2009 BHS Alum Brittany Valdez Honored at White House for Creation of TapToTalk Smartphone App

By Julie Perine on September 15, 2014 via

As Bridgeport High School alum Brittany Valdez can attest, one thing can lead to another – and when you delve into a project whole-heartedly, it can pay off big time.  
A 2009 BHS graduate, Valdez is among 10 individuals who were recognized Tuesday at the White House as “Champions of Change.” Currently a West Virginia University educational psychology graduate student, Valdez’s contribution was the development of a smartphone app to aid first responders. Tuesday’s event, which was broadcast via the Internet, featured her and her fellow honorees participating in a panel discussion about community betterment. 
“Attending the White House Champions of Change event was a great honor,” Valdez said. “We have all devoted a lot of time and effort to the TapToTalk project over the last year, and it was exciting to have the app recognized at a national level.”
She explained that the app uses a picture system to depict common issues that may arise during emergency situations, so it can facilitate communication between professional responders and community members in a couple different ways.
“First, (it) can be used by individuals who have communication issues, whether it is due to developmental issues, such as autism, or due to the emergency situation, such as if a person had a stroke,” she said. “…Secondly, TapToTalk can also be used in emergency situations that involve people with limited English proficiency. Each picture in the app has corresponding audio that has been translated to Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese, so first responders can select a picture and allow the person to both hear and read the question in the appropriate language.”
Valdez worked with PATHS – Partnerships in Assistive Technologies – in the development of the app. When users open it, they see separate albums for police, fire and EMS providers, as well as a basic intake album, she explained. Representatives from police, fire and EMS services were contacted to determine what information is most vital to obtain from victims or witnesses in emergency situations.
Questions that could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” were then derived to ensure that the communication system could be useful to people with communication issues and images were created to depict each question.
Valdez first became interested in responder communication a couple of years ago while working on a project with West Virginia public transit drivers pertaining to assistance of individuals with autism and other communication issues.
“To facilitate conversation, we developed a communication system that used cards with pictures that depicted common issues that may arise when riding a public bus, so people with communication issues could point to cards to communicate with drivers instead of using words,” Valdez said. “The idea was for drivers to keep these cards on their vehicles and use them when necessary.”
That’s when they teamed up with PATHS President Regina Mayolo, also an employee at the West Virginia Assisitive Technology System, and an app she had discovered.
“We purchased their developer software in order to create our own albums within the app,” Valdez said.
Valdez then worked on converting the card system for public transit drivers to the electronic version, making it more readily available.
“After this communication system was finished, Eric Tissenbaum, who works with the Kanawha Putnam Emergency Planning Committee, had the idea to make other picture albums within the app to assist first responders,” she said.  “We also thought it was a great idea and began developing individual albums for police, fire, and EMS providers.”
TapToTalk is free to download, but users need a password for access to the albums. Valdez said that can be obtained through the PATHS or WVATS organizations.
Valdez is still working on the project.
“We are currently working on a grant to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program in actual situations by providing rural, volunteer emergency responders with low-cost tablets to use in their emergency vehicles,” she said.
Upon receiving her masters’ in educational psychology degree, Valdez plans to pursue a doctorate degree in child psychology. 

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