Investigating the Apps: Communication

The apps in this category are designed to help give people with disabilities a voice. For children with autism who are non-verbal or who have difficulty communicating, these apps can become tools to aid them in expressing their thoughts, wants and needs. Some are meant to replace expensive communication devices; others use entertaining graphics and characters to encourage learning.

Proloquo2go: An AAC app with natural-sounding text-to-speech voices
$189.99, by AssistiveWare

This popular Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app for children who have difficulty speaking or are nonverbal mimics the way some of the more expensive AAC devices work, such as those by DynaVox and SmartBox Assistive Technology.
Users have touted its extreme ease of use, its visual graphic display, a large default vocabulary and a library of nearly 8,000 symbols. The home screen features a configurable communication grid with symbols that are used to construct phrases, which are then spoken by natural-sounding text-to-speech voices. The app arrives preloaded with many categories, but users can also program individual icons, words, phrases and sentences. There is also a keyboard with text prediction. Children can use the app to begin conversations with others and practice sentences they hear.

Grace: A simple picture exchange to support communication in nonverbal people
$24.99, by Steven Troughton-Smith

Grace is a modified version of a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). The app stores a basic picture vocabulary of common functions — including categories like Foods, Things I like, Places, Colors, Sizes and Shapes — that helps the user create a sentence that can be read together. The app is customizable, so users can upload images and take their own photographs of things they may need. Categories can also be added as vocabulary is developed. The app does not produce a recorded voice, as the manufacturer wants users to model and attempt each word to help them develop articulation and their own voice.

iCommunicate: An app with customizable storyboards, communication boards, visual schedules and more
$49.99, by Grembe

Developed by a physical therapist and software engineer couple, this user-friendly app is a teaching tool in the acquisition of language and concepts that can help give students with disabilities a voice. The app allows the user to create “social stories” via storyboards, communication boards, speech cards, visual schedules, routines, flash cards and choice boards. This customizable app allows users to upload pictures they take or find online, name their images and record their own voice for the images. The app also includes more than 10,000 SymbolStix images. iCommunicate converts any words with text-to-speech that do not already have custom audio recorded.

iConverse: An AAC application with communication tiles and audio
$9.99, by Xcellent Creations, Inc.,

iConverse is an AAC device designed for young children with communication disabilities that provides a flexible, straightforward way to create images with audio files attached to them. It features six icons that represent basic, everyday needs: Bathroom, Drink, Food, Sick, Break and Help. When touched, the icons provide an audible and visual representation of the need, via the built-in text-to-speech audio. Users can also make custom icons with uploaded pictures and add text and their recorded voice to the images.

MyTalkTools Mobile: An AAC application, customizable with images, pictures and audio
$49.99, by 2nd Half Enterprises LLC

This AAC app helps people with communication difficulties to express themselves with sequences of words, sounds and images. The app provides a flexible framework for constructing an individualized communication device. Users choose the content – either simple grids or boards with vivid images – and play recorded sounds when they touch a cell. Sequences can also be put together to form complete sentences, and the app uses a clear voice in more than 15 languages. Boards can also be personalized with images, voices or sounds created by the user. Navigation tools can be added as well.

TapToTalk: An AAC application where users tap a picture and the app speaks
free, by Assistyx LLC

This AAC app for children who are nonverbal or partially verbal contains images related to various needs and wants. When the user touches a picture, a voice speaks a word, phrase or sentence and then displays another page of pictures. Text can also be displayed for each picture. TapToTalk features a library of more than 2,000 images, symbols and icons, organized by category. But to create individualized albums with a user’s own pictures, text, sounds and voice, purchase of the TapToTalk Designer app is required, a separate app with a yearly fee. The free and paid apps run on many devices, including the iPhone, iPad, Nook, Android phones and a number of others.

iComm: A picture and voice communication aid
free, by Bappz/Mia’s Apps

This app is a picture communication system designed for children with language impairment and those unable to express needs through well-formed speech. Content is provided for everyday communication and is in clear-cut categories to help children learn about shapes, colors and letters. And to make communication easier, all choices can be confirmed by clicking “yes” or “no” on the screen. The app allows for customization for users to add pictures to heighten engagement and boost communication development. The paid version of the app offers twice as many categories (20), sound recording and other audio functions, as well as additional features.

My PlayHome: An interactive app for expressive language, attention and sequencing
$3.99. by Shimon Young

This cause-and-effect app is a digital doll house where children can interactively explore everything inside. “Playing” with the app targets language concepts with visual supports while doing things such as opening and closing the curtains, turning the lights on and off, and even frying an egg in the kitchen. My PlayHome works on communication and language goals including categories, prepositions, attention and sequencing. The app is easy to use, with three buttons to master all of the activities.

Pogg: An educational app for requesting, motivating and creating sentences
$0.99, by Ricky Vuckovic

This app is an educational game that stars Pogg, a cute, green alien. Through animation, voice and music, Pogg performs whatever actions that are typed into the game (“hop,” “run,” etc.). There are two modes, “Spelling” and “Picture” mode: Spelling activates the game as users type freely on the virtual keyboard: Picture mode, for children who are not yet spelling, reads the word aloud when the user touches icons on the screen. This cause-and-effect game features 30 clips of Pogg and a spelling dictionary of nearly 300 word and phrase combinations.