AAC – NO such thing as bad data…

Well, obviously, sometimes there is…


I’m ill this week (Chest infection in right lung if you are interested and you aren’t) so it’s a very short post to promote a data gathering exercise that AssistiveWare are doing.

The post announcing the survay is here. I had a fairly vigorous conversation with David at AssistiveWare at CM a few weeks ago about the nature of the data that could and couldn’t be collected – but the important thing is that there is effort being made and I think it would be good if more people got involved.

Here are the direct links to the surveys:
AAC user survey:

Family members of AAC users:


…and you’ve got until 22nd October to fill them out. Have fun!

Entropy in AAC

This is a unfinished thought post.  I’m trying to work an idea though in my head and am putting it here in the meantime for comments and general interest – I’m genuinely yet to decide my final position on it – when I do I’ll be able to give it proper grounding and probably make it into a paper.  Until then, this might be of interest. 


My little brother Richard uses a combination of phrase-based AAC(“[I would like new words in my voice]”) and individual utterance based AAC (“[screwdriver], [sonic] [dad]”).  Obviously the phrase-based stuff is very useful when it exactly matches the semantics he intends and other meanings can be built up from individual words. 

What I’ve become interested in is measuring exactly how useful this is. Because quite often Richard intends something that’s *near* the meaning of one of his phrases so he’ll use the phrase as a conversational gambit and then redirect you at the appropriate point (rather like telling someone to drive you to Edinburgh from Manchester and yelling ’STOP’ at the right point, simply because you’re unsure how you would pronounce ‘Carlisle’). 

As you can imagine, this causes a certain level of confusion.  To give a simple example: 

R: (“[I would like new words in my voice]”)
Me: okay, what new words would you like? (Not a particularly stupid question, we can talk around a subject and then I can make suggestions). 
R: (“[I would like new words in my voice]”)
Me: yes, but what sort of ones? I’m not sure it would help just to put in random ones…

…and we go around that loop a couple of times and manage to achieve very little (and in fact, we regularly went around this loop for several years).

Actually, it turns out, that Richard’s intention is much closer to this: 

R: (“[I would like new words in my voice]”)
Me: okay, *unlocks the device and starts working though menus*
R: *pokes other menu*
Me: Ah – you just wanted to have a poke at other things the device could do? 
R: *nods* 

(We note, of course, that Richard probably thinks that life would be much much easier if everyone else just did what they were told without acting like they knew everything).  

This turns up in a few other places. Regularly we find that the long phrase that has been used has to be followed by quite a few more key presses to work out exactly what the intention is.  And when you stop to think about it – the total number of key presses used is probably pretty much the same as it would have been if the sentence had just been built up from individual words.  And this leads me to thinking that phase-based AAC is probably (at least for activity-based use rather than conversation-based – Richard is not a man who considers sitting chatting to be a productive use of his time) only useful when the exact meaning of the phrase is exactly intended. 

My hypothesis is that the Amortised number of keypresses required to relay a particular set of semantics is independent of the average number of words generated by each keypress.

(If this turns out to be rule I’d like it to be Reddington’s Law.  I’d like a law, a law would be cool)

That is – if it takes you 35 keypresses to explain to someone that a Fox (brown) jumped over a dog on one AAC device, that’s the number of key presses it’s going to take on any other device.  There might be some phrases that get you much of the way – but they require quite a lot of both correction and interaction to make the subtle changes.   

I’m definitely NOT saying that there is NO place for phrase-based AAC, very very far from it – I’m suggesting that it’s use is social and convenient.  It’s much more about the interaction (which is a good thing) than it is about replaying information.  But I think it’s important to distinguish the two.   And I’m beginning to think that statements like ‘phrase-based AAC helps get information over faster’ are an insult to the rich and nuanced information that AAC users might like to communicate. 

EDIT : almost to prove a contextual point – when we have the phrase (“[screwdriver], [sonic] [dad]”) – it’s broadly ‘Fix the mega drive’ rather than a Doctor Who reference… 

 EDIT AGAIN – Some thoughts from Google plus added here because I think they are very relevant…

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 21.35.59https://twitter.com/CoughDropAAC/status/501451069063323649

Telepresenting: The only way to fly.

I recently had a paper accepted to 5th Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies or SLPAT (which I pronounce ‘splat’ but I suspect nobody else does…).  It’s a familiar conference, I’ve had my name on papers there before, and it’s where Lizzie Coles-Kemp and I presented our first work looking at digital privacy issues for AAC-users.

The paper is ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants: attacking the meta-problems of technical AAC research’ and you can read the pdf on the conference site. It’s an extension of my original work on the Domesday Dataset.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to get to the Conference to present in person, but the organisers very kindly allowed me to telepresent, which was lovely of them. And the bonus of this is that it means that I get to have produced a video of the presentation for everyone else. So if you’d like to get a general guide to the paper without reading it, there is a handy 15 minute presentation for you 🙂

Let me know if this is well received, as I can do more videos if people would like. Although, I suspect that I prefer text posts – I’m always a bit irritated when I have to watch a five minute youtube tutorial to get at the one necessary fact I need…

Switch Hacking…

As you know I like to think a lot about the Hacker model of Disability, and I like to see things broken apart, rebuilt, jury-rigged, and generally customized… With this in mind we have a guest post/teardown/walkthough, from the very wonderful Kate McCallum, who is someone I take very seriously and is an SLT technician from Beaumont College.

Switch Hacking (fixing)

I found myself with a Broken Switch.  This is it:

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.04.31


Normally I’d replace it with an identical switch, but unfortunately such things have stopped being produced (Edit – turns out that you *can* still get them, but not immediately.  Failing that I should replace it with something similar – the user has complex access needs and has used this switch for many years. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, nothing  available has the same light touch that the user needs while also in this shape…


So it looks like we have to take the third option. Fix it!

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.08.05Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.08.16

Turns out that the switch has been broken and fixed before. Unhelpfully, the last person to fix this switch (not me) was too greedy when they soldered the connection and left nothing for the next person to solder to. I don’t have and can’t buy a part to replace it with (this isn’t Hackaday.com, where everybody has bottomless parts bins!)

What I do have is a little cupboard of AAC odds-and-ends. I pick out this:


Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.12.09

Though it’s similar it’s not suitable for the target user using it as the shape is not the same and the press too stiff. But there is potential…  Let’s open it up…

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.12.15


I’m going to transplant the switch mechanism from the red switch to the, green one, to do that I have to cut at both parts to get them to fit…


Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.12.26   Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 21.10.29


That leaves me with the last problem: press resistance. Fortunately, it turns out that some careful bending of the wire to reduce the press resistance solves this.

We pop it all back together, test it, and deliver back to the person who uses it. Now everbody is happy. But this just underlines that accessibility technology needs to, not only be accessible for use, it needs to be modular and accessible for maintenance as well. We understand how important these devices are to people, and we waste nothing.








Hacking AAC – a family effort

So I’ve talked about my brother Richard’s use of AAC in general terms in various parts of this blog, I’d like to illustrate a specific example today (for a quick introduction to AAC and my work within it – have a look at the relevant page).  For those keeping track, this is a handy example of what I mean by the hacker model.

Richard is a current user of Proloque2go on the iPad, but his first device was a much-abused Dynavox box.  It genuinely changed his life and I’ll be forever grateful to both Dynavox and the staff at his college for that. But it was *abused*, dribbled on, dropped, run-over (that one wasn’t by Richard) and withstood all those things with dignity and a genuinely excellent warranty service.

On the software side we had a more subtle problem.  Richard quite likes the idea of playing with settings, but he’s non-literate, so there’s a reasonable chance he’s going to take a punt at ‘restore factory settings’ to see if that makes something fun happen (and indeed, over the years he has perplexed the most confident of support and repair staff).  To make sure that he didn’t end up with a vastly reduced vocabulary we put the editing functions of the device behind a password.

However, it turns out that there is a feature that isn’t in the manual and wasn’t known to most of the Dynavox support staff at the time – Richard discovered that he pressed down on the power button for long enough (on the order of 30 seconds or so) the device would reboot itself and in the process remove the password protection: working out how Richard was achieving his trick also needed a certain amount of detective work on our part.

I’ll admit to a large degree of personal, and professional pride in my little brother at that point.

However, this was not ideal, and rather than restoring the device from a backup every hour or so, we had to do something about it.

So the first step was to disable the power button. First attempt was to glue a washer over the top of it, of that only a long pointy thing could be used to press the button.  This was reasonably successful until some over enthusiastic poking broke the button entirely…

With that damage done, the hole was covered with a penny. (I should say that, despite the photo, it’s held on by much more than just a bit of tape).


This left us with the small problem of how to switch the device on and off again. To solve this, the Dynavox support team (a collection of good eggs) suggested using the switch-access lines (which Richard didn’t use).  Fairly enought, but we had no switch handy.  On the other hand, by scavenging a part of the radio kit from a light aircraft (what do you mean you don’t have one of those in your garage?) we had a handy (if detonator-shaped) control for switching the power.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 21.17.01

Which in turn, meant that we could later make ourselves a  ourselves a ‘switching on key’ out of an old bit of headphone wiring

DSCN0757 When the key was plugged in, the circuit completed and we had a switched on device. We could put the key somewhere safe, leaving the device reasonably secure again, if mildly less pleasing to the untrained eye.

dynavox 2

A different interface for AAC devices

I’ve thought for a while that it would be nice if AAC devices had an option that allowed users to have a more subtle control over the vocal output of their device: such things as varying the pace and pitch of the utterance within the sentence.

I bought myself an iPad this weekend just gone, so today I put together a demo of the sort of interaction behavior I’d like to see. Obviously this particular control method is only applicable to users with a certain degree of motor control, but I think there are a few other ways of getting the same effect.

I’m interested in people’s comments, suggestions, and feedback. Ideally, of course, some if you will say ‘X already does this!’, which would be excellent news.

Top 60 disability blogs by traffic ranking – April 2014

I wrote this article in April 2014 – later that year I made the process automatic. So this article is now only of interest for historical purposes.  Please visit the new version here.

Once a month I update my list of the top disability blogs by traffic ranking.  These are the results for the start of April 2014. It’s also the first post were I’ve gone down as far as 60 (last month was 40, previously I’ve gone as far as 20).

For those unfamiliar, the rules are these:

To get on this list, there are two conditions: first of all you must be regularly (but not exclusively; many of these bloggers explore a range of topics) posting about some aspect of disability.

The second is pragmatic. For fairness, the blog should be the reason that most people come to your site, not the only reason, but it should be the main one. I have no doubt at all in my mind, that Ouch, is probably the world’s most read disability blog, but I also have no doubt that the main reason that people go to bbc.co.uk is probably not for that blog. So I can’t really use the Alexa bbc.co.uk ranking as a good measurement. Plus I’d like to highlight, independent, unpaid, grassroots blogs. (Disabilitynow is *just* on the right side of this I think, comments welcome…)

I use this list of blogs as the source list. It’s growing and shrinking as the process goes on and it’s now at 364 different sites. If there is a website that should be on that list, please let me know. I’m keen to make this as broad as possible.

So – movement this week. Some fairly big changes. As expected Limpingchicken.com dropped a few places this month – much of their recent ranking was due to the Nelson Mandela interpreter scandal,  and that’s now outside the three month ranking window we use. There might be some more settling next month, but not as much of a drop for their (excellent) site.

It’s astonishing to find that there are still new blogs coming out of the woodwork. Four months in, there are three entirely new entries in the top 12. For me this says a lot about how poorly mapped the space is – there are quite large support communities that are entirely invisible to each other, even when they are talking about the same subjects. There are clearly thousands of people reading blog A, and thousands of people reading blog B, and yet both tribes are completely unaware of each other, with the result that we get missed opportunities and duplicated efforts.

I think it’s worth pushing on this – I’d like us to be in a state where we could at least see where the different communities are, and if we keep building this ranking, then maybe it could begin to serve as a kind of map. So if there is anything you think should be in the list, please comment (and if you see someone in the list, then please let them know – I’d struggle to track down all 60 email addresses). I can’t believe that I’ve got all of the major sites/blogs yet – I’ve got three sites in the UK giving disability news before any in the US – and I’m really struggling on sites from AUS and NZ. I’ve got UK disability campaigners but nothing from other countries and I can’t believe that’s an accurate reflection of reality.

Lastly, because 60 is quite a number of sites I’ve added rough categories. Please let me know if you would like your category changed (within reason).

Placing Site Alexa Rank Placing last time Category
1 kellehampton.com 103,481 New Parent blog
2 withalittlemoxie.com 175,332 1 Parent blog
3 lovethatmax.com 293,787 3 Parent blog
4 noahsdad.com 511,447 4 Parent blog
5 differentdream.com 604,139 9 Parent blog
6 limpingchicken.com 614,874 2 Deaf news(UK)
7 adiaryofamom.wordpress.com 626,609 6 Parent blog
8 thinkingautismguide.com 700,797 New Autism News and Chat
9 joereddington.com 739,314 11 Me! Sibling/Technology
10 disabilitynow.org.uk 756,342 10 Disability news (UK)
11 mostlytruestuff.com 773,247 7 Parent blog
12 stephstwogirls.co.uk 774,935 New Parent blog
13 disabilityhorizons.com 781,057 13 Disability news (UK)
14 specialeducationadvisor.com 812,518 5 Parent blog/news
15 thinkinclusive.us 822,329 New (Special Ed.) Teaching professional blog
16 joashline.com 997,900 27 Parent blog
17 samedifference1.com 1,055,400 14 News/Campaigning (UK)
18 leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk 1,058,826 8 Autism news (UK)
19 specialneedsjungle.com 1,080,416 19 Parent blog
20 praacticalaac.org 1,130,017 12 AAC professional blog
21 parentingspecialneeds.org 1,183,879 New Parent magazine
22 donaldandlisasorensonfamily.blogspot.com 1,265,654 26 Parent blog
23 downssideup.com 1,291,014 21 Parent blog
24 janeyoung.me.uk 1,377,898 22 Disability Campaigner (UK)
25 specialmompreneurs.com 1,430,963 15 Parent blog
26 diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk 1,526,341 17 Disability Campaigner (UK)
27 douglascootey.com 1,598,637 18 ADHD & Depression
28 catsandchocolate.com 1,604,131 23 Deafness and deaf identity
29 lizditz.typepad.com 1,617,610 16 Parent blog
30 disabilityblogger.blogspot.com 1,901,235 24 Disability News (US)
31 adderworld.com 1,918,056 20
32 schuylersmonsterblog.com 1,944,950 25 Parent blog
33 theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com 2,104,630 30 Church blog
34 childrenwithspecialneeds.com 2,225,818 70 Parent blog
35 adventuresinautism.blogspot.com 2,344,299 39 Autism Vaccine Campaigner
36 theadventuresofwheelchairboy.blogspot.co.uk 2,523,077 59 Wheelchair User
37 supportforspecialneeds.com 2,640,942 43 Parent blog
38 assistivetek.blogspot.com 2,683,764 47 Technology
39 justbringthechocolate.com 2,706,138 40 Parent blog
40 autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com 2,817,787 42 Parent blog
41 media-dis-n-dat.blogspot.com 2,905,537 33 Disability news
42 timetolisten.blogspot.com 2,910,959 35 Disability culture
43 disabledentrepreneurs.co.uk 2,954,988 55 Business news
44 mamalewis.com 2,964,753 79 Parent blog
45 stimeyland.com 3,043,338 36 Parent blog
46 hopefulparents.org 3,077,289 35 Parent blog
47 adventuresinaspergers.com 3,134,943 41 Parent blog
48 mdbeau.blogspot.com 3,136,396 46 Parent blog
49 crackedmirrorinshalott.wordpress.com 3,201,715 48 Disability culture
50 myaddblog.com 3,371,933 65 ADD/ADHD
51 davehingsburger.blogspot.com 3,379,670 78 Disability culture
52 agirlandhertube.blogspot.com 3,457,929 52 Parent blog
53 hearingtimes.co.uk 3,566,552 56 Deaf News (UK)
54 18channels.com 3,624,136 54 ADHD
55 inclusivelondon.com 3,701,629 130 London
56 specialedlaw.blogs.com 4,068,521 68 Law
57 specialneedsplanning.com 4,186,666 76 Finance
58 autisminnb.blogspot.com 4,264,697 71 Autism
59 betzfamilycolumbus.blogspot.com 4,357,220  86 Parent blog
60 blacktelephone.com 4,651,444  83  Disability Rights

Top 40 disability blogs by traffic ranking – March 2014

Once a month I iterate my list of the top disability blogs by traffic ranking.  This is the results for the start of March 2014.  It’s also the first post were I went down as far as 40 (previously I’ve gone as far as 20).

As I mentioned last time, this has got steadily more automatic, so I’ve been able to spend some extra time on it  going though more sites to make sure that unsuitable ones were weeded out. I had to remove about ten more sites that weren’t blogs, sadly this includes wonderful work like shift.ms. 

For those unfamiliar the rules are these:

To get on this list, there are two conditions: first of all you must be regularly (but not exclusively – many of these bloggers explore a range of topics) posting about some aspect of disability.

The second is pragmatic. For fairness, the blog should be the reason that most people come to your site, not the only reason, but it should be the main one. I have no doubt at all in my mind, that Ouch, is probably the world’s most read disability blog, but I also have no doubt that the main reason that people go to bbc.co.uk is probably not for that blog. So I can’t really use the Alexa bbc.co.uk ranking as a good measurement.  Plus I’d like to highlight, independent, unpaid, grassroots blogs.  A recent casualty of this has been that I’ve had to remove www.wrightslaw.com from the list, but I think they’ll understand (Disabilitynow is *just* on the right side of this I think, comments welcome…)

I use this list of blogs as the source list. It’s growing more and more and it’s now up to 374 different sites. If there is a website that should be on that list, please let me know. I’m keen to make this as broad as possible.

It’s interesting to see how many of the bloggers maintain pageviews even a while after they stop blogging – http://disabilityblogger.blogspot.com/ for example is at 24 but hasn’t posted anything since august.

And so the Table.  A note of caution, the ‘placing last time is accurate for any numbers below 23ish, but for the rest it includes a bunch of ‘companies that happen to have a blog’ that I’ve now pruned out, so they might not have gained as much as you think.  My pick of the month is actually timetolisten.blogspot.com for being really quite refreshingly angry.   Highest risers were, embarrassingly enough, me, and also specialeducationadvisor.com which has risen on every iteration of the list.  Most of the other bits of big movement are actually just the list settling down a little, most of the people going down this time went up last time…

Placing Site Alexa Rank Placing last time
1 withalittlemoxie.com 240,273  1
2 limpingchicken.com 276,384  2
3 lovethatmax.com 317,857  3
4 noahsdad.com 479,190  6
5 specialeducationadvisor.com 634,317  8
6 adiaryofamom.wordpress.com 642,848  5
7 mostlytruestuff.com 720,074  4
8 leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk 725,142  7
9 differentdream.com 779,885  11
10 disabilitynow.org.uk 791,624  9
11 joereddington.com 808,318  19
12 praacticalaac.org 864,173  New
13 disabilityhorizons.com 940,206  12
14 samedifference1.com 1,011,408 10
15 specialmompreneurs.com 1,116,534  18
16 lizditz.typepad.com 1,131,517  13
17 diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk 1,132,526  14
18 douglascootey.com 1,132,958  16
19 specialneedsjungle.com 1,183,565  New
20 adderworld.com 1,228,754  20
21 downssideup.com 1,266,995  New
22 janeyoung.me.uk 1,331,268  New
23 catsandchocolate.com 1,676,759  17
24 disabilityblogger.blogspot.com 1,786,942  24
25 schuylersmonsterblog.com 2,019,771  25
26 donaldandlisasorensonfamily.blogspot.com 2,104,332  28
27 joashline.com 2,163,641  New
28 media-dis-n-dat.blogspot.com 2,177,660  30
29 hopefulparents.org 2,272,509  27
30 theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com 2,512,914  33
31 adventuresinautism.blogspot.com 2,526,522  42
32 adventuresinaspergers.com 2,534,550  40
33 autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com 2,593,132  37
34 supportforspecialneeds.com 2,725,426  34
35 timetolisten.blogspot.com 2,770,824  21
36 stimeyland.com 2,851,909  15
37 mdbeau.blogspot.com 2,887,643  50
38 assistivetek.blogspot.com 2,890,839  44
39 crackedmirrorinshalott.wordpress.com 2,906,434  49
40 justbringthechocolate.com 3,047,746  New

Leading not following: disability as a vanguard.


Emails that come to me via this blog often include words to the effect of ‘I tried looking at some of your papers, but I didn’t understand any of it’, which is a shame, because in general the basic ideas are reasonable for people to grasp. The problem is, of course, that to get things accepted to prestigious peer-reviewed academic outlets, we have to write in a way that is only easy to read if you spend five years training to communicate that way.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d take today’s post as an opportunity to give an introduction to some of the work so that it’s a little more accessible to people. The work I’m going to chose is the book chapter that Lizzie Coles-Kemp and I put together a little while ago for the Digital Enlightenment Yearbook 2013.

To give the idea in broad strokes…

The world is designed for people who are not yet disabled. On my walk to work there were curbs, humps in the pavement, signs that needed to be seen (and read), noises that needed to be heeded and a range of decisions that needed to be made. For sure there are efforts made to increase accessibility, but they are slow and facing massive inertia.

In such a world, people who are disabled face a range of problems, and these are problems that are not of interest to the majority of society, because they believe that they will never face the same problems. And in a lot of cases this is true.

However this is only true if the world stays the same day after day. But that’s not quite true. Pick any one of Smartphones, T-Snood, Social Media, or the Internet itself and it’s clear that the problems faced by today’s not-yet-disabled, such as privacy, information control, and skills transfer, are very different from the problems that they faced a decade ago.

The point of the book chapter we wrote was to say this: these problems are only new to mainstream society, people with disabilities have faced problems like these for a long time, and perhaps we can learn something from how they dealt with them.

In the chapter we go thought three examples, all AAC-user based, and we pulled out some interesting stuff, which I’ll let you read at your leisure.

The thing that we really liked about the work was that it really challenges an unconscious model that many people have – that ‘society moves forward and because it is a caring society it looks after those trailing behind’. Instead we modeled it as ‘society moves forward, and it can do because there are members of it far out in front, facing the challenges early, and mapping them for everybody.’

(I should confess, I made ‘T-Snood’ up, but I had a couple of you worried for a minute there)

You can read the full thing as a PDF here, and if you have feedback or questions then by all means make use of the comments.


Top 20 disability iPad apps by sales

I’ve done a lot of research on the affects of tablet commuting on disability in general and AAC in particular. Today I wanted to do something a little bit more accessible.  For most people tablet computing means the iPad and so I wanted to find out what the most popular iPad apps for disability are.

So today we are going to examine the list of the top 20 highest grossing disability focused iPad apps.

iPads: iPad, iPad 2, iPad (3rd gen) and smaller: iPhone (orig), iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (2nd gen)

Unlike some of my previous rankings – this Top 20 disability iPad apps by sales ranking based on quite messy data- it’s no so bad within a single category (like education) but having to stitch in the medical apps as well was pretty brutal. As always with these lists, consider them first draft until I’ve gone though two or three, and in this case it was enough of a pain that I don’t intend to repeat it for a while.  More to the point, Apple is notoriously cagey about keeping the data close to it’s chest, and so we’re having to use a proxy.  You can do much better analysis on Google’s App Store (as these guys have done with medical apps), but I think it’s worth having a stab at Apple anyway.You should also know that this is UK sales only, and that it’s iPad apps not iPhone apps – I talk a little bit about how much that influences the data below.

For those interested in the methodology, I put this together using the tables at www.appannie.com and a lot of hard work. Unhelpfully this wasn’t automatable at any level (at this point, future iterations will change that) and until it is I can’t give you much more of a description than “I went down a list of 1200 apps and picked out any that involved disability”, it’s fairly likely that I’ve missed some so feel free to shout out in the comments and I’ll go back and check.  You should take the results fairly carefuly, I’m not convinced either by App Annie’s data collection, or by their accuracy.  I think the list gives a good overview but I wouldn’t buy stock on the basis of it. This data was taken on valentine’s day, so it’s already a little old.

One of the interesting things is that AAC apps absolutely dominate this list.  I think this is partly because I arranged the list by ‘highest grossing’ and AAC apps happen to be much more expensive in general, but I think it’s got a lot to do with how natural the format is for AAC users (also this is iPad rather than iPhone based, which is again a bit more in favour of AAC, rather than say visual impairment).  However, just that doesn’t mean it’s a fair reflection of AAC app popularity.  For example, Grid Player – Sensory Software International is regularly *very* high up the download chart for medical devices, but because it is free it doesn’t appear on this list.

Okay, onto the results, the ‘E’ or ‘M’ in the app store rank mean that the rank is from the education, or medical sections of the app store. I’ve had to some some fairly annoying work to get to the point where I can estimate the differences in sales, but I’m hampered by the noise in the data.  This happen is my best guess.

Rank App App Store Rank
1 Proloquo2Go – AssistiveWare 27E
2 Pictello – AssistiveWare 87E
3 Language TherAppy – Tactus Therapy Solutions Ltd. 11M
4 MyChoicePad – Insane Logic Ltd. 148E
5 MyChoicePad Pro – Insane Logic Ltd. 149E
6 Verbally – Intuary 29M
7 Apraxia RainbowBee – Virtual Speech Center Inc. 169E
8 Symbol-Sentences – Widgit 184E
9 VisionAssist – Slinkyware 54M
10 Makaton Signing for Babies – DDL Ltd 202E
11 Predictable – Therapy Box Limited 213E
12 Speech Therapy for Apraxia – Words – Blue Whale 78M
13 Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box – Cognable 246E
14 Dyslexia Quest – Nessy Learning Limited 252E
15 SpeechStickers – Serious Tree LLC 282E
16 Dysphagia – Northern Speech Services, Inc 95M
17 TouchChat HD – AAC – Silver Kite 319E
18 Autism Parenting Magazine  358E
19 PECS Phase III – Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc 384E
20 Vision Toolbox – Thomson Software Solutions 143M

Something you should know: I’m a member of Apple’s Affliate Program, which means that if you click on one of the apps on this list, and then decide to buy it using your computer, then I’ll earn a small commission (a couple of pounds, no more). It doesn’t make it any more expensive for you, but it does go some way to bringing down my server costs. Most websites that link to products work this way, but I thought I should mention it anyway. 

Photocredit: Wikicommons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_iOS_family_pile_(2012).jpg

AAC – Lightwriter, GoTalk and iPad dominate UK sales?

I’m going to use this post to examine an issue of interest to technical researchers in AAC. I’m then going to show how the Domesday Dataset [Red13] can provide evidence to support, or refute, assumptions, uncover important research problems, and map the technological distinctiveness of a user community. This is going to be vastly more `science’ than most of my posts so far, but do hang in there. 🙂 Continue reading

Read this paragraph by Danah Boyd while thinking about AAC

This is almost a year old, but it’s very much worth reading the following paragraph (written in the context of social media sharing and the Pew report) while thinking about AAC

Over the last few years, I’ve watched as teens have given up on controlling access to content. It’s too hard, too frustrating, and technology simply can’t fix the power issues. Instead, what they’ve been doing is focusing on controlling access to meaning. A comment might look like it means one thing, when in fact it means something quite different. By cloaking their accessible content, teens reclaim power over those who they know who are surveilling them. This practice is still only really emerging en masse, so I was delighted that Pew could put numbers to it. I should note that, as Instagram grows, I’m seeing more and more of this. A picture of a donut may not be about a donut. While adults worry about how teens’ demographic data might be used, teens are becoming much more savvy at finding ways to encode their content and achieve privacy in public.

via danah boyd | apophenia » thoughts on Pew’s latest report: notable findings on race and privacy.

We went into some of the issues surrounding this in our book chapter on AAC as a liminal vanguard.


A compilation of my writing on AAC

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a major interest of mine and I thought I’d put all the AAC-related posts together, partly so people who share my interest can find them all easily and partly because it helps me check if the things I’m writing match up nicely with what I *think* I’m writing.

So we have some fairly big bits of work and quite a lot of stand-alone posts:

Open Formats

To start with, I wrote a four part series about how I think the lack of open formats is harming AAC as a field…

Open formats in AAC: Part 1

Open formats in AAC: Part 2

Open formats in AAC: Part 3 (openness in access) – I spent some time here being quiet angry about Dynavox until Bob Cunningham popped up and clarified a few things that pointed to oversimplification on the part of sales staff, almost an argument for blogging one’s thoughts on it’s own!

Open formats in AAC: Part 4, what I want.

AAC and Privacy

My first chapter in a textbook was published this year, on the topic of AAC and digital privacy, but putting disability in the vanguard rather than the rearguard, comments (and, of course, citations) welcome.

Digital Enlightenment Yearbook 2013: AAC and digital privacy

PDF of book chapter available

If you enjoy that you might also like the pdfs that are in my publications section (Warning, I’ve not sorted that section so AAC papers are next to some quite dense work on processor design and language theory…)

Domesday Dataset

(For background on the Domesday Dataset, see the relevent page)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication in Wales – I (finally) got around to releasing the Welsh section of the Domesday Dataset, so if you are interested in AAC-purchases by the NHS in that area then fill your boots 🙂

Guest post: FoI Appeals – The Burden of Proof – this is kind-of-related, I wrote a couple of guest posts for a freedom of information blog about some issues I encountered when building the Domesday Dataset…

Visiting the House of Commons – also kind of related, in that I was in the House of Commons to talk to NHS England about some of the issues raised by the Domesday Dataset – but there isn’t much data in the post at the moment.

Communication Matters 2013

I gave three presentations at CM2013 this year, I also blogged the parts of each day I found interesting…

Communication Matters 2013: Day 1

Communication Matters 2013: Day 2

Communication Matters 2013: Day 3, Endgame…

Now the single posts…

Patent Trolling and disability – approaches AAC only tangentially.

iPads, Autism, and Autism Speaks

Everyone should go to the Unspoken Outspoken fundraising event on Saturday! – this is now out-of-date, I’d love to know what happened… review anyone?

Recording communication – here I’m using AAC to make a point about something else (benefits and ATOS related, included for completeness)


In the Press – some links to news stories that have picked up my work on AAC, or Narrative (mostly narrative)


Open formats in AAC: Part 4, what I want.

This is the fourth part in a series of posts on the subject of open formats in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). You can read the first part here, the second part here, and the third part here. You’ll be pleased to know that (I think) this is the final part.

I’m a big fan of open data (as you should be able to tell from The Domesday Dataset), but I’m also a big fan of all manner of different manifestations of open information. I use Firefox for browsing and I write my code in Vim or occasionally Eclipse. I ask lots of questions on Stack Overflow and I poke at Wikipedia when I see a typo. So where is my open-source AAC solution?

Why do I not have a tablet and framework that loads AAC setups in some common format. Come to think of it, why do I not have a common format? At the moment, a man might be using an AAC device for four years, it’s got all his common phrases on it – stories from his childhood, personal data of all types. It breaks – he’s got a backup, but they don’t make the device anymore. His new device doesn’t co-operate so someone has to setup each picture, each icon, each page, each phrase by hand – and that’s if they can find something to read the old data. Just a common format.

So what do I think are the next steps? How do we get to a common format? To more use of open information in AAC?

There are big bits of the vision, and there are little bits, one of the little bits is that I think that conferences like Communication Matters should have a hackathon next year and every year after that, where anyone who can write code gathers around a table with an SLT and, more importantly, a couple of users and we see what cool stuff we can build in a couple of hours.  It’s pretty surprising what can be put together by a half dozen motivated people in an afternoon…


Now let’s look at the serious parts of the vision. Clearly we can write little bits of software that translate between formats, (I demonstrated some at Communication Matters this year), but if we have to write a translator between any two formats that’s going to get old fast… If there are over dozen manufactures, then to fill in all the blanks then I have to write 150 different programs and that’s a bit of workload, it would be worth it…

…it’s also trivially silly. Of course, you are all thinking: why don’t we just agree a common format? Because that buys us a lot. Instead of 150 different bits of code, we write one piece of code that goes between the common format and your favorite format of choice, and suddenly transfering between any two machines is easy.

…and if all that is working, then not only do we get the ability to rescue a wordlist from an out-of-date device, not only can users wander around the stands at conferences and exhibitions with a USB stick and discover the devices that *really do* work for them, but we also get the ability for research groups to work much more closely with users. Both at the level of adding content and in terms of finding out the content that should be added.

Now I should be clear here – this isn’t about taking a virgin Dynavox setup and running on a Liberator, Companies work hard on building their initial page sets and there is a lot of intellectual property tied up with them. I’m talking about the hundreds of other phrases that arrive on a well-used device. The stories from childhood, the in-jokes, the medical information. In my little brother’s case It’s also the pages of Star Wars characters and the full listing of every game ever produced for the SEGA mega drive. That’s the stuff that sets a user apart and that’s the stuff that I’m interested in transferring.

There’s one more thing, if we’ve got a common format… then someone will get around to writing a viewer for it, someone might get around to writing an analysis tool for it, someone might get the hang of an interface enough to write an editor for it… and because those people have all been facing the right direction at the right time, suddenly we might be looking at a proper open source solution that can take its place in the ecosystem. We need to invite talented people, with specialties in programming and the various fields into our community but I think this is the structure that we can start building on, this is the structure that I think we’ll hit a critical mass on. But the open source goal is a pipe dream for now. For sure, I don’t believe it could happen without a common format. But a common format is valuable now, it’s important now, and it’s achievable now.

This isn’t a ‘me’ post, if it was a me post, I would have come up with a name for the format, for which the file extension would be “.joe”, and I’d have the SQL diagrams up for your general approval… but I don’t want this to be a me post, because this sort of thing only works at the grassroots level. The point of this series of posts was to show you three problems, it was to start a conversation about common formats, and possibly also to show some of you how easy it might be. All I want is for the people who work in AAC to have the idea of a common format on their minds.