Thinking about developing a new AAC app? I do quite a bit of beta testing and am asked pretty frequently for my feedback on AAC app development. Here are my thoughts…
The top 3 needs that I see for AAC apps:
1. Relevant: There is a need for robust AAC apps in a wider variety/diversity of languages and dialects (content, symbols & voices). Ideally these need to be developed in conjunction with native speakers of that language to insure accuracy and cultural relevance of the content, symbols and voices.
2. Portable: There is a need for more AAC apps to be usable on an iPhone & Android phone. I get numerous requests every month for info about the options. Sadly more than half of the robust iOS symbol-based AAC apps can only be used on an iPad. I had several older kids, teens and young adults that preferred the portability and the “look” of pocket-sized AAC on their phone. Some used it as an alternative to their larger device. Others used it as their primary AAC.
Some app developers claim that it would be impossible to offer their app on an iPhone because it would “mess with the motor plan” or “the buttons would be too small”. Hmm… somehow Speak for Yourself did this way back in 2016 and their app has 120 buttons per page and is a “motor planning” based app. In the years since then I’ve seen several posts from AAC users, parents, SLPs, teachers, etc. who all appreciate the flexibility that this offers. The screen on the largest iPhones are only a couple of inches smaller than an iPad Mini. Even on my iPhone 11 with its 6.1” screen I’m able to use this app well enough to do some modeling and use it all the time to take a look at the Settings area to answer questions about the app when I don’t have my iPad with me.
Read these posts on the Speak for Yourself website: https://speakforyourself.org/does-aac-button-size-really-matter/ & https://speakforyourself.org/tiny-speak-coming-soon-iphones/. A quote from the second post: “The buttons are small, BUT they are twice the size of the keyboard buttons that we all use, including our students who flawlessly use mom or dad’s phone to search for videos on YouTube. Many of our users will be able to access Tiny Speak for Yourself (Tiny SfY), but even if they are not able to access it, having the app on an iPhone also puts the ability to model seamlessly into the hands of parents, professionals…and siblings. That may be the biggest game changer of Tiny SfY.”
Look at the data and the button size comparisons. Look at the pictures and video of it in use. Read the linked blog posts about the impact of having this option.
It’s doable. Not saying it’s easy for developers to reprogram an app to make it iOS Universal. I’m sure it takes a lot of work. But if you listen to your customers it’s one of the biggest needs. So listen, roll up your sleeves and make it happen.
3. Affordable: We need more robust AAC options that can be used on the more affordable tablets (Amazon Fire & Android). I’ve been getting numerous messages from folks who don’t have access to getting an AAC device funded or are tired of professionals saying their child isn’t “ready”. In these instances the total cost of an Amazon Fire tablet or basic Android tablet + case + AAC app = affordable enough for the parent to purchase it themselves. Not everyone can afford an iPad.
Here are my other thoughts based on over 30 years of experience in AAC and using lots of AAC apps across all of the platforms:
• Any new AAC app needs to support robust communication for a wide variety of functions. There are already several simple choice making apps on the market. Robust AAC contains many different types of words (verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, articles/determiners & interjections), includes Core Vocabulary & Fringe Vocabulary (relevant to that user’s culture, interests and needs), includes Prestored Phrases (to support quick participation), Word Forms (verb tenses, word endings), allows editing to add new vocabulary and customize existing vocabulary, and a way to backup customizations.
Most robust AAC apps offer a Search/Word Finder. The lack of a Search/Word Finder can be a significant issue for those supporting lots of AAC users across multiple systems since they may not use that particular app everyday.
There needs to be a balance between safeguards to help insure an AAC app is used as designed to provide robust AAC & flexibility in editing. When AAC apps are too restrictive in editing it makes it difficult to make sure the content and symbols are culturally relevant, honor that user’s and their family’s customs and religious beliefs and that they are not racially biased. It’s difficult to do that when much/most of the app can’t be edited.
There also needs to be flexibility to allow editing in order to allow use of robust elements like verb tenses and word endings even if that individual is using a low cell count grid size in order to support access for fine motor and visual needs.
• Take a good look at the major AAC apps on the market and determine what specific features your new app would offer that are not already available.
• Get input from AAC users regarding features they think would be helpful.
• Do lots of beta testing to insure the app is intuitive / easy to use.
• You should only offer an AAC app that is truly worth having and meets needs. There are several free or very cheap AAC apps on the market. But you rarely see them mentioned or recommended because they are so poorly designed.
• Offer a fully featured free trial for at least 30 days (preferably at least 60 days) & include access to any extra pagesets / vocab files / grid sets / board sets during that trial. This access needs to be available on the device that the individual might actually be using (as an example, having a free trial on Windows isn’t really going to be totally helpful if they will be using an iPad). SLPs/SLTs and others supporting AAC use can typically get access to the full apps to trial but there are often waiting lists and not everyone has access to an SLP or access to getting an AAC eval. (Note: The various app platforms pose barriers to app developers for some of the options to offer free trials or free promo codes so there are constraints to what they can do regarding this. There would also be a need for companies licensing voices and premium vocab files to allow for these types of free trials)
• Offer purchasing flexibility. Subscriptions offer easier access for individuals (but don’t work well for schools, state run facilities and funding sources). The option to purchase a multi-year subscription can be helpful in some situations. If it will have a subscription, also offer a 1x purchasing option for those who can’t do subscriptions. If it’s an in-app purchase, also offer an option that will work for schools and state run facilities.
• Price your app where it is affordable & sustainable.
• Beyond the initial costs of developing the app, make sure that you also have a very well thought out long term plan and finances for supporting and keeping an AAC app updated.
I’ve received numerous messages over the years on my OMazing Kids AAC Consulting page from parents and therapists with very heartbreaking stories of AAC users losing their voice when Apple released a new iOS and the app wouldn’t work as expected. Several AAC app developers have not updated apps in 5 years or more. It’s one thing to lose a favorite game or therapy app but a whole different thing to lose an AAC app.
Want to read more about affordable AAC and/or pocket sized AAC? See these blog posts:
- Affordable AAC: Amazon Fire vs. Android vs. iPad: https://bit.ly/AffordableAAC-AmazonFire-Android-iPad
- Affordable Pocket-Sized Android AAC: https://bit.ly/AffordablePocketSizedAndroidAAC
- Pocket Sized AAC – options on iPhones, Android phones and pocket-sized SGDs: https://bit.ly/PocketSizedAAC
Looking for Affordable and Free AAC apps? Check out this resource: Basic Feature Chart for Affordable and Free AAC apps & AAC-Related Apps (iOS, Android Google Play, Amazon Fire, Windows + a few Web-Based options): https://bit.ly/BasicAffordableAACchart. More info: https://bit.ly/BasicAffordableAACblogpost
Looking for Robust AAC options for Amazon Fire or Android? Check out this resource: Robust Android AAC (Android Google Play & Amazon Fire): https://bit.ly/RobustAndroidAACappChart. More info: https://bit.ly/RobustAndroidAACblogpost
Several videos comparing AAC apps across platforms (iPad, Android, Amazon Fire, Windows):
Looking for in-depth and up to date info about features AAC apps? Check out these resources: https://bit.ly/5aacFeatureMatchingResources
- Robust iOS Symbol-Based: https://bit.ly/SymbolBasedAACapps
- Robust iOS Text-Based: https://bit.ly/TextBasedAACapps
- Visual Scenes & Video Visual Scenes: https://bit.ly/AACvsd
- AAC Feature Matching Resource Bundle (includes all three, save 10%): https://bit.ly/aacFeatureMatchingBundle. If you are looking to purchase resources for several staff / team members, take a look at the Multiple Licenses discount (saves 20%)
- Robust Android AAC Apps (Google Play & Amazon Fire): https://bit.ly/RobustAndroidAACappChart
- Affordable and Free AAC apps & AAC-Related Apps (iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Windows & a few web-based options): https://bit.ly/BasicAffordableAACchart
Have a question? The best way to reach me is via Facebook messaging over on my OMazing Kids page: https://www.facebook.com/OMazingKidsAAC/
Angela Moorad, MS, CCC-SLP, Founder of OMazing Kids, LLC, OMazing Kids AAC Consulting
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