7 “Must Have” Features of a Great AAC App for Speech and Communication
Sure, speech boards were in common use, and they were helpful, but also limited. Many of the speech assistance apps on the market were too complicated for people to use and were cost prohibitive, to boot. Others used symbols or icons that were more confusing than helpful.
This is not to say that each of these products individually didn’t have some merit. They did. But they all also had significant drawbacks.
The truth is, until fairly recently, intuitive, reasonably priced Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) applications were only a dream.
But things have improved in recent years. Not only has better technology been developed, but at least some app developers have actually begun to listen to the needs of their end users and started incorporating valuable features into their products.
This all got me thinking. If someone were to design from scratch the best AAC speech and communication app possible, what would it look like?
So, I decided to do a little brainstorming. When I was done, I had a list of seven features I believe any good app for speech and communication should include. Additional bells and whistles might be nice, but I consider these seven features to be “must haves.” Let’s take a look at the list.
The 7 “Must Have” Features of a Great AAC App
In my opinion, any good AAC app absolutely must include the following features:
Feature #1: Fast Start Up
First, a great speech app would be quick to set up and would allow the user to start using it right away.
One way to ensure fast start up is to pre-program lots of great content into the app that the person could use “right out of the box,” such as pages of photos, individual words and phrases, and speech output ready to use for immediate communication.
Yes, the user will undoubtedly want to customize the app as they start using it more (see Feature #3, below), but being able to use it right away would be a major plus and would be a great relief to the person who has been struggling to communicate.
Feature #2: Easy to Use
Of course, being able to communicate is the most important end goal of all apps for nonverbal communication, but ease of use probably comes in a close second. After all, every little glitch and every little extra step can slow down communication and lead to frustration.
One way to make sure an app is easy to use is to have a large library of preset communication page displays available with both photos (for picture to speech) and words (for text to speech) and voice output. All the individual preset options should also be carefully chosen to correspond to key wants or needs.
Other factors that impact ease of use include:
- Whether or not the page size can be easily adjusted for visual difficulties
- How easy it is to switch between pages (for example, by swiping up and down or left and right)
- Whether or not the user can convey a short phrase, sentence, or even a complex thought by touching a single photo or text choice.
Feature #3: Fully Customizable
While it’s important that an app be ready to use immediately, most users will want to customize the app with their own vocabulary and to suit their specific needs.
A good AAC app should provide many possibilities for customization. Here are some of the most useful customization options to look for:
- The ability to easily integrate one’s own photos into the app or take a photo within the app
- The option to turn preset photos on or off and move pictures around within the preset pages
- An unlimited ability to create custom phrases to allow the user to inject their own personality into every conversation
- The ability to create and save one or more phrases per photo for additional convenient conversation options
- A text-to-speech feature that allows users to quickly program and access phrases they use frequently
- For those who are writers, the option to type their own messages
- A choice of several pre-recorded voices
- An option for adjusting the speech rate
- The ability to record a familiar voice for personalization
- Multiple display options for those with low vision.
- The choice of using English or one’s native language on the interface
Feature #4: Works on Multiple Devices
In today’s world, where most people have multiple digital devices, a good AAC app would work on multiple devices within the user’s iTunes or Google account.
Not only would it work on iPads, tablets, and smartphones, but it would also be compatible with the accessibility features on both iOS and Android devices—for example, Bluetooth switches, touch accommodations, and vision.
Feature #5: Robust Help Features
Any good AAC app would come with easy-to-read instructions and built-in help features.
Beyond these basics, though, it should also provide other options for help and customer service if the user encounters any problems. Some of the help options that should be available include:
- A customer service support team that can be reached in several different ways (email, chat, and/or phone)
- Demonstration videos available on YouTube or through a website
- The option to schedule live demonstrations and consultations, if needed
Feature #6: No Internet Connection Needed
While it’s important that the app work on any device, it’s also equally important that it work without having to connect to the Internet, so there are no worries about connectivity when traveling.
Of course, an internet connection is helpful when you need to search the web for a picture to put on your custom pages, but it shouldn’t be necessary for communication.
Feature #7: Cost Effective
Of course, an app could include all the wonderful features listed above and still be worthless to an individual if they can’t afford the price. A number of apps on the market measure up well when compared to this list but have effectively priced themselves out of the market for many people who need assistance.
Look for an app that meets all the above requirements and is priced reasonably, preferably a one-time fee below $200.
Also make sure that there are no hidden fees, additional costs, or ongoing charges. The fee should also include, in addition to the complete app, all future updates.
Even better, look for an app that includes a free trial period of at least a couple of weeks so you can give it a thorough test to see how you like it before having to pay.
I hope this post has given you a template or checklist against which you can measure the various options for AAC speech apps in the marketplace.
It’s possible that some of the features in my list are less important to you than others, and it’s possible that you have your own favorite features that you’d like to see in a speech app that didn’t make my list.
That’s OK. Everyone has to make their own decisions based on their own needs and selection criteria.
And if you’re looking for an app that checks all the boxes from my list, don’t make a final decision until you check out what my APP2Speak app has to offer. I think you’ll find that our app matches up quite well to any other on the market.
Click here to check it out.
Happy hunting, and good luck!