“Facilitated Communication” Device Marketers Settle FTC Charges

September 16, 2004

Two companies that market communication devices for autistic or other developmentally-disabled individuals with severe communication disabilities have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they made false and unsubstantiated claims that the devices enable such individuals to communicate through the process of “facilitated communication.” The devices at issue are similar to a typewriter, computer, or other alphabet display chart, and cost from $130 to $1,100. In separate proposed settlements, the companies are prohibited from making false or unsubstantiated performance claims about any communication aid they offer in the future. Facilitated communication is a process by which an assistant or facilitator provides physical support, such as wrist or hand holding, to a disabled person to “help” the person type or point to letters on a keyboard.

In separate cases, the Commission named Louis Bass, Inc., doing business as Crestwood Company; and Abovo, Inc., and its president, Susan Lakso. Crestwood, based in Glendale, Wisconsin, sells its devices—the “Crestalk” and the “Canon Communicator”—through its catalog, published twice a year. Abovo, based in Chicopee, Massachusetts, markets the “Abovo Personal Communicat- ing Device (Abovo PCD),” through print ads and promotional video.

In its complaints detailing the charges, the FTC alleged that the respondents used advertisements that contained false and unsubstantiated representations concerning the efficacy of their communication devices in enabling individuals with disabilities to communicate through facilitated communication. Specifically, the FTC alleged that Crestwood claimed in its advertisements that the Crestalk and Canon Communicator will enable autistic individuals to communicate through facilitated communication. Similarly, the Commission alleged that Abovo’s advertisements specifically claimed that the Abovo PCD enables autistic and mentally retarded individuals to communicate through facilitated communication. These claims are both false and unsubstantiated, according to the FTC.

The FTC also alleged that Abovo did not have adequate and reliable substantiation for its claim that the Abovo PCD enables individuals who are disabled as a result of apraxia, motor speech disorders, laryngeal cancer, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease or other named disorders, to communicate through facilitated communication.

The consent agreements, which were approved by the Commission in 1995:

  • Prohibit the Crestwood and Abovo respondents from misrepresenting that any communication aid will assist autistic and/or mentally retarded individuals to communicate through facilitated communication.
  • Prohibit the respondents from making representations about the ability of any communication aid to assist an individual with a disability to communicate through facilitated communication, unless the representation is true and the respondents have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the representation.
  • Include various reporting requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring the respondents’ compliance with their provisions.

When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions by the respondents. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $11,000.

This page was posted on September 16, 2004.