updated 10:27 pm EST, Tue February 11, 2014
Assistive communication app leads the pack
Hovering on the edge of awareness for most iOS users exists a class of apps that I hope you never have to use, or even see. I'm talking about assistive communication applications for the iPad and other tablets -- used to help people unable to speak from injury, disease, or other reasons. One of the leaders of the pack (and the first to market a few years ago) is AssistiveWare's Proloquo2Go, an application designed for easy customization for end-users to be given a voice, some for the first time in their lives.
First of all, some background: before the iPad, people with problems affecting speech were forced into expensive, vertical-market solutions. The solutions were, and are still, custom-designed for the problem, and are excellent but extremely pricey. Bar none, all of the companies with custom hardware solutions have quotes like "call for your pricing" and "pricing available upon request" which are generally not harbingers for an inexpensive solution.
When Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his team showed the iPad, some of these solutions were effectively retired -- disrupted by the new technology. Custom solutions are all very expensive -- some well over $10,000 -- but even that was a huge reduction from what they had cost just a few years earlier.
Shortly before the iPad launch came Proloquo2Go. AssistiveWare developed the app as an adjunct to its Proloquo OS X package. The developer calls it "the symbol-supported communication app that gives a voice to people who cannot speak." The app allows users to speak by tapping buttons with words or phrases, and access grammar efficiently with verb and noun inflections. The app allows users to download 19 American-, nine British-, and four Australian-accented, natural-sounding Text to Speech adult and children's voices for free.
The app itself allows a configuring user, generally a parent or speech therapist, to create and edit buttons with 14,000 symbols or photos. For the profoundly disabled, the app can be configured to use adaptive "VoiceOver" switches such as the AbleNet Blue2 and the RJ Cooper Bluetooth Switch Interface to interface with the app and selected features.
The app comes essentially as a blank slate. While we utilized a school speech therapist to configure the app, we found that the program is easy enough for an involved parent to set up. Many hours can be put into the tailoring of the app for the user. Fortunately, profiles are easily extracted, backed up, and installed through iTunes file sharing directly into the app, enabling use on multiple devices.
Proloquo2Go isn't cheap, and has never seen a sale since launch. However, the hardware requirements are low, and we've successfully tested it on a range of hardware from the first-generation iPad, a fourth-generation iPod touch, and an iPad Air. So, given the $220 entry fee for the software, and a $500 iPad (or possibly a less expensive iPod Touch or iPad Mini), the total $720 cost of entry for the pair is still an order of magnitude less than a (still excellent) Dynavox or similar solution. However, some insurance policies will at least cover part of a dedicated solution like the Dynavox, and only some even consider Proloquo2Go and an iPad, but this short-sightedness has gotten less common over the last two years.
I truly hope that none of you ever have to utilize this app, but personally, our family depends on it. While Proloquo2go is an elegant and clearly Apple-inspired solution to the augmentative communication problem, a non-communicative loved one is a terrible thing to deal with, so any assistance like this is very welcome.
That all said, we feel that Proloquo2go is the de facto gold standard for iPad augmentative communication for all ages, only depending on hand-to-eye coordination of the main user, and the willingness of a supervisory user to spend the time to properly configure the device according to the needs of the primary user.