. No one should have the power to take this away from her.
PRC’s decision to fight for the removal of this app from the iTunes store isn’t just an aggressive move against Speak for Yourself, it’s an attack on my child, the other children using this app, and the children who are ready to begin using this app but now cannot. Please help me tell Apple, PRC, and SCS to ensure that Speak for Yourself remains available in the iTunes Store no matter the outcome of their patent dispute.
For more information, visit http://niederfamily.blogspot.com/2012/06/silencing-of-maya.html
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