As I mentioned a few days ago, October is International AAC Awareness month! SpeechHero AAC will be the first app I review for it. The review will be a bit different from my usual, as I will be using the structure that I discussed in my earlier post. Also, Bloomingsoft provided three promo codes to give away, so check out the giveaway post if you would like to enter to win!
App: SpeechHero AAC
What It Is: An AAC app with symbols and text-to-speech by Bloomingsoft.
How It Works: The app comes with preset categories and the option to add/customize categories and tiles (which can be words, phrases, images, etc). You can choose words from the categories, or you can type in text. The entire app includes predictive tiles and text. The categories that you are in are displayed across the top of the choices, so it is easy to navigate back and forth between them.
Features: This is where my previous post will come into play. Check it out to see how I’m adapting Jessica Gosnell’s feature matching chart to review AAC apps. See the screenshots below for the checklist of features, and I’ll explain the general categories more below each one.
So, basically, the main purpose of this app is for expressive language. The voice output is digital unless it is an unrecognized word that you enter, in which case it will by synthesized. There are seven voices: four American dialect (man, woman, boy, girl), two British (man, woman), one Indian (man). Speech occurs after each tile is pressed and again if you press the message bar at the top. The app Symbolstix for representation.
You are also able to import photographs. The tiles can be displayed with text and/or symbol. Horizontal choice boards in a grid view is the main set-up, but text-to-speech is readily accessible as well using a QWERTY keyboard. You can customize the display by editing field size, which will automatically increase the symbol size.
You can hide some symbols/categories; however, it appears it is not possible to do this with the main “system” tiles/folders. The app orients to both landscape and portrait. The symbols/text automatically pop up into the message bar. The app provides feedback by highlighting the selected icon and speaking its content. Animated graphics are supported. Rate enhancement features include excellent word/phrase prediction (with symbol, not just text), the ability to “combine tiles” to save a phrase into on dial, the ability to save tiles to a “favorites” list, and the ability to scroll through cells.
The app can be accessed through direct selection or a pointer/stylus. It requires motor competency to isolate point. (You may also wish to drag if editing icons/folders; however, this is not typically necessary in everyday use.) The developer supports the app via their website, email, and video tutorials built into the app.
Who Could Use It: As with all AAC apps, it has features that would be perfect for some but not for others. For example, if the individual you are assessing has motor control difficulties that necessitate eye control or switch access, the app would not be appropriate. However, the app might work wonderfully for an individual who is able to use direct access and has at least a basic comprehension of categories. It may also be useful for individuals with visual impairments, as it is easy to zoom in/out to enlarge/minimize icons. The ability to add photographs directly from the iPad’s camera roll is good for individuals who have difficulty comprehending representational symbols.
Pros: 1. Ease of use and “intuitive” navigation. Having used plenty of designated AAC devices and several AAC apps, I have frequently struggled with how complex and unnatural it is to navigate them. So much time is wasted learning the system that could be spent on actually learning how to communicate! Everything about this app is easy to use, from fluidly navigating between categories (seriously, sometimes I think it would take a genius to navigate some of the devices I’ve used!) to editing options to moving tiles around. Using the app just felt like using any part of the iPad.
2. Video tutorials within the app. I was impressed that it wasn’t necessary to go to the app’s website to find the videos.
3. Prediction capabilities. LOVE how accurate the word prediction is on this app.
4. Voices. They were clear and crisp, with multiple options to account for age, gender, and dialect.
5. Easy zoom function to enlarge tiles. This could be nice for individuals with visual impairments or those who need a narrower field to stay focused and make selections.
6. Everything is automatically text and symbol–tiles, message bar, word prediction, etc.
7. Combination of categories and regularly used vocabulary. Many things are heavily biased toward one or the other, but this app’s home screen has a nice balance of the two. (And of course, you can customize this as needed.)
Cons: 1. My main hesitation with this app is the lack of settings/customization options. For example, I think it would benefit from including options to change the rate of speech and the pronunciation of certain words (particularly words added by the user). I also think it would be useful to have more control over the display customization (e.g. tile color to make certain tiles more alerting). I would also like to be able to turn on/off if a tile is spoken when selected. For some individuals this may be useful, but for others it would be better for the app to have the option to wait to speak until the individual touches the message bar at the top.
The Take-Away: This app has an intuitive fluidity that makes it pleasant to use. As with any AAC app, it will not fit all individuals but would definitely be a good app for many. (Please make sure to fully assess the features of this app compared to the features your client needs before making a decision.) Overall, I would like to see more settings/customization options added in the future, but I think it is a well-designed app and a great AAC option.
My Questions for You: What are some benefits/barriers that you could foresee if you used this app with an individual with a communication disorder? What suggestions do you have for the developer? What features match/don’t match the needs of some of your clients?
Looking for more expert reviews of this app? Check it out on YappGuru.com!
Disclosure: Bloomingsoft provided me with a copy of this app to review and three copies to give away. I was not compensated in any way for the review, and they were aware that I would be discussing the app’s strengths and weaknesses.