Programming Tips for Dynamic Display AAC Devices
First, lets go over some basics - While every platform has unique variables, there are some things that are generally consistent between dynamic display AAC options. Buttons, for example, can often be customized in very detailed ways. Each button has a look, as well as a function. For the look, options for customization tend to include a label, text location (e.g., top or bottom of the button), font size, font color, font look (italic, bold, etc.), an image, a body/background color, a boarder color, and a boarder width.
Note the look of the page in the screenshot below for reference (platform is iPad with TouchChat):
- This page has a 4x4 grid. All but one of the buttons (home) is specific to the activity.
- The button backgrounds/bodies are mostly yellow and green. Inspired by the amazing organization of the Vantage Lite (Prentke Romich), I always like to have the backgrounds of my pronouns (nouns in this case, but since the items in this story are anthropomorphized I went with it) to be yellow, and that of my verbs to be green. The rest of the buttons have different backgrounds for further visual categorization.
- Each button has an image, however some are symbols while others are pictures taken direction from the book.
- Each button also has a label. The button texts are all black, and located at the bottom of each button (underneath the image).
- Every button has a black boarder of equal width for clear definition.
- The button in the bottom row and far right column navigates to the home screen. In this program, you can see that a button is programmed to navigate, because there will be an arrow in the top, left corner of the button.
Anyone who has spent time programming an AAC device or App knows what a nightmare can be - if you haven't, then maybe you can relate to Suri's inexplicable ability to perfectly pronounce words that I can't say, while insisting that Grossmont Blvd is pronounced "Grow-mont." For programming purposes, things like this can be excruciating. Here are a few things that we have found can help out the process:
- Play around with with spelling - You can typically customize buttons so that the appearing title is different from the message that is read aloud. Thus, you can trick the software into pronouncing things the way you want by miss-spelling the message, or even breaking up the word into segmented syllables (e.g., Molly could be: mallee, mall e, mally, mol ee). Keep trying if it doesn't work the first time; there are very few words that I have had to give up on.
- Consider the punctuation - If the intonation doesn't sound right, try manipulating it with commas or periods. Punctuation can alter the timing of the pronunciation, but also the intonation within the word or phrase. While programming this page, I found that the punctuation in "boo, boo" and "clap, clap" caused each repetition to be pronounced differently. As seen below, I added a period after the first boo, and a comma after both claps in order to get the messages to sound the way I wanted them to (note the differences between the button labels and the button messages).
- Finding the right image - holy programming nightmare! I live in constant fear of having no search results for the picture that I need... from there, there are only so many steps to take. First, try to use creative search terms (a good picture for wiggle might be found under: dance, cold, shiver, etc..) Seriously, get creative with this, you'll be surprised at what is available. For example, while trying to find an image for wiggle, I found these gems:
- Uploading images - I ALWAYS do my crop/orientation editing in my photo library rather than the app itself. For some reason, I am otherwise tormented by pictures that automatically self-crop and/or rotate. I'm sure there is a pattern to it, but I don't see it (please feel free to leave an informative comment if you do!) This might be an MP (my problem), but if it is also a YP (your problem), the safest bet is to get the pictures ready ahead of time. You can take pictures yourself, or save them from internet searches. I like to use the search tools in Google images to filter by clip art, photo, or line drawing, depending on what I'm looking for (e.g.). Again, you may agonize over finding the right images but there is always something that you can make work - see what I resolved to use for wiggle, wiggle above.
- One last thought on images - Think ahead about the skill range of your clients/students. I err on the side of making sure the layouts are simple enough for my more impacted kids. I used pictures of the book itself when possible, and incorporated color cuing in the backgrounds. There are many philosophies on this, just make sure you've given it some thought.