Angela Moorad, MS, CCC-SLP. Over 33 years experience in AAC. OMazing Kids AAC and app consulting. Creator of several AAC Feature Matching resources (https://omazingkidsllc.com/omazing-kids-aac-resource-links/). Includes info about unique features to support Gestalt Language Processors
My latest tech rabbit hole to go down is use of an external Bluetooth keyboard with AAC. I’ve gotten a few inquiries related to this recently so I decided to see what I could find.
Features: I wanted something that could be used across all of my tech (iOS, Android, Windows), is affordable, portable, reliable, easy to pair, has a nice feel to the keys, has a slight incline, etc. This keyboard has three separate Bluetooth buttons to be able to toggle easily between three different devices that have been paired to it (not used simultaneously on three devices but makes switching between them very quick).
It’s been surprising to discover how many AAC apps (symbol-based & text-based) support use of an external keyboard. I’ll be adding this info to the next update for my feature matching resources.
I’ve been impressed with the Arteck Universal Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard that I bought on Amazon.com: https://a.co/d/2Qn2f9d. Great price ($17.99 – an extra 20% off = $14.39), has a good feel to it and it fits perfectly in a Vera Bradley pouch that I already had.
See more about this Vera Bradley item and what will fit in it on my Vera Bradley YouTube channel:
This item was on sale for a good price when I purchased both of them back in December ($20.75). It’s priced higher now but prices on Amazon change frequently so it’s something that you may want to save in your cart and watch for a good sale: https://a.co/d/dSPfFhM
Important Considerations: These keyboard features would likely be the top features for folks who are able to type on a keyboard on a laptop or computerand are wanting something portable to use with their AAC. A couple of the inquiries that I received were regarding adult AAC users who preferred to type on a keyboard vs. on a device screen, a couple were from folks wanting a keyboard for use when editing & a couple were related to children who have a passion for letters and keyboards (based on the info that I was provided they are likely Gestalt Language Processors with Hyperlexia) and those supporting AAC use thought that they might prefer using an external Bluetooth keyboard. Each situation is unique. If you are wanting to explore external Bluetooth keyboard options for individuals with complex access needs then it’s important to consult with an OT and/or AT Specialist. There are several alternative assistive technology keyboards on the market but those are very specialized, typically much more expensive and may not work across multiple platforms.
It’s important to find a keyboard that’s compatible with whatever operating system is used on that device. I read through tons of reviews prior to deciding to try this particular keyboard. I took the time to add my own review for it on Amazon to help others find it more quickly than I did. That’s also the reason that I decided to post about it on social media and write this blog post.
I made this video to share with someone in the AAC for the SLP Facebook group who was looking for an option for Punjabi & English bilingual AAC and decided to post it here too in case it would be helpful to anyone else. Note: I checked and Punjabi wasn’t listed as a language in any of the apps from Avaz: https://avazapp.com/products/avaz-aac-app/.
When I set Google as the preferred speech engine I was able to find several adult female and a couple of adult male synthesized Punjabi voices. At the time that I posted this I did not find any Punjabi synthesized voices available on the iPad.
CoughDrop uses Google Translate to create the Punjabi translation so it would be very important to have a native speaker of that language review the translation, content and symbols for accuracy & cultural relevance.
Instead of using the Coughdrop keyboard you’ll need to install the Samsung Punjabi-English system keyboard and then program the keyboard button on the home page to use that instead (:native-keyboard has to be in the Speak – Sound box & you toggle on using the native keyboard under preferences).
You’ll need to install these two languages in the Samsung settings (General Management – Language). You add the board for each language to the sidebar to create a way to toggle between them. It took some trial and error to figure it out but is doable.
How did I know that Punjabi was an option on Android? I took a really deep dive into exploring voices and languages available in iOS, Android, Amazon Fire and Windows when I created the AAC Apps and Features At-a-Glance (Single Page Handouts): https://bit.ly/AAC-At-a-Glance. That 90 page PDF resource was inspired by the numerous requests that I’ve received for simple “at a glance” info about features in AAC apps and single page handouts that could be used with parents, caregivers and anyone involved in the AAC decision making process. More info: https://omazingkidsllc.com/2022/11/20/aac-apps-and-features-at-a-glance-single-page-handouts/
The Feature Matching Chart for the Top 12 Robust iOS Symbol-Based AAC Apps has been updated. Includes info about features in the new Motor Plan pagesets in TD Snap, info about sign language symbols available in apps, info about using Slide Over in apps that don’t fully support Split Screen/Split View, and several new features added in apps since the last update. Be sure to download a fresh copy for the most current info.
In this video I show how and discuss why I typically add an Alert Bell button in TD Snap. The most time consuming part was finding a free mp3 doorbell sound that was both pleasant and sustained long enough to gain attention. Here’s the website that I used: https://www.soundjay.com/doorbell-sound-effect.html.
Watch my short tutorial video for all of the steps for adding it to your pageset and considerations when doing this:
My TD Snap related resources:
TD Snap: a visual guide to getting started: https://bit.ly/3qRuXdQ (I’ll be updating this soon to add info about the new Motor Plan pageset options)
Did you know that several AAC apps have a way to add sign language symbols and some have a way to play an ASL video or GIF? It’s cool to have these options to meet very unique needs.
As with anything that I share… there is no “one size fits all” to AAC. Some individuals may prefer just to sign and might use text messaging or hand writing when communicating with those who don’t know sign language. For those who want to use AAC, some users may prefer the regular symbols in that AAC system, some may prefer text-based AAC, some may prefer that ASL letter symbols be added to a keyboard, some may prefer GIFs or videos of signs, some may prefer static pics of signs, some may prefer a combination of options, etc…
So it is very important to include that individual in deciding what may be helpful for them.
This post is purely just to share info about options. I’m in the unique position of having access not just to almost every AAC app but also various extra symbol sets within them. I feel compelled to share info about what I’m able to find in these apps since that often isn’t fully documented in the description in the App Store or on the various companies’ websites.
Note: Most apps allow you to import pics from your Camera Roll. I often take a screenshot of a symbol that I may need and use it in another app. Most AAC apps also offer a way for folks to share things that they have customized directly with another person via AirDrop, email, DropBox, Google Drive, etc…
My focus in this post is on AAC apps that offer sign language symbols as part of their built in (or an add on) symbol library or offer a way to play ASL videos or GIFs and/or offer a way to download premade boards from a website or public online sharing area. This post is primarily about iOS apps but a few are available on other platforms (Android and/or Windows)
AAC apps are constantly changing as new features are added. The info was accurate at the time of this post. I may occasionally update it in the future.
I did not notice any sign language symbols when editing in the iOS or Android versions of this app. This seemed odd since I know that other apps that use SymbolStix have some. But the way that you have to tap to see individual symbols vs. being able to scroll through a large list made it more time consuming to look. So it’s possible that I just didn’t find them. The keyboard buttons are not editable and this app doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
Update 2/10/23: Avaz now has a way to add a GIF to a button. See their video above ⬆️ . I almost always edit Avaz on my iPad vs. iPhone. I couldn’t find a way to save a GIF to my Camera Roll while on the GIPHY website via the Safari browser but was able to save when using the GIPHY app on my iPad. See my video below ⬇️
Sign language symbols are available when editing but neither seemed to be as complete of a library as I had seen in other apps that use these symbol sets. I did not find anything in their Learning Grids sharing area related to ASL or sign language. The keyboard buttons are not editable and this app doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
CoughDrop can be used on almost any device on almost any platform. It has a unique built in option to include GIPHY ASL sign GIFs when searching for symbols while editing. You can search out in their Find a Board area to see examples of how other folks have used this: https://app.mycoughdrop.com/search/any/ASL. I found it visually overstimulating to have several ASL GIF videos playing simultaneously on a page so please keep that in mind when considering this option.
For those who purchase the SymbolStix add-on that allows SymbolStix sign language symbols to be available when editing. What’s interesting is the PCS symbol add-on did not appear to include PCS Sign Language symbols. I searched for several but didn’t find them. It’s possible that I might have overlooked them. The keyboard page is editable. This app doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
GoTalk Now Plus
GoTalk Now Plus includes the SymbolStix symbol library. When editing this includes access to the SymbolStix sign language symbols. This app offers several different PCS symbol add-ons but PCS Sign Language symbols isn’t one of the options. They also offer a METACOM symbols add-on but I don’t have that so I don’t know whether or not that includes the METACOM sign language symbols.
GoTalk Now Plus is unique in allowing you to have several symbols and/or photos on one button. You can program the button to play a video stored on that iPad. This would allow you to link buttons to sign language video clips. Sign language GIFs could be use if those were converted into videos. This iPad-only app uses the iOS device keyboard. Unfortunately I haven’t found an iOS alternative keyboard that is still available that offers the ASL alphabet symbols on the keys.
Grid for iPad / Grid 3
The SymbolStix library includes the SymbolStix sign language symbols when editing. This app also has PCS symbols but that didn’t appear to include the PCS Sign Language symbols.
I searched the Online Grids sharing area and found an ASL Letter Explorer & Text Writer grid set available for download: https://grids.thinksmartbox.com/en/tt-9/98e8ea32-146c-4554-b482-3988248bf294. It is in QWERTY layout and includes word prediction. I adjusted the settings to just have text show up on the word prediction. If you want to have symbol supported word prediction you will need to adjust the font size and type of symbols to allow the symbols to be large enough to be recognizable.
Grid 3 on a Windows device supports use of a button command to play a video saved on that device and there is a Music and Videos grid set available for download from Online Grids. But I haven’t figured out whether or not it’s possible to program a button in one of the symbol-based AAC grid sets to pop up to play a video and then snap back to that page (vs. having it navigate to the separate Music and Videos grid set). The ability to do that would be helpful for being able to link an ASL sign language video to a specific button in an AAC grid set (like I was able to do in GoTalk Now, TouchChat with WordPower & Niki Talk 2 Pro). I’ll update this section if I figure out a way to do this. Unfortunately playing a video isn’t available as an option on Grid for iPad.
LAMP Words for Life
This iPad-only app has its own multi-meaning symbols that are an integral part of the design. It doesn’t include sign language symbols and doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device. LAMP Words for Life is also available on the company’s SGDs. It is been quite awhile since I’ve used one of those so I’m not sure if it would offer any features related to this.
Mind Express 5
Mind Express 5 software can be used on Windows devices. The SymbolStix symbol library includes the SymbolStix sign language symbols. A PCS symbol library is available but I didn’t see any PCS sign language symbols when editing. METACOM symbols appear to be available as an add on but I don’t have that symbol library so I don’t know if it includes the METACOM sign language symbols.
It is possible to program buttons to play an ASL sign video or GIF in a popup but it requires some knowledge of advanced programming. I’m still learning the ME5 software so I was very appreciative of Fio Quinn sharing her expertise in a couple of tutorial videos that she made and shared with me. Be watching for more info about Mind Express 5 in an upcoming resource. I’ve been very impressed by how many options that it offers in customizing to meet very specific needs.
This app uses ARASAAC symbols & Les Pictogrammes symbols. I didn’t see sign language symbols in either within the app. But the app does offer the option to program a button to play a video from the iPad Camera Roll. This would allow you to link a button to play an ASL video. This iPad-only app uses the iOS device keyboard. Unfortunately I haven’t found an iOS alternative keyboard that is still available that offers the ASL alphabet symbols on the keys.
Although this iOS Universal app uses SymbolStix I didn’t find SymbolStix sign language symbols when editing. It doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
The SymbolStix library includes the SymbolStix sign language symbols when editing. The keyboard area is not editable. This iOS Universal app can also use the iOS device keyboard but I haven’t found an iOS alternative keyboard that is still available that offers the ASL alphabet symbols on the keys. It doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
Although this iPad-only app uses SymbolStix I didn’t find SymbolStix sign language symbols when editing. It doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
Speak for Yourself
This app uses Smarty Symbols. I didn’t see any sign language symbols included in that library. It doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device. This iOS Universal app uses the iOS device keyboard. Unfortunately I haven’t found an iOS alternative keyboard that is still available that offers the ASL alphabet symbols on the keys.
Talk Suite Pro
This app uses their own unique Persona symbols. I didn’t see any sign language symbols included in that library. It doesn’t offer a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device. The app’s keyboard can’t be edited to add ASL symbols. This iPad-only app also uses the iOS device keyboard. Unfortunately I haven’t found an iOS alternative keyboard that is still available that offers the ASL alphabet symbols on the keys.
TD Snap AAC
This app is available for the iPad and Windows devices. When editing you can have access to the PCS Sign Language symbol library. These appear to be a mix of American Sign Language and Signed Exact English symbols. You’ll need to make sure you have downloaded it and you can drag it to the top of the symbols list if you want to prioritize those symbols coming up first in a search. They also offer METACOM symbols as an add-on via in-app purchase. That includes sign language symbols. I wasn’t able to find details about these but METACOM symbols were designed in and are primarily used in Germany so these might be German Sign Language.
I checked all of the various pagesets including the add-ones for PODD and Gateway. The PCS Sign Language symbols and METACOM symbols (if purchased) were available when editing regardless of the pageset.
Neither version of TD Snap offers a way to link a button to play an ASL video saved on that device.
When I searched on Pageset Central these two things came up that folks created with sign language symbols and shared:
It includes an Alphabet and Numbers page with ASL symbols on the buttons. The Keyboard is a regular QWERTY keyboard.
Core Words ASL (just a page… not a full Pageset. So I imported it and added it within Eli’s ASL Pageset): http://bit.ly/3RjXmo1
In order to get these from Pageset Central you need to have a MyTobiiDynavox account (https://www.mytobiidynavox.com), sign into it, and then find these two things in Pageset Central (these the direct links above) and tap “Add to My Stuff” to add it to your MyTobiiDynavox account. Then while in TD Snap you’ll be able to create a new User with the Eli’s ASL Pageset:
TouchChat with WordPower
When editing this iOS Universal app you’ll have access to two different sign language SymbolStix symbol libraries: American Sign Language & Australian Sign Language.
TouchChat with WordPower also offers the option to link a button to play a video stored on that device. This video shows that being used to play an ASL sign language video. For multiple meaning words with different signs depending on the context you could link to a page that provides a button for each.
The same pageset options may be available in the company’s line of SGDs but it has been awhile since I’ve used those so I don’t know how the features may vary on those.
Twinkl Symbols for AAC
Twinkl Symbols for AAC is an iOS Universal app that includes British Sign Language symbols (BSL). The Type 2 Talk keyboard area in this app uses the iOS device keyboard. Unfortunately I haven’t found an iOS alternative keyboard that is still available that offers the ASL alphabet symbols on the keys.
The very affordable simple Verbal Me app offers several different premade sign language boards within the app + the option to create custom pages that can include short videos. I’ve used this as a way to create a simple board with ASL videos. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/verbal-me/id495853688
ALICE with ASL & Text
Pre-recorded content is available in spoken English with ASL or English subtitles allowing users to choose the communication mode they feel most comfortable with. It’s easy for users to find their desired messages quickly with the organized and categorized library of content and search function. The app includes over 30 common general and medical phrases with interactive responses – over 130 unique videos are included in this app. Users choose a phrase they want to communicate and play the video for the other person. Depending on the video content, either person can choose a response. Some additional communication may be prompted via other means – paper/pen, speaking or gesturing. More info: https://access.llc/alice-app/. ALICE with ASL & Text, https://apps.apple.com/app/id1467049575 (iOS Universal)
I did a screen recording of the introduction within the app since I couldn’t find any videos of it online:
Unfortunately the unique Sign2TXT AAC app with sign language symbols by Angie Craft (https://appsto.re/us/NJMz0.i) disappeared from the App Store a few years ago (even gone from the Purchased area). See the website for more info: http://www.handcraftedasl.com/sign2txt/. You can also see it archived on AppAdvice: https://appadvice.com/app/sign2txt/879126759. I had a couple of Deaf students/patients/clients who did really well with that app. The ability to search for signs by hand shape was very unique. I’m including it in this post in the hopes that the app eventually returns or that this might inspire another app developer to create something or existing app developers to add similar capabilities to their AAC apps.
Have a question, found a broken link or know of another AAC option that includes sign language symbols or can support use of ASL videos or GIFs? The best way to reach me is via Facebook messaging over on my OMazing Kids page: https://www.facebook.com/OMazingKidsAAC/