Assistive Technology for Non-Verbal Communication
Apple’s touch-screen devices have always been great assistive technology for people with disabilities. The variety of accessibility settings, including many features to assist with communication disorders, has just been enhanced with the ability to add third-party keyboards to iOS8.
Whether they have difficulty spelling, aren’t familiar with the keyboard layout, or have trouble thinking of the words, many people with communication disorders have difficulty using traditional QWERTY keyboards.
Now, the App Store offers keyboard apps as an alternative to the default Apple keyboard. We’ll show you which ones are the best for people with communication disorders, then take you through how to install and use third-party keyboards. These keyboard apps won’t cost you more than a few dollars, and most are free!
5. Squiggly Sketching Keyboard
Squiggly is a keyboard that allows you to draw pictures or create simple animations to paste into iMessage, Mail, Notes, or any app that supports GIFs. Simply draw your message (5 colors & 3 widths to chose from), then press the green check button to copy your drawing to the clipboard. Finally, touch and hold in the message window, and choose ‘Paste.’
Assistive Technology Use: People with aphasia may be able draw a message better than they can type it. When the words won’t come, drawing is a great way to express an emotion or re-create a scene. Just hand-writing letters and saving as an image can be more useful than a standard keyboard. Use a stylus for better accuracy.
Squiggly: Optimized for iPhone, also works on iPad, $0.99 USD
4. WordBoard Keyboard
WordBoard is a keyboard app that allows you to easily enter words, phrases, or even full email replies by pressing labeled buttons. Type out your name and address once in the app, label it “Name & Address”, then use the WordBoard keyboard to insert it anytime you need it.
Assistive Technology Use: For people with typing, language, or memory difficulties, WordBoard can help. Pre-store common replies to emails to help people with aphasia stay connected to loved ones far away.
WordBoard: Universal app, free with $1.99 in-app purchase to store more than 6 messages
Pro Tip: Apple has long included abbreviation expansion in iOS, meaning you can type “omw” and “on my way” fills in. Customize these codes by going to Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts.
3. Locate Me Keyboard
Locate Me simply takes the user’s current location and provides an easy way to send an Apple or Google map link, an address, or a pasted map image via text message or email. Responding to a message of “where are you?” has never been easier, or more precise, without typing a word.
Assistive Technology Use: People with aphasia or dementia may get lost or have difficulty communicating their location. This keyboard can be used to let others know where they are when the words won’t come. Locate Me is a great safety app for people regaining independence in the community who want more privacy than apps that track and transmit location without user input.
Locate Me Keyboard: Universal app, free
2. MyScript Stack Handwriting Keyboard
Do you write faster than you type? Stack turns your handwriting into text as you print or write one letter at a time. Simple gestures for space, backspace, and return allow for fast writing. Text prediction still runs in the top bar, so not every word needs to be written out completely.
Assistive Technology Use: Many stroke survivors or older users of technology are far more comfortable writing than typing. Often, people with aphasia will write letters in the air or on the table to communicate. With the Stack keyboard, they can write the letter and have it turn into usable text for Mail, Safari, Notes, or any other app that uses text.
MyScript Stack: Universal app, free
1. Keeble & Keedogo Plus
The keyboards from AssitiveWare allow you to use an alphabetical layout anywhere the keyboard pops up along with several other accessibility options. Keeble has the most features and settings, making it quite powerful with options for auditory feedback to speak out each letter or word typed. The iPad-only Keedogo Plus offer the ABC layout with highlighted vowels, word prediction, font options, and themes to customize.
Assistive Technology Use: These are keyboards made for assistive technology. Many stroke survivors prefer the more intuitive scanning of alphabetically-ordered keyboards for one-handed typing. Those using switch access or who have fine-motor control problems can use these keyboards more efficiently. Combine Keeble with the AAC app Proloquo4Text for a very powerful communication tool for those with speech problems.
There’s a keyboard already on your iDevice that you simply need to activate to use: the Emoji keyboard. Emojis are those little symbols that are commonly used to show emotions in typing. There are hundreds of symbols on this keyboard in many pages with several categories, though frequently-used symbols are grouped together for faster access.
Assistive Technology Use: For those who can’t type words, just sending a ‘thumbs up’ or sad face can communicate quite a bit. You can also use emojis to add picture symbols to app folder names or topics in AlphaTopics AAC to help non-readers or people with aphasia find information faster.
How to Install Keyboards
1. First, download the keyboard app you want from the App Store, just like any other app.
2. Open the Settings app on your device.
3. Tap ‘General,’ then tap ‘Keyboard.’
4. Tap ‘Keyboards’ to see a list of keyboards installed.
5. Tap ‘Add New Keyboard…’ to see the default and third-party keyboards available.
6. Some keyboard apps require full access. If you install an app that asks for full access, tap the keyboard app you wish to install, then tap the ‘>’ next to it to ‘Allow Full Access.’
How to Use Keyboards
There are two ways to switch between keyboards:
1. When the Apple keyboard pops up, touch the globe icon in the lower left to cycle through all installed keyboards.
2. If you have many keyboards installed, it may be faster to press and hold the globe icon until a list of keyboards appears. Then touch the keyboard you wish to use.
To get back to the regular keyboard, touch and hold the globe icon and select English, or press the globe icon until the default keyboard re-appears.
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