Using mainstream-handheld-devices-as-communication-aids


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Using mainstream-handheld-devices-as-communication-aids

  1. 1. Communication Apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod TouchUsing Mainstream handheld devices as communication aids? By Sally Millar, CALL Scotland, April 2010Apps for iPhone and iPod TouchA range of AAC options have appeared as Apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch - andsome, if not all, will be re-versioned to fit the new iPad screen. Some are moreextensive than others (reflected in the price) but all are pretty affordablecompared with dedicated handheld communication aids, which generally cost over£1,000. This will make Apps attractive as assessment tools and for parents andfamilies to purchase themselves. Several of the communication Apps have beencreated by parents for their own child, often with autistic spectrum disorder. Theywill be useful for use by others, too.Apart from price, the ‘cool factor’ of the iPhone/ iPod Touch/ iPad makes thesesystems very interesting for all users, especially youngsters.Which device to buy depends on your needs. The iPod Touch is slightly slimmer andlighter, has a faster processor and is cheaper. The iPhone can be used as a phoneand also has a built-in camera, which makes it quicker to personalise an AAC Appwith your own pictures. If there are visual or accessing issues, the larger screensize of the iPad may be helpful. On all devices, you may need to know how torestrict access to things like Safari, YouTube, iTunes, Apps purchase etc.(Settings/General/Restrictions, and use a Password).Note however that switch access is not an option on any of these Apps, they are alltouch screen operated.For use as a communication aid, these devices need an amplified speaker, asobviously earphones are not appropriate in this context, and the sound withoutearphones is too quiet. These cost extra. Similarly, to record in your own newmessages to a communication aid, you need a microphone. iPhone and iPad havebuilt-in mics but the iPod needs an external microphone. Further details are shownbelow at the end of this review.Like all other Apps these AAC Apps are available only online through the iTunesStore (App Store). They are downloaded into your iTuneslibrary and then transferred to your iPhone / Touch / Pad when you connect andsync it. This process could be difficult for Education or NHS purchasers but AACservice in Aberdeen has come up with the clever idea of getting the authority/NHSto purchase an iTunes gift voucher so the family or therapist can purchase anddownload on to whichever computer suits them.For more apps, see iPhone and iPod Touch Apps for (Special) Education by EricSailers, downloadable at list contains over 150 apps categorised under the headings Communication;Organization; Reading; Writing; Math; Music; Songs; Art; Games; AssistiveTechnology.But more Apps keep coming out all the time – this paper is no doubt already out of date!© CALL Scotland, May 2010 1
  2. 2. Proloquo2Go (£110) reviewed is 1.2, February 2010. Version 1.3 for iPad just released.In spite of its amazingly low price (compared to dedicated AAC technology, not toother Apps) Proloquo2Go (P2G) is a major and complex, highly featuredcommunication aid application developed by AssistiveWare (Samuel Sennott andDavid Neimeijer). It also well supported worldwide through a comprehensive andinformative website with introductory videos and occasional online ‘live’ tutorials,a FAQ section, User Discussion Forum and regular e-News distribution.It comes with a built-in communication vocabulary (VocaSpace) which contains c.7000 items/messages and which can be expanded and personalized as much as youwant. In the Settings, you can choose large, normal or small symbols, and differentvocabulary sizes. It uses Acapela voice (American), which can be swapped forBritish voices (via download). The vocabulary is arranged into ‘Basics’ (coremessages, social chat etc.), ‘Categories’ (core and fringe items - extensive), and‘Spaces’ (areas for context specific vocabulary). Basic Spaces include the obviouslike ‘Home’ and ‘School’, but there are endless ‘My Spaces’ for personalisedvocabulary.P2G is easy to program and customise, especially for anyone with previousiPhone/iPod Touch experience. However it has so many features, some of whichare innovative and quite advanced even within the specialist AAC market, that itcan nonetheless take a while to ‘get your head round’. Features include things likefull grammatical conjugation of words, easy storage of storage of whole messagesthat have been built-up bit by bit, and ‘Recents’ view to repeat messages saidpreviously. P2G uses Symbol Stix (8,000 available in this Vocabulary set) – the latest picture communication symbols, which look rather like PCS but have a nice fresh and ‘modern’ look to them (the downside is that they are very ‘American’ in parts and there is no UK version).In the basic settings, you can choose to ‘turn off’ symbolsand use only words instead, but apart from this, there areno text options embedded within the P2Go application (egno text prediction etc.) so it is not so useful for users whoare bridging across between symbols and text.Depending on your choice of layout, P2Go will displayanything from 1 to 36 symbols per grid/screen. You can,© CALL Scotland, May 2010 2
  3. 3. alternatively, choose a (traditional iPod-look) ‘list’ view.The latest versions fix bugs and incorporates important new features requested byusers, of which there seems to be a rapidly increasing number worldwide (includingmany parents). For example, pronunciation correction and storage.P2G is so rich that if the largest layout is used, it can seem a bit overwhelming onthe wee iPhone/iPod Touch screen - perhaps just too small for some users, Thenew iPad may open things up for more users.As well as those on the P2G web site, there are some interesting and useful videoson – just search for Proloquo2Go. ***MyTalk (£21.49) Another low(ish) cost communication appdeveloped by a parent, combining picture input with speech output. Pages can becreated and storedonline. The picturescome from a ‘PublicLibrary’ of c. 1000symbols (in my view, arather visually nastymix of clip art,cartoons etc.). Youcan import your ownphotos and any othergraphics, includingimages taken directlyfrom the web (storethem in your own‘Private Library’). You can record voice messages. It has a range of useful features,but seems rather over-techy and is complicated to edit and set up. The App is setto user mode so the user cannot wander in and change the vocabulary. To ‘author’,you need to log in with a password, then toggle between View and Edit.Some support is available through online Blog, FAQ, and User Forum. There aresome interesting and useful videos on – just search for MyTalk. ***Voice4U £17.99 http://voice4uaac.comThis is a pretty basic little App, sold by Spectrum Vision forthe iPhone or iPod Touch. The way it works will be instantlyfamiliar to all users of IPhone or Touch.When I first looked at it, it looked really basic and simple –and it IS, for the user. But the more I explored it, the morequiet but stylish little features I discovered that enhance itsusability for the person supporting the user and developing the vocabulary.© CALL Scotland, May 2010 3
  4. 4. Basically, it has a word list in picture form down the left hand side, with a textgloss beside each item in the middle of the screen, then an arrow on the right.When you choose an item, press the arrow and the screen changes quickly to a newscreen displaying a full screen version of the picture and a small text label. Whenyou touch that screen, it speaks out the single word in an Americanish soundingvoice – not bad quality.The vocabulary is set out in alphabetical order, so this App is perhaps appropriatefor more literate users. To find the item you want you don’t have to scroll througheverything, you use the little alphabet on the right and it will move you to thesection starting with that letter. You can also choose to work from alternativelayout such as ‘Popular’ i.e. a subset of common core vocabulary (for a child) or‘Recent’ i.e. a subset of the items you use commonly.Each vocabulary item is also organised into one of 8 basic categories (one of whichis ‘general’ acting as a ‘catch-all’). So the user could also choose a category firstand browse through to prompt him/herself then choose an item.It comes with 130 pre-loaded pictures/symbols (which look like a Taiwanese set)You can change these and add your own vocabulary to personalise thecommunicator by taking or importing photos, and/or importing other graphics fromanother source. I’ve not done this extensively so far but haven’t run into anyproblems yet with picture size.You can read up all about this App and also watch some tutorial videos online at ***Look-2-Learn (£14.99) is designed as avery basic talking screen versionof the PECS stage of sequencing:I want + chosen /desired item.The ‘I want’ stays on screen andthe user selects first one of 6categories (snacks, meals, indoorplay, outdoor play, basic needs,emotions) then one of the 6options within that category.(With emotions, the ‘I want’remains in view but does notspeak, so the single emotionspicture says ‘I am sad’ etc.)The ‘I want’ is a cartoon picture, otherwise the graphics used are all clear colourphotos. Within the 6 fixed categories you can customize and add new picturevocabulary and recorded messages (but it’s really not obvious how to do this – besure to download the User Guide from the website to work out how!) There is afreely downloadable 5-page assessment sheet to help you set up the App to suit an© CALL Scotland, May 2010 4
  5. 5. individual user. It’s incredibly cheap compared with a communication aid (or evena PECS book from Pyramid, or a couple of rolls of Velcro!!), so well worth a try-outwith users at this level.See also the new Stories2Learn (£7.99) ***iConverse (£2.99) is another cheapo very basic communication tool. Itcomes with 6 basic needs messages only: ‘I need thebathroom’; ‘I need a drink’; ‘I need help’; ’I need toeat’; ‘I need a break’; ‘I feel sick’. You can add yourown buttons using photos taken there and then oniPhone, or any imported pictures. You can’t delete thebuilt-in buttons, but to delete a button you’ve added,slide finger across it. You can change the voice frommale to female on built-in buttons but for some reasonthe added buttons all seem to speak in a male voice.This App has a bit of a way to go before it is likely to bevery useful generally, but it could be very useful as anassessment tool – can the user see the screen? can theuser master the ‘iPod flick’? and so on. It could also be useful as a cheap temporarycommunication aid for someone who needs to communicate basic needs only, or asa backup when the normal means of communication isn’t working. ***iCommunicate 1.2 (£2.99) (March 2010)iCommunicate for iPad (£2.99) (April 2010)plus audio £2.99The first version of this App was visual only but the latestversion thankfully has added the ability to record a messageand have audio output. Seems like you have to buy it againrather then upgrade if you bought the earlier version.Confusingly, the price has dropped from £5.99 to £2.99 butyou have to purchase the audio component separately asyou go through the purchase, for another £2.99 (so £6.98altogether). If used as an expressive communication aid,the user can select a picture from an alphabeticallyorganised list of thumbnails (like Voice4U above, but not so elegantly designed)).The screen then changes to display a full screen version of the picture, which willspeak when tapped. 100 pictures are built-in and you can import your ownThis App also offers something more, that is a bit different, ie a visually supportiveprompt mode (receptive rather then expressive function). This alternative mode,called ‘Storyboards/Routines’ allows you to sequence a series of pictures to createa visual prompt for each step of a familiar routine. This could then be used toreassure the user that he/she knows what’s happening next (ie like a visualschedule, basically) or to provide verbal instructions to help someone learn a newtask. ***© CALL Scotland, May 2010 5
  6. 6. iComm (£15.99 – but available on SALE at £1.59, May 2010) is designed by a parent for their young childwith cerebral palsy, who currently uses eye pointingrather than direct touch to indicate her selections.The design of the app reflects this age and stage bysuggesting an adult-led mode of use.Similarly to some of the others reviewed above, it isdesigned to provide a basic visual vocabulary and tooffer simple choices. You upload your own photos/images, and record your ownvoice to make it fully personalised.Please note that will ONLY run on an iPhone, not on an iPod Touch. It is claimedto work on the iPad, but this needs to be checked - it may only work on theWiFi + 3G version, and not the cheaper WiFi only version??Downloadable from the iTunes Appstore as usual, you first get the free version ofiComm (limited features), and then if you want to use the full version, click toupgrade and pay at that point. The full version gives you more categories (20 in fullversion, 9 in free version), more vocabulary storage frames in each category (forextra vocabulary) and audio files. The website provides useful video tutorials and‘top tips’ for use.Content is organised into categories. When you choose your category, it displays 4items per page and you flick through the screens to find the item you want. When aselection is made, it offers a confirmation Yes/No step (useful for eye pointers andmany children who need longer to process). iComm comes with some photos in itand (full version only) some pre-school learning material (colours, shapes, letters).It is fully editable – categories, images, voice tags – and flexible. You can recordthe child’s favourite songs into the ‘Songs’ category, to make the app anentertainment tool as well as a communication tool. ***TapSpeak Button (£5.99) ( is a pretty extraordinary concept – a simulation of BigMack on an iPhone /Touch (iPad version available). You can choose and change the colour of yourbutton. You record a single message and touchingthe onscreen button plays back the message.Where it differs from the BIGmack is that you canstore and reuse all the recorded messages andjust select the one you want to make available tothe user at any time, instead of rerecording. Youcan store a more or less unlimited number ofmessages, and edit the order of messages in thelist (but not auto-alphabetize them, sadly).© CALL Scotland, May 2010 6
  7. 7. There are apparently more coming, in the series, from this author, to extend tomaking choices, Look out for TapSpeak Picture, TapSpeak Picture Choices andTapSpeak Sequential, coming…soon? ***Tap to Talk App (free app, annual subscription from $99.95)(, the communication program Tap to Talkthat was brought out originally for Nintendo DS and DSLite (see below) is now available also as an app for theiPhone, iPod Touch and/or iPad. It seems that the speechquality is better in this format than on the Nintendo. Andunlike the Nintendo version, you can now program on-device, which is definitely handy.The app is free via the App Store, but you need to besubscribed to the web-based Tap to Talk Designer - arenewable annual subscription, with different cost levels and features (Home/Pro/Agency). There are good video tutorials and help notes on the web site and asupport network using website, blog, FaceBook, and Twitter.The app includes a large bank of pictures and you can add your own, attach soundfiles and/or record your speech You create an ‘album’ of pictures related to achosen setting or category (eg. home, riding etc.) and the screen displays 6pictures at a time for the user to choose from.See below in the Nintendo discussion for more details. ***Locabulary Lite (free) useful little app is based entirely on text, very useful for readers. Easy topersonalise ***© CALL Scotland, May 2010 7
  8. 8. There are other Apps that are not communication aids as such but could be usefulin various ways to speech impaired users, for example the follow that basically turntext into speech / audio output.iSayIt (£0.59)Speak it! (£1.19)iTalking (£1.79) ***Even though some of these Apps seem too limited, or not quite right for yourneeds, it is worth checking frequently and watching how they develop. Updatedversions of Apps come out from time to time – and upgrades are often free or youmight be asked to pay a few ££££ more if it’s a major upgrade.When you go to the iTunes Store, check out the Medical and the Education sectionsin the Apps Store Menu. ***Signing AppsAmerican Sign LanguageSign 4 U (£5.99)There is an App that costs only £5.99 that stores over 11,000 vocabulary items andacts as an interactive sign dictionary. When you touch the text word or phrase, itshows an avatar signing the item.This is American Sign Language, so sadly not much use for users of BSL or a derivedsystem such as Makaton or Signalong. But I’m guessing/hoping it’s only a matter oftime before someone thinks of getting a British version together.There is criticism of this App from the deaf world, as it reflects single words SignedExact English sign order rather than proper sign language grammar – but that is notexclusive to this resource, it is a frequently raised issue.There are several other interesting looking ASL Apps on offer in the iTunes AppStore – just search the App Store on ‘ASL’ or ‘Sign Language’. For example, ASL(signs) (free); Sign Smith, Signing Time, iSign, iSign 3D (and ‘Lite’ – free versionsof these, with fewer signs, presumably just to give you a ‘try before you buy’option). Even though they are not BSL they are really interesting to get ideas aboutwhat is possible in this medium. There are also Baby Sign Apps (ASL Lite, withvideos, is free and also one with Australian Sign Language.)CALL will try and review more of these in due course, or would be happy to receiveand share your review if you try any of these out.British Sign Language Alphabet (£1.79)GotMyBSL (£1.19)These seem to be the only British resources so far, and both are the alphabet only,not BSL as such. Hopefully there will be more to come!© CALL Scotland, May 2010 8
  9. 9. These are all in the ‘Education’ section of the Apps Store.Speakers and Microphones for iPhone and iPod TouchSpeakersThe real issue is finding an amplified speaker that is light and easily portable to gowith your highly portable iPod or iPhone device! Ideally you want one like theiMainGo or iMainGo2 case, which is a rigid case that both protects your iPod ANDgives brilliant volume. These are sold by various stores, at around £37. The X-mini (lighter) and the X-mini II/2(heavier) (or similar mini speakers, cheaper) are small, light and loud, which isgood - but because they are separate from the iPod, it can get complicated as towhere to wear/ mount them. There are some useful pointers at for iPadWe haven’t got our hands on one ourselves (the iPad has not even quite landed yetin the UK at the time of writing), but the word on the street is that even the iPad’slarger size does not provide adequately amplified speech output to make it an AACaid on its own. Any external speaker that plugs into the headphone socket wouldwork with an iPad, but because of its shape and size, you’d probably not want oneof the wee round type of speaker, but a slimmer rectangular one that could befixed to the device itself or to a stand.Suppliers have not quite yet got into gear to offer external speakers that arespecially adapted for the iPad but it is certain that a range of these will appearsoon. For the moment, you could consider the ‘mini Back Box’ (£89) or ‘Big BackBox’ (£139) from SmartBox ( Users of Proloquo2go arerecommending the speaker available online ($79.00) from RJ Cooper( (good demos of sound with andwithout amplification, on this web site). Both of these could be Velcro-ed orclipped to the iPad or to a stand or mounting arm.Recording your own vocabularyRecording is straightforward with an iPhone, as, obviously, it has its own built-inmicrophone. The iPad also has a built-in mic. The iPod Touch doesn’t, and youcan’t just use ‘any old’ mic with it. With a 32 or 64GB iPod Touch you can recordwith the microphone on the accompanying earphones that are part of the bundle.Otherwise you need to buy an external microphone, that will be connected to theheadphone socket on the iPod Touch (this may only work with the 2 nd generationand later, maybe not the oldest 1st generation model – check what the seller says inthe details about the microphone before buying). The following options areavailable cheaply online: Thumb Tack Mic 3.5mm Mini Microphone (£7.79 from© CALL Scotland, May 2010 9
  10. 10. Mini Mic 3.5mm Microphone (£7.99 from identify your model of iPod TouchApple have brought out various ‘generations’ of the iPod Touch, and you may needto know what you have got in order to get the right speaker or microphone. How doyou tell? 1st generation: Does not feature an external volume control or any built-in speaker. control (left hand side) and a built-in speaker. an external volume control and a built-in speaker. design and an external volume control and a built-in speaker. Bundled with remote earphones with microphone. rd generation: Not yet released. ****** NintendoThis is not an Apple product obviously - but another example of a low costcommunication application available on a cheap device commonly already found inmany households. A child who does not want to look ‘different’ can be like siblingsand friends while using this games machine to help them talk.TapToTalkApp for Nintendo DSLite, DSi and DSi‘TapToTalk’ is a software app created for theNintendo DS Lite, DSi or DSi XL, designed as ahandheld dynamic screen communication aid. It isavailable from where you canalso view demos and link to tutorials on YouTube.Available online, it costs $99.95 for a home yearlysubscription (1 child). There are various differentrates, for different numbers of users.This subscription includes online access to‘TapToTalk Designer,’ the TapToTalk Nintendo app, the TapToTalk Web app andthe Starter Kit. The Starter Kit includes a game cartridge, microSD card, a USBadapter for the microSD card and an SD adapter for the microSD card. Thesubscription could be off-putting to those who like to buy a ‘one off’ product.However, it might take the pressure off people in making the ‘perfect AACdecision’ and encourage them to try it and see if it works for them. There is also a30 day return policy.The DS Lite itself is affordable and very robust, suited to small hands, has a verygood battery life of 19 hours, and definitely has a ‘cool’ factor. The software takes© CALL Scotland, May 2010 10
  11. 11. some getting used to, but is fine with practice. To communicate, the user taps thechosen picture on the DS Lite’s bottom touch-screen with their finger or stylus tomake it speak the word or sentence and appear on the top screen. The DS Lite has3” screens. You need to have fairly good fine motor skills to access the screen andsome of the DS control buttons, used to navigate the pages and change settings.The software comes with a bank of over 2000 pictures, and can be fully customisedwith the user’s own pictures, photos and messages. To use communication symbols,you need to either subscribe online to SymbolStix or else convert and import yourPCS/Widgit symbols one by one as .jpg files (slow!)Sets of pictures, or ‘albums’ are customised on ‘TapToTalk Designer’ (accessed viathe Internet), and then transferred to the DS via an SD card or ‘cartridge.’ Youcan’t program on-device, which is a pity (or possibly an advantage, with someusers?), but the communication system can be accessed and used on any computeronline, not just the DS Lite. This could be valuable if the user needs a biggerscreen, eg a touch screen tablet PC. It also means that if a device is lost ordamaged, the latest complete version of the pages can be used online anddownloaded again later.‘TapToTalk’ could be a good option for users who need a simple picture layout,without text options and who respond to the ‘mainstream’ popularity of the DS.However, poor sound is a barrier to it becoming really useful as a communicationaid. The Nintendo volume is not loud enough for functional communication (thoughthe bigger devices are slightly louder) and the sound quality for recorded voice isvery poor. External speakers are required to make the voice output audible foreveryday use. The sound quality is better if you import an Audacity sound filerather than recording directly into the DS Lite. Sound quality gets better as youmove up from the Lite to the DS or the DS XL – but you’d still need an extraspeaker.We tried the ‘Sound Grip Speakers’ (see below) which are really nice in that theyclip on and act as handles for the device – but sadly they do not offer great soundquality or volume either! We have not tried any others yet. It does achieve goodvolume with the X-mini speaker (you’d have to wear it round your neck)Speakers for Nintendo DS range BigBang Sound Grip Speakers for Nintendo DS Lite (£4.99) – cheap enough and really nicely designed so they fit well and help you to hold the device – but the sound quality is poor, unfortunately.Tap to Talk and users recommend the Cygnett CY3BBBGrooveBassball ReChargeable Portable Speaker for iPods and MP3Players (£15.28) (similar to the X-mini speaker described in theiPod section above.) HAppy Days!© CALL Scotland, May 2010 11