ASHA Prentke Lecture
Edwin and Esther Prentke AAC Distinguished Lecture
One of the highlights of the Annual Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is The Edwin and Esther Prentke Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Distinguished Lecture that is delivered by a person who uses AAC (PWUAAC). The Lecture was initiated in 1997 to honor the life and work of the late Edwin and Esther Prentke.
Since its inception, the Lecture has been sponsored by Prentke Romich Company, a manufacturer of AAC devices, and Semantic Compaction Systems, the developer of Minspeak™. They provide a generous stipend to the PWUAAC who is chosen to present the Lecture.
The Lecture is part of the Annual Program that is developed by ASHA Special Interest Group (SIG) 12 – Augmentative and Alternative Communication (http://www.asha.org/SIG/12/). Details regarding the Lecture are available at the ASHA website.
To see the past recipients, click here.
About Edwin and Esther Prentke
Edwin Prentke was born in 1904 and Esther Green a few years later. They grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1926 Ed graduated from Case School of Applied Science, now a part of Case Western Reserve University. The technical education was somewhat different then than it is today. The summer following his freshman year, Ed attended Camp Case with all of his classmates where they lived in tents and learned surveying, identification of trees, and other skills considered important at that time.
Ed recalls that the time of his graduation was not a good one to be finding a job. So he went house to house doing radio repair and similar work. Ed married Esther Green in 1933. Ed’s later entrepreneurial activites included operating a machine shop and owning a retail radio store that evolved into a camera business. He also taught electrical engineering classes both at Case and at Fenn College, later to become Cleveland State University.
In the early ’60s, Ed sold the camera store, thinking of retirement. However, he soon discovered that the retirement life was not natural for him. He soon had another vocation that would lead him to impact the lives of people with disabilities. Through a personal contact with Dr. Charles Long, Ed began employment as a clinical engineer at Highland View Hospital, the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland, Ohio) rehabilitation facility. Esther soon joined him there in the research and clinical service program.
Dr. Long at Highland View Hospital and Dr. Jim Reswick at Case Institute of Technology were cooperating in a federally funded research project oriented toward the control of mechanical arms by people with nearly total paralysis. Through this work, Ed met Barry Romich who was a student at Case and soon Prentke Romich Company (PRC) was formed. Early PRC work included providing patients in the hospital with simple assistive technology and providing other researchers around the world with custom instrumentation. Thus, Prentke Romich Company was a spin-off of this research program.
In 1982 Brandeis University, following a national search for a “Renaissance tinkerer”, presented Ed with the Distinguished Service Award. The inscription reads:
“Your technological wizardry liberates the physically disabled
and your abiding faith in their total humanity restores their dignity.”
Ed continued to work at the hospital until he was nearly 88. Esther died peacefully in her 94th year in 2002. At age 103, Ed died in 2007, surrounded by many who loved him. A tribute to Ed and Esther Prentke can be viewed at http://romichfoundation.org/prentke.