October is International Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month! We had been recently given a chance to check out Invention Labs’ baby, Avaz for Autism. Avaz was conceptualized by some inventors in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras as early as 2005 and, after a good amount of hard work, was born as a tablet first. This year saw Avaz’s rebirth as an iOS app, and will come out eventually as an Android app.
When we started Avaz for Autism for the first time, we felt like it was a special app. Our instincts were right. Anything that’s 333mb in data weight promised to be a feature-laden app. On an iPad 2, Avaz took a few seconds to start up, but once you’re in, you are greeted by a simple, AAC interface. Depending on your settings, either Pictures (in the form of folders / icons / messages) welcome you to Avaz, or a Keyboard. But whether you’re on Pictures or Keyboard mode, the typing screen is located on top. A button that allows you to switch between Pictures and Keyboard sits comfortably on the upper left corner, while the upper right corner contains the Clear button (tap it once to “Delete,” tap it twice to “Clear” the contents of the typing screen).
- Go Back (to the previous screen)
- Quick (allows access to preprogrammed / customized buttons that are more frequently used)
- Mistake (if Avaz is set to speak actions, tapping this button says “I made a mistake.”)
- Alert (a pleasant ding rings out to call someone’s attention)
Avaz is highly customizable (oh yes it is!). The upper right corner houses the Edit and Settings buttons as well. One is required to enter a password in order to access these features. Very convenient as the clinician / parent would not want the client to be able to modify these.
- Help is contained in one screen: You know that an app is well designed and simple enough to learn when its Help screen explains the process in very few words. Even better, the Help screen has a button on the lower left that speaks out the instructions. Great feature!
- Selected messages enlarge towards the middle of the screen: excellent way to emphasize the message chosen
- Highly customizable: Avaz allows one to do the following:
- add pictures: via the iPad’s camera, from the Photo Library, or from Avaz’s built-in Symbolstix library (10,000+ high-quality figures!)
- add labels to pictures
- show / not show labels
- enable / disable “messages” or folders: no need to delete them if you don’t want them shown
- create messages and categories / folders
- cut-paste, especially useful if you want to move messages and subfolders to another folder
- rearrange the sequence of messages / folders: just tap and drag these around to arrange them to your preferred sequence.
- control HOW Avaz speaks a word: this is our favorite feature. It is perfectly ok for us that the built-in vocabulary is for the US since we speak a lot of English with our own young clients in the clinic. But we have a lot of names and Filipino labels that Avaz cannot pronounce correctly. Within the Edit mode, one can Add a Message (or Category), and in the bottom of the screen is a Speak As field. Type in HOW you want the target word pronounced, and test how Avaz pronounces it by tapping the Sound icon. Beautiful, isn’t it?
- Predictive input on Keyboard mode: not only does Avaz narrow down word choices as one types a word, commonly used words found within its Symbolstix library come with its respective icon. Tap it and be done with your message.
- Settings offers most if not all of your preferred tweakings: check out the screenshots below. One can
- set the keyboard layout to QWERTY or ABC
- turn the message box on/off
- include pictures within the message box or not
- control pic and caption size
- opt to have pics enlarge on select or not
- opt to have the app go Home automatically
- select adult or child voices, male or female, etc.
- can be used with multiple clients: this comes in pretty handy if you are a clinician who works with clients who use AAC devices. Going via Starting Screen enables one to customize the categories in the root screen and create child-specific categories within it.
- can save messages: saved messages can be assigned to play back once one taps the picture it is associated with.
- PECS can be used via Avaz: check out Avaz’s Support page for instructions on how the app can accommodate the PECS system.
This is one app that apparently had a history of receiving and hearing out customer feedback in order to improve it even more. With that in mind, we only have but a few concerns:
- significant lag-time during startup as well as in Edit mode: this may vary depending on the iPad’s / Android device’s built-in RAM. It is worth remembering however that Avaz has thousands of pictures built in compressed in 333mb, and this may contribute to the lag. At least the lag does not occur during actual usage.
- no zoom-in / enlarge pictures option: one needs to be careful at shooting and selecting pictures that show small objects. We wanted to show a set of toy vehicles and this was how it came out (see picture on the right). Tweaking the picture size does not change the size of the pic per se. It changes how many pictures are shown on the screen at a time. So if you’re not comfortable having only two pics on the screen just so the pic details can be seen, choose your pictures well.
- no Lite version: We could only but assume that a good part of Avaz’s price tag goes to Symbolstix licensing, but it would be great if there was an Avaz Lite to enable interested parties to try the app before buying it. A Lite version can also come in useful for parents who wish to ascertain that Avaz is for their child.
AAC apps are one of the more difficult apps to design and produce. Coming with a $99.99 price tag, it is only but natural for one to ascertain that the app they are contemplating on buying is worth it. Avaz for Autism has had quite a dev history (four years) and had worked with over “20 speech therapists and educators, 25 schools, and 500 children across two countries” in order to arrive to where it is now. One cannot help but pay attention to an app designed by people who care not just about its level of customizability, they appeared to also make sure that pronunciation differences are taken into account.
(We at iSPeak App recommend that if you want to ascertain that Avaz for Autism is for your loved one, consult a speech-language pathologist who is AAC-trained.)
- augmentative and alternative communication skills