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iPad Apps for Complex Communication Support Needs

image of poster

Poster details and download button


  • Published: 2021
  • Revision: 2.2
  • Format: A3
  • File type: pdf
  • File size: 1Mb


An accessible breakdown of this PDF poster is available further down the page.

This 'wheel' of Apps provides a categorised guide to iPad Apps for individuals with complex communication support needs, who may need to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). We appreciate that identifying AAC Apps from the many available can be a difficult and challenging task, so we hope that in creating and sharing this resource, it will help you with that process.

Of the Apps included, many have been tried and tested by us or have been recommended by others. We have included a range of Apps for supporting different communication needs and included those which are more or less expensive to buy.

Other key principles in our selection process are:

  • the Apps stand out in their category in some way, due to their features, ease of use and reliability
  • there is evidence of continuing support from the developer for the App, by way of recent updated versions and a website or other web-based presence
  • user information is provided through a guide or similar resource on how to use the App

The Apps are categorised in the wheel based on their key features, although some apps could be listed under multiple categories, we have chosen to assign them according to their primary feature(s).

Apps within the Full Communication Systems section can facilitate comprehensive 'expressive' communication, whether text and/or symbol supported input. 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.

Simple Communication section, support more basic communication and require less complex skills to use. These may provide functional ways of expressing needs and making choices, or for recording and sharing news or stories. They contain limited, if any, starter content and will be customised for the user from 'bottom-up' using familiar photos and images, and recorded message output.

Apps within the Communication Skills section have different applications. Some may use the iPad to mirror and add speech output to particular low tech communication approaches - PECS and PODD. Others are useful for building basic vocabulary and language skills, receptively as much as expressively or to help with assessment or support for AAC.

The AAC Apps wheel was originally published as an A3 poster, but works equally well (only smaller!) as in an A4 printed format.

The App names on the electronic version are 'clickable' links, taking you directly to more information about the individual App on the UK iTunes site.

An accessible breakdown of this PDF poster is available further down the page.

Revision changes

5 Apps removed - Abilipad, Sesame Talking Keyboard, Smooth Talker AAC, PODD with Compass, Talking Mats.

2 Apps added - Dialogue AAC, PlayButton.

1 App renamed from Snap Core First to TD Snap AAC.

Contents of the PDF poster

This is an accessible breakdown of the contents of the PDF poster, designed to be accessible with a screen reader, and also for people who find it hard to see or access the links in the poster.

Full Communication Systems Text-To-Speech

Text-based AAC

Phrase Storage
Quick Chat

Symbol-based Grid System

Commonly Used Symbol Sets
Message Bar
Starter Vocabulary Sets Provided

Hybrid App Structures

Less Common Symbols or own Photos
Unusual Features

Simple Communication Recorded Speech

Basic Systems

Visual Scene Display
No Message Bar
Own Images

Communication Narratives


Communication Skills

Specific Approaches

Visual Schedules

Skill Building

Assessment Support

Identifying Suitable Apps

Identifying AAC Apps from the many available can be a difficult task, we hope that this wheel will help with that purpose. It includes a selection of Apps organised by category, that we broadly find reliable, useful, stand out in their category, and have continued support from the developer. Due to their features, some Apps could be listed under multiple categories, so we have chosen to assign them according to their primary feature(s).

Trialling Apps & Free Versions

When selecting Apps, most individuals prefer to ‘try before you buy’ to avoid inappropriate purchases. It is wise to first seek out specialist assessment from an AAC expert/service such as CALL Scotland,
who may have equipment available for trial. Some App developers if approached, may offer a specific trial, otherwise some Apps have free versions allowing this. They usually have features limited in some way. These are marked in the wheel with an * next to the App name.

Alternative Access

Switch - and Head Tracking (Face ID/Attention) - H

Relatively few Apps are designed with in-built alternative access, such as switch scanning and the newer head tracking (only iPad Pro with a TrueDepth front-facing camera). These Apps offer the most usable and widest range of access options, and may be the ‘safest’ choice for users needing effective alternative access.

Apps with switch access are marked in the wheel with a red border around the App image, head tracking is marked with an H. Accessibility settings built-in to the iPad can improve access to all Apps and the iPad itself and include Touch, Switch control and Face ID/ Attention (iPad Pro), however due to the App design, not all are usable with alternative access.