This app review is going to be a little “out of the box.” I’m hoping that even if you and your clients don’t go specifically to Starbucks, you can find some ideas here to generalize to other coffee shops or even places like grocery stores. (For those of you who
pretend you like prefer Tim Hortons or Dunkin’ Donuts, I’ve heard there are similar apps out there.) This review actually stems from a group project I participated in during a graduate class last semester, and I think it is worth sharing. We were supposed to come up with a way for an adult with a communication disorder to go into a coffee shop and order their favorite coffee without using verbal communication. We quickly realized that it would be easy (and “normal”) for someone to order by largely just using the Starbucks app. Since coffee shops have become a place for people to do everything from meetings to paperwork to socializing, being able to efficiently order using an app that the baristas are already familiar with could be a huge plus. So, here are my thoughts about the app and how it can be implemented in therapy.
What It Is: An app for ordering your coffee at Starbucks.
How It Works: *Note: you need a Starbucks rewards card (which is not a credit card) to use the app fully. To get a Starbucks rewards card you just register your gift card online.* The app’s main functions are as follows: choosing food/drink, paying for the order, getting rewards points for free drinks, and locating stores. (Each one of these has potential hidden benefits for people with communication disorders.) Each of these things can be done separately. (For example, you can just pay for your drink with the app–you don’t have to go through each step of choosing a drink if you don’t need that function.) When choosing a drink for the first time, the app starts by asking you to pick hot or cold (and provides helpful visuals along the way). After this, it slowly narrows down your options (e.g. just frappuccinos, to just lite blend frappuccinos, to a caramel frappuccino). Then you can customize it in basically any way (adding syrups, changing the size, putting it in a “for here cup,” etc.). Choosing food is a similar, somewhat shorter process. Both drinks and food can be saved into a favorites section so the whole process does not need to be performed each time. Paying is like using any gift card–just hold up the barcode on the app to their scanner. The amount on your card automatically updates and is displayed on the screen. You get a rewards point for each purchase and a free drink of any size and type every 15 points. The store locator option uses the GPS function on your phone to locate the closest stores and give you details (hours, directions, etc.).
Therapy Applications: Clearly, this is a pretty comprehensive app for Starbucks drinkers. 🙂 But how could it possibly be used for therapy and communication purposes? Well, obviously this app would be for adult coffee drinkers. An adult with, for example, a brain injury may not be able to use verbal speech effectively and may need an alternative (or augmentative) form of communication. The app provides a way for this person to communicate with his/her barista. They can easily respond to the barista’s questions about the items. Aside from AAC purposes, the app can also be used as an organizational tool (using the drinks/food walk-throughs as well as the store locator and ability to pay using the app). Since many people with brain injuries have difficulty with cognitive functions such as organization and memory, the app can be a useful way for them to plan, structure, and save their order for future use. In addition, the nature of a coffee shop is social, so this app naturally transitions into the first step of a successful social outing. All of these things can be addressed in therapy using the app in mock situations before the individual attempts using it in a real store. Hopefully, having the app will decrease the individual’s stress and cognitive load.
Pros: 1. Price! The app is free and so is the rewards card. (The coffee….well, not so much, but it will be after each 15 drinks!)
2. It’s easy to customize this for the person’s needs since it’s possible to only use certain functions.
3. It can be used for a variety of communication purposes such as AAC, organization/memory, and social skills with people who have a variety of disorders such as aphasia, traumatic brain injury, severe apraxia/dysarthria, etc.
4. Coffee shops are such a perfect place for natural communication. How awesome would it be if being able to use this app while ordering gives the person the confidence to go out and grab a coffee with a friend?
5. It’s “normal.” I use this app nearly every day. The baristas and other customers are familiar with it, so it doesn’t stick out like a huge communication device could.
6. It has built-in adult incentives. Those can be hard to find in adult communication/cognitive therapy. Oftentimes people with brain injury or other communication disorders will struggle with a combination of depression and executive functioning deficits, which can result in not leaving the house. This app provides some subtle motivation on which the therapist can capitalize while addressing executive functioning goals.
7. I have never experienced any kinks with the app. It is pretty easy to load the card, use it in the store to pay, and find food and drinks.
8. Great visual prompts to help reduce the cognitive load of reading.
Cons: 1. The app is not going to fulfill the person’s every communication need, and it can’t account for every possibility a person could encounter while ordering. In other words, it would need to be supplemented with another means of communication at times.
2. There are times when, as a therapist, you may want the individual to practice using other skills (e.g. verbal language or a different means of AAC) to communicate, and this could become a “crutch” for the person to use instead of having to truly communicate with the baristas.
3. This app is not going to help the individual communicate with others in the coffee shop; however, it can be a starting point for getting them there and helping them feel like efficient communicators.
The Take-Away: Great everyday app for promoting a variety of skills in adult users with communication and/or cognitive challenges.
My Questions for You: Could you see yourself using this with your clients? Are there similar apps (e.g. grocery store apps) that you use in the same manner? What other goals could be addressed using these types of apps?