When the iPad first came out, I thought that this device was a godsend for people whose communication skills were so impaired that without assistance they were locked into silence or were wholly reliant on someone else to communicate for them. For those in that situation, the iPad has the potential to offer them a level of communication independence they may not yet have known.
I downloaded seven AAC apps to review.
Touch Voice: The user of this app can select a screen with prewritten words and phrases or a screen to type in a word or phrase of one’s choice. The former is accessed by tapping the Words button and the latter by tapping the Letters button. The words and phrases are written on buttons and arranged in keyboard like fashion. There are 142 phrase options, from which to select, 28-30 per screen shown over five screens. To find a word or phrase, one scrolls through the screens until one finds what one wishes to communicate. They are grouped somewhat categorically in that, for example, words for grooming are near one another. Tap on the button and the same word or phrase appears in a bar at the top of the screen. Below the bar is a Speak button. Tap on it and the word or phrase in the bar is spoken. To compose one’s own message, one taps Letters to access a touch keyboard. Whatever is typed appears on the bar at the top. Tap Speak to have the phrase spoken. There are Yes and No buttons at the bottom of the screen for quick replies.
This app uses e-speak, a computer-synthesized speech engine. As such, the speech is robotic and, in my opinion, unpleasant. The clarity is fair. Sometimes, I could not decide if the robot was American, British, Australian or South African. Any of them is a pleasant accent when spoken by a human but still annoying in the robotic e-speak.
The app developer states that the app “may be able to help” are those who have brain cancer, amytropic lateral sclerosis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, ataxia as well as those who have had their larynx removed, stroke, or traumatic brain injury. As an AAC device, this app does the job albeit in a sterile fashion. For those individuals, whose vision and reading my be impacted by their illness, the presentation of the words and phrases may make finding the correct word or phrase a challenge.
Ages: Adults for whom reading is not a challenge
Developer website: Touch-voice.com
Sono Flex Lite
: This app is similar to Touch Voice in that it presents words and phrases in a keyboard layout and both have a keyboard option to type in what one wishes to communicate. But that is where the similarities end. The keys on Sono Flex have stick figures and pictures with the word or phrase written above them. I like the pictures. They are fun, lighthearted and make the app. Also, the voices, although synthesized, are pleasant and easy to understand. The top of the Sono Flex screens are divided into four compartments: History, Quick Phrases, a box where the selected words or phrase appears with its picture, Keyboard and a Home button that also functions as a Select Context button. Tap on History and the screen changes to show what words and phrases were used in the last 30 minutes, today, and earlier. Each of these time periods has its own box at the top of the screen. Once simply needs to tap on the time period to see the phrases used. One has the option of deleting the phrases on in History. Tap on Quick Phrases and the screen moves to keys containing common phrases. The Home screen has keys for basic words I, be, do, like, not, how, it, can , have, want, to, and what. Below these keys are buttons for the categories: pronouns, verbs, describe, things, body and clothing, food and eating, people, time, places, short words, question, and write phrases. Tap on any of these buttons to see the relevant vocabulary. On the far right are context buttons. One selects four out of eight contexts (about me, lunch, art, math, circle time, Mr. Potato Head, I spy and playground) to appear on the Home screen. Tap on the context and relevant vocabulary is shown.
Even though some of the content of this app is geared towards children, I think adults will find the app appealing. There is a lot of content pushed into this lite version. For those needing more, there is a non-lite version of this app, with 11,000 symbols.
Ages: 5 to adult
Developer website: www.tobii.com
Cost: Free for the lite version, $99.99 for the non-lite version
: Similar to Touch Voice, this app contains letters, words and phrases in written form only. One can select from lists of words and phrases at the top of the screen or type in one’s own communication on the touch keyboard at the lower part of the screen. In the middle of the screen, on the left, is a white blank window where the desired word(s) print after being selected or typed. On the right are four gray boxes. After the first letter is printed in the white box, four possible word choices appear in the gray boxes; if a word is typed or selected, four choices for the next word appear in the gray areas. If none are desired, one can type in the first letter of the next word to see choices that start with that letter. Each subsequent letter typed refines the choices that appear. On the keyboard is a Speak button that says the word(s) appearing in the white window. Once that word or phrase is spoken, it is erased. If one wishes the app to repeat what was just said, one taps on the Repeat key (below the Speak button). Not only is the word(s) repeated, it also reappears, for a second or two, in written form in a black box. One has the option of having each word spoken as it is printed by tapping on the Speak Each Word button. The voice is robotic and speaks a little too rapidly but is intelligible.
Ages: 8 to adult
Developer website: www. verballyapp.com
Cost: Free. There is an upgraded version for $99.99 that I have not tried. According to the developer, the upgrade allows one to save phrases and conversation history, has an email connect option and the choice of voices—-male, female or child.
I downloaded four more AAC apps that I will just mention briefly. They are geared for children and merit the “meh” factor (let’s say one +). The resolution of their displays is not great and the vocabulary they offer is meager. But they are free.
Pics Aloud Lite (imjsoftware.com/picsaloud), Tap to Talk (taptotalk.com), ComApp and My Voice Free (in Hebrew): These apps show pictures that, when tapped, elicit a human voice saying either the word or using the word in a phrase such as, “May I have a drink, please?” or “I am tired.” Pics Aloud, ComApp and Tap to Talk offer upgraded versions that I did not purchase. The free version of Tap to Talk became unusable after I tapped on the icon for more information. The new screen offered purchasing options or a visit to their website for more sample content but first one needs to type in one’s name and email address.