Pocket-sized AAC

Locabulary lets your Apple iPhone talk for you

by Quest Staff on August 10, 2009 - 9:00pm

A new software application, available for download free through Apple's iTunes Store, lets people use their iPhone to speak when they're unable.

"Locabulary" can be used by anyone with the ability to manipulate the menus on an iPhone touch screen. The speech generator was created through a collaboration between a team of clinicians led by pediatric rehabilitation physician Drew Davis at MDA's clinic at Children's Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., and the design firm PUSH Product Design, also out of Birmingham, with a grant from the Alabama Council for Developmental Disabilities.

call 911
With Locabulary (a combination of "location" and "vocabulary") users can pull up menus with words that are common to a specific location.

The application essentially transforms the iPhone into an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device, making selected groups of words available to the user depending on their location at the time.

"We say different things in different places. The idea is to load the correct words at the correct location, so that communication is more efficient," said Foster Phillips, an industrial designer with PUSH. "The current choices are limited, but the idea is apparent -- if you're at McDonald's, you can pull up a list of words that would be appropriate; the same for Starbucks."

Location, location, location

PUSH engineer Gene Eighmy noted that the Locabulary design is meant to overcome three drawbacks common to other communication devices: price, size and acceptance.

"Dr. Drew Davis and his MDA clinic team observed that children who quit using other expensive communication devices continued to communicate using their cell phone's text messaging," Eighmy said. They theorized that "peer pressure, or just wanting to be like every other texting teenager" was the reason children preferred communicating with the cell phone.

Based on these observations, the MDA clinicians and PUSH engineers came up with the idea for Locabulary, which lets users construct sentences by manipulating the touch screen on their iPhone to select from menus of location-specific words. The phone then speaks the selected words.

Additional Locabulary features include:

  • Two different text sizes
  • A quick-phrase list that contains general conversation words;
  • An assistance list that lets the user ask for help;
  • A moods list that permits users to broadcast their current mood status; and
  • Compatability with the iPhone and iPod Touch. (Although older versions of the iPod touch don't have external speakers, these can be added through the headphone jack.)

A work in progress

Locabulary's designers are looking to make the application even better in the future.

"We're currently working on the next version of Locabulary Lite, which will be offered as an improvement of the original, but still for free," Phillips said. "We're hoping that Locabulary Lite will allow us to get feedback from people who would use the app, so that we can make future versions that much better."

The Locabulary Web site has a "Tell us what you think" link where you can vote, comment and submit ideas.

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