Monday, September 22, 2014

#AACfamily Friday

My daughter uses a talker to communicate. Nothing delights her more than seeing other children, or adults, who also use talkers to communicate. She doesn’t care which app they’re using, which church of AAC theysubscribe to, whether they gravitate towards low or high tech . . . she just likes seeing people who speak with things other than speech.  She sees it, recognizes it, and connects with it . . . these alternative communicators who she sees as just like her. She’s eager (sometimes too eager) to check out their systems, to hear their voices and see how their words are organized. She’s excited to see other AAC users. She doesn’t judge their systems, or remark that perhaps they should change their vocabulary layout or move onto a bigger grid, or get a different case for their iPads.

She sees another AAC user and she celebrates.

We AAC families are, well, a type of extended family. We are lumped together in the public eye: people who “use some device to talk” (or people who have a family member who uses something to talk, or therapists who are often seen using devices to talk as they model and plan).

We are bound together. An #AACfamily.

We are proud AAC users, or we are parents who have fought to provide our children with voice, or we are siblings who have learned to speak the language system that our sibling uses,  or we are clinicians who have laid awake at night thinking of what will work for their clients.

We are #AACfamily.

Speak for Yourself users, Proloquo2Go users, LAMP users, TouchChat users, PODD users . . . I’m looking at you.

PECS users, Tobii users, Dynavox users, PRC users . . . I’m looking at you.

GoTalk Now users, TechSpeak users, AutisMate users, Aacorn users, users of the apps and systems that are escaping my tired mind . . . I’m looking at you.

Therapists, huddled over your iPads and programming, ripping up binders and duct taping and laminating into the wee hours of the morning  . . . I’m looking at you.

We are family, united in our need for communication modifications. We are family, united in our passion for presuming competence. We are family, united in our challenges: did you remember to plug in your child’s voice and charge it tonight? Do you spend way too much time trying to figure out appropriate amplification? Do you think to yourself “seriously, we should own stock in laminating pouches and velcro?”

Our “nonverbal” (ha) children have so much in common. So much. And, by extension, so do we. We share the challenges we face, the triumphs we share, the doubts, the IEP goals, the worries over whether this year’s classroom staff will model language enthusiastically.

We share the moment when our child first said something with their talker that they couldn’t have said without it.

We share the way we teach extended family members about the importance of modeling, the way we see the AAC siblings start to use a talker and think about meaningful peer models, the time we spend online reaching out to new users and saying “no, seriously, AAC won’t impede speech.”

We are #AAC family. We may speak different symbol languages, but we are in this together.
We may use different devices, we may have different vocabulary philosophies, we may all feel passionately about our personal preferences . . . but our differences, in a global view, aren’t so great. Compared to the general public, we certainly have more in common than not.

And so, happy almost AAC awareness month to you, my family J

October is AAC Awareness Month, and I’m declaring Friday to be #AACfamily day. Let’s come together to celebrate AAC users and raise awareness about AAC! Here’s how it works:

1. Email me an AAC related photo ( Here are some ideas: your AAC user using their device (or with their device), siblings or families using the device, your device charging, your PODD book resting overnight, your PEC making supplies strewn across your kitchen table, a photo of your laminator in use, (professionals: your devices charging, the gadget you might be hoarding, stacks of folders that you’re putting reports into) . . .anything AAC related. Anything. 
(If you have a label you would like me to use, eg “John climbing a mountain with his talker!” then please include it. If the photo comes with an email that says "Katie at the beach with her iPad." then I will assume that's what I should post with the picture.)

2. If you have an AAC related link that you would like to share, include it in the email. I will include links to anything AAC related: a blog, a Facebook page, a twitter account, a Pinterest page, a website (app/product related, clinic related, whatever), a youtube channel, a Facebook users’ group, your favorite AAC product’s page----if it’s related to AAC, and you want me to share it with your photo, I'll put it up!

3. If you would like to double share, please feel free to share pictures, links, anything on Fridays in October with the hashtag #AACfamily  on your twitter or Facebook pages (for FB users: you’ll need to set your post to “public” if you want it to appear when people search for #AACfamily on Facebook)

4. Spread the word. The more, the merrier. Share this with your therapists (or your clients), in users groups, on FB/Twitter, with your AAC friends. We need to stand together, to celebrate together, and to spread the word (and the love) together. I want to see users of every device, every app, every language system, represented every Friday! I want to see therapists, users, families, friends, adventures, anything! Whatever differences we have, we have more in common. Let’s come together as users of augmentative and alternative communication systems!

*There are 5 Fridays in October and each of them will be #AACfamily Friday. If you want to send me 5 pictures today and specify “this is for week 1, this is week 2, etc” that’s great!  If you want to wait and take new pictures each week, that’s great too! Photos must be received by 8:00pm (EST) Thursday night in order to post on the following day.

My kids. #AACfamily

Monday, September 8, 2014

Comparison of Volume (Intensity) in iPad Cases (and a speaker)

In forums and groups of AAC users, iPad cases are discussed a lot. Durability is a big concern for everyone, some people are focused on weight, others on handles/ease of carry, and there is an emphasis on the fact that volume is important. Volume is HUGE. As a speaking person, I can raise my voice to be heard at a windy playground, or in a crowded restaurant---and it's important that Maya can also be heard in those settings. She has the right to be loud! We've always used an iAdapter case on her talker (or mini, as she has now) because it was the only amplified case on the market---and that amplification is essential. (There is now another amplified case available, but at $395 I'm not buying it to test out.)

A lot of new users aren't able to buy an iPad, an app, an a very pricey amplified case, and I often see "we're using xyz case right now but may get an amplified one in the future." Some people use their case as-is, others use an external speaker (which plugs in to the headphone port on the iPad) or a bluetooth speaker (which works wirelessly). Recently I bought the ION Clipster bluetooth speaker to use with Will's talker, when needed, and was surprised by the sound quality and volume (in a good way). Since I have a variety of cases at my disposal, it made sense to do a quick analysis of volume, so that users who are debating different options have a bit of data.

Products: The products tested were: the Gripcase, the Otterbox Defender case, the Griffin Survivor case (with back speaker flap removed), the iAdapter mini case, the ION Clipster bluetooth speaker, and a plain (uncased) iPad.  Decibels were measured using the "Decibel 10th" app.

Set-up: The iPad being tested was positioned 25 inches from the data-recording iPad, with speaker facing towards the data recorder. The internal volume of the iPad was set at its maximum level.

Test language: Each iPad ran the same sentence set ("My name is Maya. I can do it! This is only a test.") on the same voice (Katherine-American, fast rate, very high pitch) in the same app (Speak for Yourself).  On the second night of testing I also ran the same sentence set in the app Proloquo2Go, after several users reported feeling like the P2G app runs louder than SFY.

Trials: Each iPad was run 3-5 times consecutively to ensure that the data was consistent. The decibel number recorded was the "average" intensity displayed after running those sentences. The entire experiment was conducted within a  short timespan (less than 10 minutes) on one evening (so ambient noise should be discountable) and then completely repeated the subsequent evening.


Average Intensity (dB) 9/5/14
Average Intensity (dB) 9/6/14
iAdapter mini case-HI setting
iAdapter mini case-LO setting
ION Clipster Bluetooth speaker
(at full volume)
iAdapter mini case-OFF setting
Otterbox Defender case
iPad without case
Griffin Survivor case (SEE NOTE #2)

Important notes:
1. I wouldn't put too much stock in the accuracy of these decibel readings. The app seemed to work consistently enough to get a main idea and notice trends, but I had no way of checking the accuracy of the actual dB readings.

2. The Griffin Survivor case typically has a flap that covers the speaker. Two weeks ago I became very frustrated that the kids could never hear me when I used that device for modeling, and I cut the flap off with a pair of kitchen scissors. I am 100% sure that the Griffin Survivor would be quieter than all other things on this list if the case was actually intact.


1. The iPad without a case, the Gripcase. the Otterbox Defender, and the Griffin Survivor (with back flap removed) all tested at exactly the same level, although if the Griffin case was intact (see above note #2) I anticipate it would have been quieter than the others. The iAdapter case in the OFF setting appears to be at close to the same dB level, although the reading differed slightly from one night to the next.  Bottom Line: If you are planning on buying one of these cases the volume provided by the case shouldn't be one of your decision-making factors---they're all the same. You will definitely need an external or bluetooth speaker if you are using one of these cases in conjunction with an iPad as a communication device. This level of intensity is not enough to be reliably hear in crowded or outdoor situations.

2. The iAdapter case on LO setting tested equal in intensity to the ION Clipster speaker, when the Clipster was at full volume. When the iAdapter is turned on HI, it was the loudest of all items tested. Interestingly, the voice quality between the iAdapter and Clipster are different, even at the same intensity (volume) level. The iAdapter voice sounds a little more thin, or tinny, and the Clipster voice has more depth to it. This clip shows the sound difference:

Bottom Line: These are both good options, although they differ in a few respects that may make one preferable to the other on a case by case basis: The iAdapter offers the most volume, the Clipster doesn't get as loud but has a richer sound. The iAdapter speakers are built into the case, the Clipster has to be attached to either the case or the AAC user.

3. The ION Clipster's volume reading had a significant change (+5dB) depending on where the speaker was aimed (away from the listener/toward the listener). Bottom Line: If you use the Clipster across multiple settings, be mindful of which direction the speaker is facing. This is particularly important if you attach the speaker to the back of a case that could end up in the user's lap (circle time at school, carseat, stroller), which will aim the sound downward and possibly muffle the speaker.

4. Several users of Proloquo2Go mentioned to me that the amplification aspect of a case might not be as important to P2G users as it is to SFY users because the P2G voice is louder. Since I own P2G I ran the same sentence set and found that the P2G app actually is softer (-3dB) than Speak for Yourself. The P2G voice is a bit richer, and the pauses in speech feel more natural, so I wonder if maybe the perceived "louder"-ness is actually just an increased ability to decipher the speech from further away due to tone and speech pattern, because it actually measured as quieter. Bottom Line: Proloquo2Go tested as softer/less intense than the Speak for Yourself app, indicating that volume should be an important part of case selection regardless of app used.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliations to any of the cases, speakers, or apps mentioned in the above post. This was done independently and isn't endorsed by anyone. If you do a similar experiment and get different results, let me know---more (well done) data is always better!