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Review: TapSpeak Button


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iAutism is dedicated to the use of mobile devices for people with autism. But many existing applications are also useful or especially designed for people with other special needs.

TapSpeak Button is one of the latter. Focused more on people with cerebral palsy or other persons with serious motor problems, it is a communication application based on touching a single message button. That message can be selected from a list previously, allowing a certain richness of communication. Button TapSpeak can also be useful for cause-effect exercises or just for motor practice. Especially in the cause-effect exercises it is easier to see people with autism using this app as part of an early intervention.

TapSpeak Button is available in 3 versions: 1.0 for iPhone, 2.0.1 Standard for iPad and 2.0.3 Plus for iPad. The iPhone version is more or less equivalent to the Standard version for the iPad, although it has not been updated since it was launched in 2010. TapSpeak Button Plus adds a preloaded library of 4,500 symbols that can be bought by users of the Standard version as an in app purchase.

Buttons
When starting TapSpeak Button, you see a screen divided into two parts: the list of messages or “buttons” available, and the button selected.

TapSpeak Button comes with an empty list, but adding a button is very simple: you just need to give it a title, assign it to a folder of buttons (by default, the root folder) and decide whether or not it is modifiable by the user. By default, the associated image will be a red circle.

After creating the button, you can define more of its characteristics by touching symbols on the top of the screen. Thus, you can change the title of the button, set a text to accompany it and choose whether to display the title, the text, or neither. It is also possible to record an audio clip, typically with the reading of the text or title or with some nice sounds or a song.

It deserves to be highlighted that, when recording the audio clip, you can see a graph that shows whether your voice volume is too low or too high.

You can also change the image associated with the button. TapSpeak Button allows you to combine 8 geometric shapes with 14 basic colors (so you can generate visually simple but with high contrast buttons), use a photo from the iPad image libraryor, if you have the Plus version, select one of the 4,500 symbols or pictograms included (from the DynaVox/Mayer-Johnson PCS collection).

For the latter option, you can do text searches by tags (for example, “cat”) in the entire library of symbols or restricted to one or a few categories. Each symbol, once selected, comes with one or more labels that can be selected so that they become the new title of the associated button. Or you can add your own label (for example, to assign a text in another language). You can also navigate through the hierarchy of categories and view all images of each of them, and do so with different image sizes.

Finally, when using pictures and pictograms for the button, you can add a background image, which inevitably will be a combination of a geometric shape and a background color.

Using the button
Button TapSpeak targets people with serious vision impairments, cerebral palsy, etc. Hence the emphasis put on the options to create buttons with basic geometric shapes and bright colors. Also, following this idea, you can configure how the user will interact with the application to select the buttons.

As said earlier, TapSpeak Button is a communication application of a single message, which has to be activated in different ways to suit the user’s capabilities. Thus, you can define the maximum time that can last for the selection of the button, if you allow or not to move your finger while you are pressing it, if you will hear a sound indicating that you have done or not a good “tap”, and if you have to touch inside the image of the button or anywhere on the screen. The same screen used to define these parameters allows you to test how the interaction works.

You have defined many details of the button, but you can further modify how it appears. By touching it with two fingers you can resize it and change its position. This combination allows you to provide an additional visual cue to a user based on the specific size and position of the button.

Finally, there is the possibility of using as an alternative to tap the screen: an external switch (ie, an external hardware device, typically a Bluetooth device with one or more buttons, usually large) as a means of activation of the button.

After so much preparation, the end user operation is very simple. By touching the button defined, or any part of the screen or an external switch, if we have selected the appropiate option, he/she will hear the sound associated with that message. That sound can be whatever you want: a message, a song, an electronic sound, etc.., depending on the use you want to give to the application.

At any time, you can select another button from list to the left. Typically, the families, caregivers, etc. of the person with special needs will define this.

In fact, if you put the iPad in a vertical position, the list disappears and you will get a clean screen with no list or top bar buttons. You will see only the selected background and button, which is certainly a visual aid. With a movement at the top of the screen you can make the top bar to appear or disappear again.

Other adjustments
TapSpeak Button still allows further customization. By touching the typical image of a gear you can access to a few more options. One of them allows you to create folders in which to place buttons. Others are on/off options that allow you to decide if you want the buttons have a standard edge, if the user can change the size and position of the buttons or nor, and if the audio clips will restart when touching for the second time the button while the audio clip is still playing.

Finally, the information symbol allows you to send an email to TapSpeak, LLC, or visit its website, where you can find a complete manual of the application.

Assessment
Ted Conley, father of a child with special needs, and the rest of the team have taken a relatively simple concept, mechanical button or switch associated with a message, and have migrated it to the iPad extending everything and allowing a tremendous flexibility in their use. It’s hard to think of more options to add beyond the possibility of using other physical switches than the two models supported (both from RJ Cooper).

TapSpeak, LLC also has two other applications: TapSpeak Sequence, which can record and play back sequences of images, and TapSpeak Choice, a communication board based on images with voice generation. Both are probably more applicable for people with autism than TapSpeak Button, but both have also been designed to be useful for people with serious mobility limitations. TapSpeak Choice, for example, supports switches from RJ Cooper and also the Blue2 switch from AbleNet, suggesting that a future version of TapSpeak Button could also support AbleNet models.

Obviously, by the operation of TapSpeak Button, the language is not very relevant. The interface is in English only, as the manual, but it really easy to understand the application.

-Francesc Sistach

TapSpeak Button Plus for iPad 2.0.3
Links: iTunes
Company: TapSpeak, LLC
Languages: English
Funciones: Communication application based on touching a single message button (equivalent to a mechanical switch).
Versions: Two for the iPad (Standard 2.0.1 and Plus 2.0.3) and one for the iPhone and iPod touch (1.0)
Price: Standard: $29.99 / €23.39; Plus: $49.99 / €39.99; iPhone: $14.99 / €11.99

 


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