Great PD at your fingertips

Monday, July 25, 2016

Top Reasons Why an iPad is an Effective AAC Device - AND Why It’s Not

In my last post I talked about the dedicated AAC devices that are available in the market.  I alluded to the fact that the number of these devices and the companies that make them have been shrinking with the popular use of iPads as AAC devices.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the iPad as an AAC device.  First and foremost, let me emphasize two things:
  1. use of an iPad as an AAC device should mean that it is being treated as a dedicated AAC device.  That is, the AAC app is all that is on that iPad.  It is not used for leisure activities.  It is not used for academic activities.  It is a way to communicate. Nothing else.  Because, no matter whatever else the student is doing at any given time, he needs to be able to quickly communicate whatever he wants to say without having to exit what he’s doing, find his AAC app, and open it to use it


2.   use of a robust AAC app.  One that is not just a choice board.  One that offers a full range of vocabulary and flexibility in page settings, array size, and button settings.  There are too many AAC apps on the market that are not much better than basic choice boards.  And I’ve seen robust AAC apps reduced to simple choice boards by partners who just don’t know what else they’re supposed to do.
I’ll come back to the discussion of apps next time.  For now, let’s just talk about why iPads are - or are not - a good choice as an AAC system.

There are some good reasons for using an iPad as an AAC device.  
  • They are significantly less expensive than dedicated devices.  
  • They are lightweight and easily portable.  
  • They can be purchased by many families; obviating the need for protracted battles with insurance companies or school districts over providing a dedicated device.  And many districts are happy to purchase an iPad for a child for AAC; happy to be avoiding the $8K pic ticket of a dedicated device.  
  • And - a deal maker or breaker for many children and adolescents - everyone has one, so they don’t look different or stand out.

There are also some reasons why iPads are not for everyone as an AAC solution.
  • They come with a very limited warranty and virtually no options when the screen cracks or shatters.
  • The touch screens on iPads are very sensitive.  I call them the “Goldilocks” of touch screens.  You have to hit it just right.  For many of our students it can be frustrating to touch and touch and not have it work.  And while the access features do help many students with an alternate point response, it doesn’t work for everyone.
  • There is no way to securely attach a key guard.  I have velcro dots on one of my cases to hold my key guard to my iPad.  It’s not an effective solution for even a brief evaluation.  I have wrapped velcro straps around the device to hold the key guard on.  Also not consistently effective.  For kids with spasticity, especially, key guards are not secure on an iPad.
If anyone has found a better way, I’d love to hear it!

Remember, it is important to get a competent AAC evaluation before you make a choice of AAC system.  A knowledgeable SLP will know the features, drawbacks, and advantages of the entire range of possibilities for a specific user.  
A good evaluation will highlight the user's needs, strengths and weaknesses, and will point to specific features that fit that profile.
While good, effective intervention is crucial in developing communication skills no matter what system you choose, choosing that system should be a considered, educated decision.
Next time we’ll talk about apps.

In the meantime, Keep on Talking!


  1. "They come with a very limited warranty and virtually no options when the screen cracks or shatters."

    Funny. I've heard many others say the exact opposite. They talk about just downloading the AAC app onto a spare iPad at a moment's notice, versus waiting several months for a replacement of a dedicated device.

    1. A spare iPad isn't available in most settings, and particularly for families. There are pros and cons. The lost cost and easy replace-ability of the iPad is a "pro." Sometimes it's the perfect solution, but we need to know when it is not.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.