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The Newly Updated AAC App Wheel

by Gillian McNeill

on Fri Jul 03, 2015

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It’s been just over a year since the CALL Scotland team created a new resource - iPad Apps for Complex Communication Support Needs. It has been satisfying to see the fantastic response we have had, with paper copies being whisked off exhibition and workshop tables, and an astounding 15,000 website downloads!

But as we were expecting, for this resource to be as useful as possible - to guide those when selecting AAC Apps for individuals - it requires regular updating! And so after many hours of researching, head-scratching and consulting, we have now produced an updated version 1.3For a list of the changes follow the link to the download page.

The Process

In response to the the wheel, we have had a lot of questions from others about our process for putting it together. In constructing any App list the big question of course is – what to include and what to leave out? So here’s our thinking behind the choices that we made……

There are way too many apps to include every one available in each category within the wheel; we have included those that are:

  • first and foremost available in the UK iTunes App store (in the downloadable electronic version the App names are clickable links to use online, taking you to the App information page on the UK iTunes site)
  • designed for use on an iPad
  • function in 1 of 3 ways -
    1. a full AAC system with text or symbol/picture input, recorded or text-to-speech output and with starter or selected vocabularies
    2. a basic system for simple communication or communication support tool with a certain focus, dependent on the purpose of the communication or a particular approach
    3. support for assessment of language and communication or for pre-requisite skills building and developing AAC use

Every App included, we have researched and used (the front runners more so, others not so extensively) with selection based on our findings and have included those we find useful; reliable; relatively straightforward to use; reasonable/good value for money; and/or that stand out in their category for some reason. Of the many AAC Specialists reviewing, listing and blogging about Apps we have most closely cross-checked with Jane Farrell’s list here. Most, if not all, the Apps that we have included, Jane has given either 2/3 or 3/3 stars in her 1 - 3 star rating.

Our Categories

Our other dilemma was to find a useful way of categorising and displaying the Apps.

This was no easy task! Again after many hours of discussion, debate and compromise, we settled on the wheel design – an easy to follow format, with categories , sub-categories and primary App feature detail, aimed at assisting the user to easily navigate their way through - ‘at a glance’ (or so we hope!).

On the right half of the wheel we have placed the Apps that we consider to be ‘full communication systems’ – those that support communication providing a potentially wide vocabulary that goes beyond single or basic message Apps. Whether text and/or symbol based, these tend to be highly featured, and as a defining feature, include text-to-speech output, a built-in symbol library, at least one or two sample pre-stored user vocabulary sets, and an onscreen message bar to allow for sentence/message building.

The sub-category within the Full Systems called Symbol-based Systems is a large group, so we felt it necessary to divide this into - Symbol-based Grid Systems and Hybrid App Structures. When deciding which category is a best fit for each App, as many Apps have an overlap of features across categories, we accept that arguably certain Apps may equally fit into an alternative category.

In a recent enquiry received at CALL Scotland we were asked to explain our rationale for the sub-category ‘Hybrid App Structures’? Here’s our response -

The Apps categorised as Hybrid App Structures are primarily symbol-based Apps with a mix of different (and sometimes unique or innovative) features that sets them apart from the other more traditional symbol-based Apps. So where the Apps in the Symbol-based Grid Systems category all have a typical grid and folder based organisational display, as well as more widely recognised symbol sets, the Hybrid Apps have either one or more features that are much less typical.

This includes:

  • Organisational display - e.g. AAcorn - vocabulary is selected from a display of dynamically branching pathways (rather like a mind map) which enables message building with the support of word predictions
  • Symbol set – e.g. MyChoicePad uses Makaton symbols, Expressive and Speak for Yourself use symbols from the Smarty Symbol library
  • Visual support features – e.g. Autismate 365 (previously Autismate) this app has a range of support features including video modelling and visual stories, as well as a grid-based AAC option
  • Language organisation – e.g. LAMP Words for Life (previously Unity Core) has a unique system of language organisation based on motor planning and has a unique Unity symbol set

On the left half of the wheel in the lower quadrant, we have placed the Apps that we consider to be more ‘simple’ forms of communication. These may provide basic, functional ways of expressing needs and making choices, or can be used for recording news or stories. They contain limited, if any, starter content and will be customised for the user from ‘bottom-up’ using familiar photos and pictures, and recorded messages.

In the upper quadrant we have placed Apps that mirror and add speech output to particular low-tech communication approaches such as PECS or support development of communication. This may be for building basic vocabulary and language skills, and support receptive skills and expression.

Scottish Voices

Since first creating the wheel, there is one change in App features available, that we have been pleased to see (for our Scottish users in particular) which is the additional of a Scottish text-to-speech voice option. Many users are now familiar with using the Scottish male (Stuart) and female (Heather) voices from Cereproc. These run on PC windows devices (free here for …), so naturally there is an expectation that AAC Apps with text-to-speech will also begin to offer this feature. Unfortunately so far, not many. We have (and continue) to approach Apps developers to stress the need for this voice option and three of the App developers have listened and acted, these are:

  • ChatAble, ClaroCom Pro and Predictable – Nuance voice - Fiona
  • Proloquo2Go – Acapela voice – Rhona

Our message to Apps developers remains – Scottish voice option please and both female and male with adult and child options.

Future Updates

We plan to update the wheel at least once a year, with minor changes only within this period. As always we are more than happy to discuss, debate any omissions, inaccuracies or other suggestions – please get in touch!

Tags: AAC, apps, iPad

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