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90 apps for Android


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This weekend I’ve been searching for more apps for people with special needs that work on Android smartphones/tablets. This list continues to grow and now includes 90 apps. There is a little more of everything, but it is worthwhile to mention that some well-known developers of iPhone/iPad apps have decided to release some of their apps for Android. This is the case, for example, of First Then Visual Schedule, eight applications Touch Autism, Autism/DTT Colors and Autism/DTT Shapes.

-Francesc Sistach


Review: Rainbow Sentences


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Another app -the eleventh, to be exact- from Mobile Education Tools. This developer has accustomed us to a continuous release of educational applications designed to develop expressive, receptive and writing language. A year ago we analyzed Language Builder at iAutism, and now it’s time for Rainbow Sentences.

In short, Rainbow Sentences offers 168 exercises, highly configurable, to practice the construction of sentences of increasing difficulty that combine elements of who, what, where, why and to whom. A system of hints based on colors (hence the “rainbow” part of the name of the app) and three double difficulty levels let you tailor the use at various levels of students.

First, the settings
The first time you run Rainbow Sentences, the settings screen will appear. There you can determine a number of parameters that I will explain later. But almost the first thing you have to do is to create a user by entering their name and surname. Each user can record audio clips and generate stats of the exercises performed, and hence the need for a user management.

And then you can start with the exercises. You will see an image in the center of the screen showing a situation. Below, there are the elements that compose the sentence that describes this situation. In this first case, they are just two: subject and verb. Each has a different color. Above, there are two lines of the same two colors.

From here, the student must move each part of the sentence to its correct position. Each time you move a part, you hear it aloud (with a male voice). In this case, with only two parties and the hint of the colors, the exercise is relatively simple, but after you will be able to make it much more difficult. Once you have moved a part, you can still move it again to another location.

When you finish building the sentence, some more buttons appear: ‘Play’ allows you to hear the whole sentence; ‘Hide’ hides the buttons; ‘Play Lesson’ shows a screen that explains how to build sentences belonging to the current level; and ‘I’m Done’ will let you know if you built the sentence correctly.

By selecting ‘I’m Done’, if you have misplaced some parts of the sentence, Rainbow Sentences will notify you that there are parts in the wrong places and will move them back to the bottom of the screen. If you place them wrong a second time, you will see the lesson on how to build sentences.

If you have build everything right, you will be able to record an audio clip with your voice reading the sentences, play it as many times as you like, save it for later, or move to the next sentence.

There’s more. Below the main image, a message informs you about how many sentences you have to do to get a piece of a puzzle as a reward or reinforcement (generally every five sentences). The game has three levels of phrases, each with its puzzle. When you complete a puzzle, it shows an animation of it that lasts a few seconds.

The images are illustrations, not pictures, and in many cases show animals, as in cartoons. Thus, you will see a girl reading a book, but also a cat driving a car. That makes Rainbow Sentences more fun, but at the same time is something that some educators try to avoid for certain students.

All application screens are in portrait mode. Given the design that the Rainbow Sentences has, this orientation is the one that makes more sense.

More settings
Back to the settings screen of Rainbow Sentences, its first three options allow you to decide whether or not to hear audio instructions and messages informing you that the sentence is right, and to decide if you want option to record audio clips.

You can also choose the level of complexity of sentences. Each level includes 56 phrases. At level 1, they are relatively simple sentences with subject and verb. When you have built a good part of them, other sentences with an object (after the verb) appear. Level 2 adds the ‘where’ part of the sentence (and, again, the object after building several sentences.) And level 3 adds the ‘why’ part of the sentence. So we have three selectable difficulty levels and two sublevels of difficulty in each.

The three final options let you choose whether or not the lines and words are to be colored depending on which part of the sentence they belong to (subject, verb, where, why, to whom), and whether or not to each part of the sentence goes together or you have only separate words.

Thus, if we work with separate words but keep the help of colors and reach level 2, the exercises start to be more complicated. However, the colors are very helpful to place the words correctly. The subject is always blue, the verb is always red, the place is always green, and so on.

If you opt for separate words, no colors, and level 3, you will find sentences of more than 10 words that you will have to sort with no hint besides the length of the lines, as shown in the image. The hint of the length of the lines is the only one that can not be deactivated.

Extras
Rainbow Sentences includes some more features. Every time you build a sentence correctly, you are given the option to record an audio clip that you can also save. And the ‘Archive’ screen allows you to play those clips, delete them or send them by email. The image is sent as a PNG file, and the audio clip as a CAF file (a format promoted by Apple, more flexible than the well-known WAV, and that is playable on Windows computers also using QuickTime Player or other audio/video apps).

The ‘Stats’ screen allows you to see the usage statistics. There you can see how many correct sentences of each level have been built in the first, second and third -or later-try. You can also see the puzzles (and the animations, if the puzzles are completed), sent the statistics report by email and reset all counters.

Little more remains. Rainbow Sentences includes an instruction manual and allows you, from the settings screen, to access the Facebook page of the application and to view a tutorial video located in YouTube. The video is particularly suited to know everything that you can make with the app.

Assessment
As I said at the beginning, Mobile Education Tools is well known for its range of apps designed to develop oral and written language at the level of sentences. Rainbow Sentences is one of a collection, and has common elements with other apps, but has focused on the construction of sentences from their words.

With 168 sentences and images, three difficulty levels (and two types of sentences in each one) and a highly configurable hints system, the truth is that Rainbow Sentences gives for many hours of practice. It includes a basic system of reinforcements and statistical records, so it is a quite complete tool. As I mentioned, I would like to be able to deactivate the hint of the length of words, but in fact level 3 with no color aids is hard enough.

Who can use Rainbow Sentences? As with other apps of Mobile Education Tools, the user may well be a student with special needs but a fairly high level of language -expressive, receptive and written- as well a neurotypical student who wants a tool with which to practice building sentences. And in the case of Rainbow Sentences, a valid user can also be a non-native English speaker who want to practice building sentences, expand vocabulary and practice pronunciation.

-Francesc Sistach

Rainbow
Links: iTunes
Company: Mobile Education Tools
Languages: English
Functions: 168 exercises for constructing sentences from the words or blocks that comprise it.
Versions: Only for the iPad
Price: $7.99 / €5.99

 


Review: Special Words


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Today I will talk you about an app for iPad/iPhone that I find very useful for students with ASD: Special Words, developed by Special iApps. In our educational center, we are using it with some very young children and we are getting good results, as it is attractive to them, simple to use, and allows us to address different aspects such as visual matching, global reading, visual discrimination, and so on.

I will first explain what it is and then we’ll see the customization it offers.

Four activities
Special Words presents a screen with four fixed elements and one central element that can be shifted so the student can associate it with its corresponding element. We can choose from several operating modes, as we shall see in the following screenshots.

First, we can match image to image. In this case, an image appears in the center of the screen, the app says aloud the word associated, and when you match the two identical images, Special Words says the word again, showing also the written word that represents it.

Secondly, we can match word to word. Functioning here is very similar to the previous case: when the central word appears, Special Words says it aloud, and repeat it when you match the words, showing in this case the image it represents.

The third of the activities that we can perform is a classic exercise of global reading. The student has to move the word towards the corresponding image, with the extra help of hearing the word that appear in the center of the screen.

Finally, we have the possibility to practice reverse global reading by offering four words as matching options and an image to match.

Customization
Special Words offers a wide range of initial vocabulary that you can modify to suit the characteristics and needs of your students. From the word list, by selecting any word, you can modify it, changing the writing and/or and recording a new audio clip if necessary.

Of course, Special Words also allows you to add new vocabulary, something that you can do by touching the + symbol at the top of the screen. To add an image, you have to previously save images on the device or, if you have an iPhone or an iPad 2, take a picture directly.

With Special Words you can also define different users, select the most appropriate word lists for each of them, and put the words in the order that most interests you, thus making the most appropriate combinations depending on the characteristics and needs of each individual student. To do this, you only have to press the icon with an arrow and a rectangle, which will lead you to a menu screen of actions to manage saved profiles, adding and changing everything you need.

Special Words runs on both the iPhone and the iPad. It’s certainly an interesting application, useful and engaging, that can be invaluable for our students.

-Lupe Montero

Special
Links: iTunes
Company: Special iApps
Languages: English (U.S., UK and Australia), Spanish, Catalan, Dutch, Flemish, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Turkish.
Functions: Exercises of visual matching, global reading and visual discrimination.
Versions: Universal version for iPad, iPod touch and iPhone
Price: $13.99 / €10.99

 


Review: OneVoice – AAC


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Legend, developer of OneVoice – AAC, is a software design and user experience firm that claims their designs are clear and have high quality. In fact, Legend works for other companies making designs for them. After reviewing OneVoice and its website, we have to recognize they are truly good at this.

Besides its interface, OneVoice is an interesting AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) app. It has many common elements with other AAC apps, but it includes some aspects that make it worth taking a look.

In short, OneVoice follows the paradigm of building sentences based on selecting one or typically multiple images. What makes OneVoice different is that the sentence appears in text form only, and that you can also enter text directly. This makes OneVoice a useful AAC app for users that, while appreciate a communication system based on images classified into categories, can also read and even appreciate that the phrase is written in plain text instead of being shown as a sequence of images.

This makes us think about neurotypical people who have lost their speech capability for some reason or, for example, people with special needs who cannot speak but probably can read and write with some fluency.

A unique screen
Once started, OneVoice shows a communication screen that is also the unique full screen included in this app. If you are holding an iPad in landscape mode, you will see on the left the list of categories of vocabulary and, on the right, the images-phrases of the selected category. By default, the “Needs & Wants” category, that includes some basic vocabulary, is checked.

By selecting images from one or more categories you can build a sentence, which will appear in the top box only in text format.

When you finish the sentence, you can touch the ‘Speak’ button, so that OneVoice reads the sentence aloud.  If you prefer, there is an editing option that will allow you to speak each word as selected.

As we have said at the beginning of this review, you can also touch the top box to display the standard keyboard of the iPad and enter text directly. The advantage of this system is that you can even add words in the middle of the sentence you have created based on selecting images. So you can add an adjective or a preposition, for example. You can also copy and paste text from other applications and use the integrated word prediction feature.

The screen has only two more buttons: one to delete the current written sentence, and another to access the settings. The latter will show some small overlapping windows on top of the main screen that, remember, is the only full screen of OneVoice. Here, too, the author looks for simplicity. From the settings you can, for example, select bigger images for the images that accompany each category.

If you use an iPad in portrait mode, the category is selected from a dropdown list, leaving more space for images in each category.

OneVoice also works for the iPhone. The smaller screen means that the app first shows the categories and then the images of the selected category, but the app itself has a very similar operation mode.

Details
In addition to simplicity, there are some hidden strengths that should be noted. OneVoice requires 233 MB, and this is largely because it includes four high quality natural voices (one male adult, one male child, and two female) that allow  an accurate English pronunciation for a much wider vocabulary than the small number of phrases with associated images preloaded suggests.  A demo of each voice (Ryan, Kenny, Laura, Heather) is available at http://www.acapela-group.com/text-to-speech-interactive-demo.html, where the voices are referred to as “American English speech synthesis” voices.

From ‘Settings’ you can choose what voice you want to use and its speed. The same screen allows you to decide whether each word should be pronounced as you add each image or only when you press the ‘Speak’ button.

Vocabulary
OneVoice includes a preloaded vocabulary of only 223 items, a good set for children or youth, covering basic needs. But clearly OneVoice does not have an extensive vocabulary. Any user will have to add dozens of images. For example, there are only 15 images in the food category and 13 for actions.

The high quality and type of illustrations deserve to be highlighted. Where other applications use very schematic pictograms or drawings only suitable for children, OneVoice includes realistic illustrations.

The vocabulary is initially divided into 15 categories. The user can create new categories, but not subcategories. Again, simplicity shows everywhere. The name of each category cannot be too long –more than 20 characters– or will appear truncated. And if an image has been chosen to appear in front of the category name, there will be less room for the full name to appear on the screen.

If you select the Edit mode from ‘Settings’, the single screen of OneVoice will change a bit. Next to each category, two icons appear that allow you to delete categories or move them up and down. You can also delete any image-phrase in that category or relocate it, and also add new categories.

And, of course, you can add new images within a category. A small window appears and shows six tabs with -surprisingly- only a subset of the preloaded phrases. But it is the ‘Custom’ tab that allows you to add your own pictures.

As usual in many apps, pictures can be taken from the library of images of the device. Not so usual, you also have the option to scale the image and take just a piece of it. Using an iPhone or an iPad 2, you may add images based on photographs taken directly using the built-in camera. Apart from the picture, you have to write the text or phrase associated with it.

This way of editing all at once is very powerful, so as a precaution you can decide to use a code to access it. The code is perfectly visible, so the only thing that you will accomplish using it is to avoid entering the edit mode accidentally, and not really to prevent an unauthorized user entering the edit mode. We would have liked the option to actually block access to the edit mode using a secret code.

During our evaluation of OneVoice, we discovered that when adding images, only 24 could reside in the “Custom” images at one time.  The developer acknowledges that this limitation is a bug that affects some users and is working on an update. Until the update is available, once imported images are placed in a desired category, they will likely need to be removed from their temporary location in “Custom” images.   In other words, once the 24-item limit in “Custom” is reached, the option to “Use” additional images is disabled until the number of images in “Custom” is reduced. Thankfully, deleting images out of “Custom” will not affect the images that have already been added to other categories.

Assessment
To assess OneVoice fairly has proven to be difficult for us. On the one hand, we like the design because it is clean and straightforward. No doubt the author has considered every detail of the interface to minimize it but still provide a powerful tool. The voices are very good, and illustrations are equally excellent. You likely will not need to read a user’s manual. Anyway, the company’s website thoroughly explains how to use OneVoice and includes demo videos.

On the other hand, the initial vocabulary is clearly reduced, and that, for an application that costs $200, does not seem right. For that price we expect a vocabulary of many thousands of words. (By the way, the high price is what makes Apple to categorize OneVoice for people over 17 years, but there is really no sexual content or anything that children should not see). Also, for the sake of such simplicity, the configuration is very limited. We can enlarge images of the categories, but not their texts, for example.

OneVoice, as said earlier, has a different approach. The sentence being built appears in text mode. That, for an adult who has lost his speech but not his cognitive abilities, is probably great. From one point of view, you should compare OneVoice to TTS (text-to-speech) apps, such as Verbally Premium ($100), but with the advantage of being able of quickly build sentences based on selecting images.

For users with autism or other intellectual special needs, the assessment will depend on their written language skills. Without written language skills, OneVoice becomes meaningless, because the user cannot recognize the sentence that is built on the screen. With written language skills, an advantage of OneVoice will undoubtedly be its simple but yet powerful design.

In any case, there is a free lite version of OneVoice with the same features except that it does not generate voice output. So you can test it and check if it satisfies your needs.

-Angie Lamb & Francesc Sistach

OneVoice
Enlaces: iTunes
Company: Legend
Languages: English
Functions: AAC based on images to generate sentences in text format and with 4 natural voices.
Versions: Only for iPad; Lite (free) version.
Price: $199,99€ / €149,99$