Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Real Costs of Premium AAC Apps

Today Dynavox announced that some of the dynamic PODD communication program will be available for an additional $100 purchase on their T10 device and Dynavox Compass app.  The Compass app is by subscription only.  Which got me thinking, how much does it really cost to use some of these apps? Especially ones by companies that also make stand along devices (legacy companies)?

least expensive over five years $99.99
There is a lot of nickle and diming with some of the apps. You might pay extra for the voice or even more for a premium voice.  You might pay extra for the more research based vocabularies (Gateway, WordPower, iEssence).  You might pay extra for cloud storage to back up or share files. You might even have to pay extra for symbols!  Some app companies are straight forward and the price is all inclusive (Proloquo2Go, AACorn, Speak For Yourself, SonoFlex) and others find lots of little extras to charge you for (Go Talk Now, TouchChat, LAMP Words for Life) and others are using a cost prohibitive subscription model unless you by one of their $5000 traditional AAC devices then they waive the subscription (Dynavox).  This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with offering more of "pay-for-what-you-need" style app as long as companies are clear about what that in their app descriptions, advertisements and websites.

Those of us who have been around a while notice that the "old time" companies like Dynavox, PRC (LAMP Words for Life), Saltillo (TouchChat) and Attainment (Go Talk Now) seem to be the ones trying to find every possible way to charge us without coming out and saying it.  I understand they need to find a new business model that will allow them to stay afloat in a new post-iPad AAC world, but somehow I think this isn't the way to do it.  Quality, beautiful, easy-to-use, research based products will have us in the field spending money.  Add to that customer service, and not necessarily in the old way (call centers) but in new ways like through Facebook, Twitter, Skype and YouTube (and more) and setting up groups for customers to support each other.  That is what will make money.  Assuming AAC professionals and parents are stupid enough to fork over all sorts of money because your company is one of the oldest players on the field will not make money.  Some the legacy companies mistook customer dependence for loyalty in the past!

Also here is some free advice for AAC app companies:
1) schools and adult service agencies generally cannot make in app purchases because of how their purchase order system works
2) schools, adult service agencies and state rehabilitation and assistive technology agencies do not generally pay for subscriptions. They don't know their budget from year to year and they aren't able to pay for ongoing subscriptions for just a handful of clients
3) parents and agencies that do a fundraiser such as Gofundme are better off fundraising for one larger up front purchase than ceaseless fundraising to pay for subscriptions
3) people, schools and other agencies included are generally willing to pay for quality, complete solutions
most expensive over five year $1499.95

I did a little cost analysis.  This analysis assumes you will use a comprehensive vocabulary set, picture symbols for communication, a premium voice and some means of backing up your pages.

The five year cost for some of the apps are as follows (click link below to see chart):
Here is the link to the table:.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Apps for AACtion

Here is a list of apps I have been using to get kids talking with their Augmentative and Alternative AAC apps:

SpeakaZoo is a free app where the child is a zoo keeper who goes from animal to animal having
conversations.  The characters are fun even for older kids and after the animal talks to you there is unlimited time to formulate an answer, hold down the microphone key and reply.  A great way to work on conversational turn taking, problem solving, answering questions and even some social skills.

Don't Let the Pigeon Run this App is a $4.99 app which is a take off of the Mo Willems book series.  What is great about this app for AAC users is that you record your "voice" as part of writing the story and then you hear it read back.

Draw and Tell is a $1.99 drawing and painting app by Duck Duck Moose that adds a whole new aspect -
recording a message to go with your drawing.  Perhaps more fun is your student adding stickers and drawing on photographs (or your student directing you to add stickers and drawings to photos) and then recording a message to go with the embellished photo.

Tell About This come in a free and paid version for $2.99 which is well worth the money.  The app simply shows a photograph and asks a question about it.  The question is read aloud with highlighting.  Your student records an answer which can be saved and shared.  Even cooler you can add your own photos with your own prompts.  So fun to take pictures of common routines or unique evens and ask students to create messages on their devices to tell about them.

Sparklefish is a MadLibs style app that uses an audio recording of the words you chose instead of just typing
them in.  Your recorded word is then inserted into the story.  Great for working on parts of speech or working in groups.

Chatterpix Kids, Chatterpix and Facetalk are all free apps with add an animated mouth which speaks your student's recorded audio to photographs.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

AAC in the Water

You've been working on AAC all school year.  Motivating, modeling and moving out of the way while your students blossom with communication.  Now it is summer.  Your students will be in swimming pools, lakes, sprinklers or even hot tubs.  What to do?  Here are some ideas on how to make communication continue to happen in the water!


    Yes and No Temporary Tattoos
  • Temporary Tattoos can be made at home using special paper or custom orders can be created by companies like Stray Tats. You can have a strip of symbols "tattooed" on your students arm or leg, have yes and no on your own hands or come up with a solution that is perfect for you.  If you are really committed go for the real thing! (and send me pics!)
  • Print boards on waterproof paper and use them in the water. Waterproof paper can be purchased at Staples or other stores or online from Amazon or specialty companies
    Kickboard by Tots-n-Tech
  • Laminating, especially using a heat seal laminating machine and thicker laminating plastic is another great way to waterproof low tech communication boards.  Remember to cut before you laminate (and then cut again WITHOUT cutting the paper underneath) to keep your board waterproof.  After you laminate you have lots of choices:


    AAC on a Shirt
  • Print communication symbols, boards or spelling boards on tee shirts, bandannas or fabric to use in the water.  You can also buy shirts or bandannas.  Communication partners can wear a tee shirt or tank top or carry a cloth to be used in or around water. 
Do you have a creative solution?  Please send pictures!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Reading IS a life skill!

Today Southern Methodist University shared a study which focused on "low IQ" learners and reading.  The study found that verbal students with IQs between 40-80 increased reading skills, usually to a first grade level or higher, with persistent, intensive instruction.

This study should feel obvious - students with intellectual disabilities who receive about an hour a day of research based reading instruction make more reading progress than those who do not.  But it isn't obvious.  Most people, including special education professionals, assume these students will never learn to read.  In fact in 15 years of teaching special education I was never once given reading textbooks for my students.  I had an old copy of the "Edmark Reading Program" which teaches only sight words but I paid for the Simon Sounds it Out software and Reading A-Z out of my own pocket.

However, most of us in the field and most parents of children we teach, know that literacy is not a priority for our students.  Not only is it not a priority it often isn't anywhere on our curriculum.  Not anywhere.  No time of any day is spent teaching reading skills.  This is true most of the time, though there are exceptions.  Plus the more physically or multiply disabled the student is the less likely we are to teach reading.  We might do some work with environmental print or safety signs but chances are we do not spend any time on letters and letter sounds, decoding or reading comprehension.  Often times we hide behind our "life skills" curriculum goals.  We are working on activities of daily living (feeding, toileting, hygiene), community skills (traveling safely, shopping) and communication (or at least I really, really hope we are working on communication).

We still need to work on those skills but reading is just as much of a "life skill" as those other skills are.  If you can read at a first grade level you can decode signs, simple directions, easy recipes, store signs with hours, menus, marquee's and more. One time I had a phone call from a mom who joked that now that her son with Down Syndrome could read she couldn't skip over "wrestling" when they were looking at the TV listings and what was I thinking teaching him to read?

Often times I am asked, "How do I teach this student how to read?"  The student in question usually has cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Angleman Syndrome or another complex disability.  My answer is always the same.  We teach that child how to read the same way we teach any child how to read.  Meaning that we teacher letters and letter sounds.  We teach sight words (but not JUST sight words).  We teach blends and digraphs and prefixes and suffixes.  We teach skills for increased reading comprehension.  In short, we TEACH.  If the student can't speak or move we adapt our instruction instead of dropping it altogether.  We find a way.  We find a way because that is our job!



(please let me know if the pictures and sound disappear from the first 30 seconds of the video, it happens because Youtube removes the music)



Monday, April 21, 2014

Nailing Core Words

The best teachers are open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.  Every once in a while I have the privilege of working with a teacher who is both knowledgeable and willing to try things a new way.  Recently I visited a classroom that was implementing some suggestions I have given them around integrating core vocabulary words into daily classroom life.  This teacher found some great ways to connect core words and her adapted academic curriculum.

She started with a core word of the week.  
The core words are drawn from a list of top core words for AAC combined with words needed for using the common core curriculum in the classroom.  Every week a word is selected and displayed with the related symbol(s) on the wall.  Students are introduced to sentences using the word in different contexts.  


The teacher has a word of the week sign for each student, basically a Popsicle stick with a colored card on it.  One of the students who has writing ability writes the new word on the cards each week.  The students (and staff) hold up the card and wave it around whenever the word for the week occurs during the day.  The teacher and staff, of course, make an effort to use the word as much as possible during the week.  One of the great lessons I observed this teacher use with the cards was to use Tar Heel Reader, a free accessible book collection, to project a story on the white board and have students hold up their cards when the word was read.  Of course there are dozens of other ways to reinforce core words during the week such as making collages of images related to the core word and doing "Read the Room" searches for the word.  

At the end of the week the students take a quiz where they spell the word and add symbols and sentences to the page.  This is easily differentiated for students with different abilities by making the spelling matching or by changing the array of choice for any question.  

The pages are collected over the year and will be turned into a core word dictionary or glossary for each students.  The students will get to chose how they arrange their book - alphabetically, parts of speech or some other way.  If you have students who are using speech devices or systems with color coding another idea is to make the pages on construction paper that matches the color code of the communication system.  
Finally when a new core word is introduced on Monday the word from the previous week is moved to a word call.  This way words are available in an ongoing way and students are able to reference those words for a variety of purposes.

Isn't it wonderful how Core Word instruction is being integrated into this classroom?  How do you do it in your classroom?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Watch This




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