Apps for Communication | SPD - Singapore

Apps for Communication

There has been great hype of late in the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) world about Apps for communication. When they were first introduced, there was hope apps would replace dedicated AAC devices, reducing costs and enabling more people to have access to augmentative communication.

Apps for communication are usually a series of overlays and symbol sets which can be downloaded onto a mobile device like the iPad, iPod Touch or android phone. As these mobile devices have touch screens, individuals with communication impairments can easily access the icons by touching the screen. In some Apps, a digitised voice would read out the message.

Individuals can download and use these Apps as their AAC system for communication. When Apps for communication were introduced, there was much hope that these apps would replace dedicated devices.

Dedicated devices are AAC devices that are designed specifically for purposes of communication. They are often sturdy and allow for multiple ways of accessing the device, such as with a switch or direct selection. With a range of dedicated devices, it is possible to find a device that specifically meets an individual’s communication needs.

An App costs a fraction of what a dedicated device would. A high-tech computerised dedicated device may cost about S$20,000. In contrast, an App downloaded on a mobile device such as an iPad, iPod Touch or android phone may cost under S$200.

A mobile device is also much lighter and smaller than most dedicated devices. Clients who are mobile may find these devices more portable whereas dedicated devices, with its rechargeable batteries, are generally heavier and more cumbersome.

As Apps are relatively affordable in price, many individuals who previously found AAC devices unaffordable can now have access. Mobile devices are also used by the mainstream population. As such, individuals with communication difficulties may be motivated to use them so as to be part of the crowd. Moreover, with the ‘cool’ factor, iPhones and iPads are also great conversation starters.

However, there are also various factors that need to be considered when using mobile devices. These are typically accessed through a touch screen which would require a specific amount of precision and motor control. Individuals with physical disabilities may not be able to access the touch screen. For example, an individual with cerebral palsy may have uncontrollable movements and therefore need to use a switch or key-guard to access a communication device. Mobile devices do not provide the option for these individuals to do so.

Another point of consideration is the availability of vocabulary options. There are a variety of dedicated devices, each with vocabulary sets which cater for users of different language abilities. Often, AAC companies may work with AAC specialists to develop these vocabulary sets. With Apps, however, vocabulary set choices are limited. Furthermore, many do not follow principles of good practice and hence may not include symbols or do not allow the user to string together words to create novel sentences. Some also crash frequently or have poor quality speech.

Dedicated devices are usually prescribed by a speech therapist trained in the area of AAC. Often a detailed assessment is conducted. However, with Apps being easily accessible and downloadable, users may not undergo an assessment to check for suitability before using an App which may lead to a greater possibility of a mismatch between the user’s communication skills and the device he/she is using.

Apps for communication have in general created greater options for individuals who have communication impairments who may need AAC. It is undoubtedly an exciting development in the AAC world. However, there are many issues which one should consider when looking at an App as an option for AAC. Before any AAC option is chosen, a comprehensive assessment, which includes consideration of an array of communication options and devices, should be done in order to determine a communication option which is best for the user.

Use of Apps for communication is dependent on the user’s physical, cognitive and linguistic abilities. Some individuals I have worked with have come to use Apps successfully. In other cases, these Apps may not be as beneficial or able to meet an individual’s communication needs. Ultimately, it is important that the App fits the communication needs of the user, and to ensure this, the user should consult a professional trained in AAC before considering one as an option. For details on specific Apps, please visit our Resource Page.

 

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