Friday, October 25, 2013

Word Prediction with Google

Lingapps apps creates apps for iDevices, Android platforms, and Google Docs. AppWriter provides word prediction and text-to-speech.  For your pc or macbook, the app is sold as a subscription for $12 annually, which is a pittance compared to most of the competitors. This review is based on AppWriter on my iMac.

AppWriter offers high quality synthetic voices for twelve different languages.  All menus and buttons are read aloud. The user can determine which reading strategies benefit them, such as read from cursor position or read words as you type them.  AppWriter offers context based word suggestions AppWriter comes with one free language. Additional language are offered through in-app purchases. Additional languages retail for $7.99.

AppWriter Cloud is offered free for a month trial.

I was especially excited about this app as my school district talks about moving to a Google platform.   I don't know if this will happen, and if it does, will that include our special needs population, but, apps like this and ChromeVox make it seem as though we could make it work.

AppWriter worked seamlessly. Word prediction was solid, and the voice quality was terrific. This is an app that I definitly recommend you take a look at.

Happy therapy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

FREE Screen-Reader!

It appears that Google is ramping up their accessibility features. They may prove to be a serious power house for our special needs users. 
Orange Box Is Reading

I have recently stumbled upon ChromeVox, which is their screen reader that installs into the browser Chrome. Google makes this app available for no cost.  First you would need to install Chrome on your computer, which is also free. Chrome works on PC, Apple, and Linux platforms.  ChromeVox can be downloaded here

When in Chrome, anywhere there is text (not a picture of text) the user can click on it. The text will be surrounded by an orange highlight box as shown in the picture.  Chrome will begin reading with a reasonable quality voice.  

Another great feature is the online tutorial which Google makes available. It is designed to be learned through experiential education (which is always better than didactic instruction), and very thorough.

Anyone else using ChromeVox out there? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Yes, that is shameless self-promotion in the picture above.

Happy therapy!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Choiceworks: a standout scheduler!

Recently a parent mentioned an app that she had been using at home with her child. She said it was a really intuitive tool for creating schedules, and that it had helped decrease stress during specific transitions.

When a parent has success with an app, I figure it bears a closer look. Choiceworks is by Bee Visual, and available for either iPads or iTouches/phones for $6.99.  

Custom Photos and Sound
I like an app that I can muddle my way through without having to look for and at directions. Choiceworks is such an app, both easy to navigate and customize. It comes pre-loaded with 3 boards: Schedule, Waiting, and Feelings. In addition the library comes with 180 images and audio, but the real power comes in the ease of adding your own photos and sounds.  Integrated into the app is the ability to add a timer and any or all of the boards. 
Companion Book

Schedules can be printed as pdf files, or emailed. Also, boards and be exported/imported using iTunes.  

In addition to the 3 boards, Choiceworks comes with 3 Companion books, essentially social stories which are designed to support the boards. 

Below I've included a short video clip of Choiceworks in action. 

Happy therapy!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Word Prediction in your Pocket...

Hey Tek-Ninjas, I think I have a new favorite app! Again. 

Typ-O HD is delivering what software writers said was impossible just a few years ago. Word prediction, including phonetic spelling for iDevices. 

The interface is elegant and very simple to use. Begin typing and word choices appear in a box. Touch the mega-phone icon and the word is read aloud. Touch the word and it inserts at the cursor. 

Touch the "Settings" icon on the top right of the bar, and tailor your app based on your spelling profile, choose a male or female voice, sync to your Dropbox account, or alter the decor.  

If you need more adaptations, go to Settings for your iPad and make additional changes there.  You can alter the pitch of the voice as well as the reading speed. You can also filter profanity, font size, and choose vocabulary size.  

The folks at SecondGuess apps boast for this app they have collected and analyzed roughly 100,000,00 words of text. That is astonishing, and probably one reasons the app works so well. 

When your done writing you can choose from multiple ways to share your document. Options include Apple's new Airdrop, or sending via a Message or email. In addition, you can post straight to Twitter or Facebook. This last function really demonstrates the app writer's understanding of how to resonate with young writers!  I also found that I could simply copy and paste text into other apps if I wanted, such as Comic Life

Another feature that takes advantage of the iPad is the ability to change font size by pinching or "un-pinching" the text. Really neat quick way to adjust sizing. 

In addition to offering really powerful word prediction, the app integrates voice dictation that works as well as anything else out there. 

The app sells for $14.99, which for an app may seem step at first glance. But, consider that most other word prediction software with phonetic spelling rarely sells for less than several hundred dollars, and does not run on iDevices, Typ-O HD is a bargain!

One last thought... The folks at SecondGuess offer a $4.99 version of Typ-O also, and the difference is that the less expensive version has a lower quality voice. This may not seem that significant, but the quality voice is really remarkably good, and as you likely know digital voices can be difficult to listen to, especially for our youngsters on the spectrum. 

Happy therapy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Return of StorySmart

Back in June of this summer I had the pleasure of stumbling across locally made StorySmart apps.  You may recall my review of the available series of Social Stories.  Jennifer Minnelli, the Speech Therapist, and her husband Pete Minnelli, the designer promised more stories were in the making, and recently they delivered on the newest.  

Storysmart3: Ruby Gets in the Game is available for only $3.99 in the iTunes store.  With lovely illustrations, gentle music, and an interesting story line, the Minnellis latest story helps children learn social language skills while engaged in a sporting event.  

Using the same interface as the prior apps, there is plenty of ways the adult can adapt the app for the end-user, including turning on or off music, changing font size. This is a terrific addition to the Storysmart library, and I look forward to the next chapter!

Android users, don't give up hope yet. I've spoken with Pete Minnelli who indicates that they anticipate making the apps available on the android platform in approximately a year and a half. 

Be sure to take a look at all the SmartStory apps especially if you work with students who struggle with social skills.

Happy therapy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month in NC

Hey Tek-Ninjas, today's article is a distilled version of a really fantastic flyer put together by our very own North Carolina Augmentative Communication Association (NCACA) to generate greater awareness of October being Communication Awareness Month here in NC.  What a wealth of information they have culled together for us.

If your a NC resident and you work with children or adults with communication issues, you need to become a member.  NCACA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information and support to nonspeaking individuals, their families, and the professionals that serve them.  An annual membership is only $25! You will be hard pressed to find a better deal anywhere!

Check out these AAC professional development opportunities during this month of October to learn something new, to brush up on your skills, or just increase your awareness of AAC.  Follow this link for 50 PrAACtical things to do in celebration of AAC Awareness Month. 

AAC-RERC has a variety of recorded webcasts that address AAC needs of children and adults


AbleNet has a variety of recorded communication webinars conducted by leaders in the field.  Here are some of the titles: SoundingBoard App - Bigger and Better. AAC Developing Participation, AAC for Aphasia.

ATC offers a variety of webinars. Recorded AAC webinars address the needs of all ages.  Titles include: Core Vocabulary Across Everyday Settings, iPads and Communication Apps: Making a Good Choice. The iPad and Communication Transitions.

Dynavox offers a variety of online trainings which include recorded classes.  Topics include: Boardmaker, Literacy, and Dynavox AAC Devices.

PRC offers online training.  Current online trainings include: AAC Evaluations: Painting a Successful Submission, and 10 Tips to Help Grow Language.  There is a cost.

NCACA does not endorse any particular vendor, and these are only samples of trainings available online.

Developed by the North Carolina Augmentative Communication Association Education Committee -  October 2013

Happy therapy!

A Rousing Success!

In approximately 36 hours Ruth Morgan was successful in funding her Donors Choose project
This is astonishing to me, and a testimony to the power of asking for help! Any of us could replicate such a process.
Granted, Ruth has a strong network of folks who are interested in the work she does. She posted her Donors Choose project on her Facebook page as well as on her blog. She indicated to me that the majority of folks who donated were people she knows. Here is her "Thank you" letter she posted on her Donors Choose page this morning.
I can't fully express my joy, excitement, and gratitude for your donation to my project. It is great to see that you share my vision for using technology in teaching children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
The iPad that you have funded will enable students to develop functional communication skills as well as reinforce basic concepts and academics with innovative apps. The students are highly motivated by technology, and will put this to good use. Needless to say, I am thrilled by everyone's generosity.
I can't wait until this iPad arrives, and I can share with all the teacher some of the great ways to use it effectively! Thank you so much!
With gratitude, Ms. Morgan

Congratulations Ruth!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Innovative Funding Idea!

Often staff call or email me asking for technology for their classroom. If and when I can supply it we are both delighted. Sometimes though I am not able to provide the technology for various reasons. In such situations I often suggest that the teacher utilize their PTA funding (if they have any), write a grant or ask a parent to do so.
For many folks this feels like a daunting proposition. One of my colleagues, and fellow blogger, Ruth Morgan has experienced success in grant writing. Now she has stepped into another money making endeavor to provide an iPad for a classroom. Ruth is using donors choose in order to raise money to buy an iPad. One aspect about donors choose that I like is that unlike grants, there are very few if any rules that she has to follow.
Tek-Ninjas I encourage you to take a look at Ruth's page as a possible way for you to provide technology in your classroom, and while your at it, give some moolah to Ruth's project.
Ruth's project can be seen and supported here: donors choose site. Below is her write-up.
Ms. Morgan's technology project at Ephesus Road Elementary School in Chapel Hill, NC | High Poverty
I am sure all of you have heard about the struggles of people with autism and developmental disabilities. I see these struggles daily. I am a speech pathologist and work closely with a teacher for a group of elementary students in a special education classroom. We co-teach groups and work with the kids throughout the day.
This classroom has seven fourth and fifth grade aged children, all of whom have autism or other severe disability. All of them struggle with a severe communication handicap. The classroom has some access to resources such as a Smartboard and low-tech augmentative communication systems. The classroom also has one iPad. We have discovered, though, that with these children, one iPad isn't enough. One child needs this to learn to use an augmentative communication app, while other children use apps to learn basic concepts. Another child uses the iPad as a calming device, using simple cause-effect apps, and listening to music. Other children use social story apps to help learn expected behaviors both in and out of the classroom.
An iPad 2 is a game changer for autistic children. With communication apps such as Proloquo2Go, nonverbal children can have a voice. With educational apps, the children can develop early literacy and math skills. With social stories apps such as Pictello, the children can see themselves in social stories and learn how to act appropriately. A library of photographs can be stored on the iPad 2 for easy reference, and since the camera feature is there, it would be easy to continually add pictures. It would be a portable picture dictionary!
The camera feature on the iPad 2 is incredible. Items the children need to learn to request can be photographed and then imported seamlessly into the communication software. Videos of the children using appropriate behavior can easily be taken, and then shown back to them. Children can practice speaking, and get instant feedback using the camera feature. There are myriad other uses for a camera, and this feature on the iPad 2 is wonderful!
Please help give this classroom a voice. An iPad 2 would be a wonderful tool to help these children learn to communicate, to read, to learn social skills, and develop functional skills for the future.
Happy tech-ing!