“What is the Best AAC App Out There?”
As you may know, October is International AAC Awareness Month! Ever since I started this blog, people have asked me a million variations of the same question: “What is the best AAC app out there?” My short answer is usually something like, “Well, AAC is by nature so individualized that there is not one perfect AAC app out there. Check out [insert list of resources] to figure out which one would best match the individual you’re supporting.” While I stand by this answer, in honor of AAC awareness, and in honor of all the AT specialists dying a little inside every time they hear that question, I want to give the longer answer, too.
The long answer is that using apps for AAC is extremely complex. Not only do you need to determine if the iPad is the correct hardware for the individual (versus a lower-tech option like a communication book or a different high-tech device like a DynaVox), but you then also need to feature match the client’s abilities and needs to narrow down the best choice from hundreds of possible options. How daunting is that?! Consider that this is ideally going to be a large part of a person’s means of communicating for a lengthy amount of time, and you might be tempted to give up on the field altogether! (At least…I hope someone else has felt as overwhelmed by this as I did.) While there is no cookie-cutter easy solution (nor should there be), there is a systematic way of going about this that makes it much more manageable. This post will outline a framework of how I currently review AAC apps and explain how you can modify my process to decide on an app with a client. Then, I will use this process in several subsequent posts this month to review a few of the AAC apps that are available. My hope is that this will help me structure my AAC app reviews appropriately while providing you with a tool you can use to assess the apps that I have not reviewed! So check out the methods to my madness, and let me know if you have any additional suggestions!
The Way I Review AAC Apps
For the purposes of this blog, I am critiquing AAC apps a little backwards. Since I’m reviewing just one app at a time, I am looking at which features the individual app offers. When trying to find one for a client, you will be doing it the other way: narrowing down the list based on which features the individual requires. Regardless, the resources for these processes are the same.
So, first, I go to Jane Farrall’s list of AAC apps. This gives you a great “quick-and-dirty” idea of what the app is, on what device(s) it is available, what type of symbol system it uses, what pre-programmed or customizing options are available, what type of speech output it uses, the access options, and an overall rating. This is the place to go to get a quick snapshot of what an app offers. The list of apps is extremely comprehensive and constantly being updated.
Second, I do a more in-depth analysis of which features the app offers. To do this, I use the feature matching chart that Jessica Gosnell of Children’s Hospital Boston developed. While I definitely modify it as necessary, I try to make sure I cover all the main areas that she has outlined. Instead of checking off which features I need and comparing it to the features offered, I simply make use the top portion of the chart (where the features are listed) to check off which features the app has. (See the accompanying picture for a made-up example. I will actually show several real-life examples of how I do this in upcoming posts this month.) This way readers can systematically view the features the app has.
Third, I critique some of the overall app pros/cons that are not covered in the feature analysis. For example, this is where I would note if the app crashes constantly or if the voice output is unpleasant.
Fourth, I consider what kind of person might best use the app based on the features. For example, I might look at a two-choices per page app and consider that it would be appropriate for my client who is learning how to use AAC and needs limited choices to be successful. On the other hand, I will also consider how it would not be appropriate for a client who is
Suggestions for You!
So how could you use this process to hone in on a good match (instead of just critiquing one app)? As I mentioned before, the process is quite similar, just somewhat flipped:
First, familiarize yourself a bit with what is available. Browse through Jane Farrall’s list to see the vast range of AAC apps. Search for some of the most popular ones that Jessica Gosnell included in her feature matching chart.
Second, work with the client and his/her circles of support to determine what features would be necessary (or desired) in an AAC app for that individual.
Third, use Jessica Gosnell’s chart to systematically determine which app(s) most closely match the expressed feature needs and desires. Check out the quick overview of how to use this chart (see the video at the bottom for a nice example) or see the full article explaining the process in-depth, including what each feature means.
Fourth, read online reviews (like ones on this blog!) to get some a more subjective, narrative description of how the app actually performs.
Finally, know that these are simply the general guidelines that I use. Please continue to use evidence based practice and the principles of AAC to determine what is best for each individual client. And of course, feel free to comment below if you have further suggestions or questions!