Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review and Giveaway of 5 Codes worth $99.99 each: MyTalkTools AAC offers customized option for those with communication challenges

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Bottom Line: A comprehensive, customizable AAC app for people of all ages with communication challenges. It has great functionality without being too hard to use, and can be easily synced across devices with a user account. Top Pick!

If you'd like to purchase MyTalkTools Mobile (iPad/iPhone, $99.99; free lite version available), please use the links below to support Smart Apps For Kids:

FREE Lite Version:                Full Version ($99.99)
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Sometimes it’s hard to rate an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) app — what makes an app good depends almost entirely on what features a user needs, and as a speech-language pathologist I don’t want to minimize the importance of working with a professional for the best understanding of communicative function and needs.

What makes MyTalkTools, from developer MyTalk Mobile Apps, so useful is the ability to customize it, both on the app itself and with an online subscription. I can use it for a variety of needs in my therapy, a family could also utilize it for just one person, and each user can customize it to meet their needs exactly.
The app’s cost is in line with what a comprehensive AAC app costs; at $99.99 it’s half as much as some other popular apps. It’s clearly not the kind of app to buy on a whim or just for fun. But what makes AAC apps good is the ability to help those who need it to communicate, and it’s not too much to pay for years of communication, in my biased SLP opinion.

Tt3There are video tutorials within the app, as well as on the MyTalkTools website. I can’t emphasize enough the need to watch these tutorials. They provide clear, step-by-step instructions to use the app. I recommend watching the tutorials on a computer while following along on the app.

The app first opens with tutorial screens and videos, which the user must scroll through the first time before actually getting to the app. I got a little “stuck” in the View Examples section, unsure of how to get back to the home screen to view tutorials again. Thankfully, I suffered so you don't have to — simply be sure to be out of "author" mode, and the ability to navigate back to the home page is visible in the upper left corner.
A nice feature is the ability to skip the home page and launch straight to the boards. This is perfect for users who may need the immediacy of the boards or lack the ability to select the correct button to launch.

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One feature I liked was learned from watching the tutorial video. MyTalkTools has five different sample boards available for quick access to communication, and each can then be easily customized. The user can choose from Adult, Child, ALS Patients, K12, and Fast Food Ordering.

I chose the K12 sample to first evaluate, and it was great to see how easily I can use MyTalkTools at school. I don’t currently have any students using a dedicated communication device, but I work with many students who benefit from augmenting their speech with communication boards. The ability to make an easy board to use within my speech therapy is a great option, especially for literacy units.

The sample boards weren’t perfect. One board was titled “What did you do this summer?” but the prompt box actually said, “This summer I will . . .” with a number of choices. What I appreciated was the ability to make it exactly like I wanted.

Tt4Even after watching the tutorial, I couldn’t figure out how to make a new board. It’s really not hidden, but did take me some time (and a second viewing) to figure it all out.There is no “Create new board” option in the author menu, or anywhere else. Instead, from within author mode, toggle the View button to Edit. Then simply tap a cell. This is what allows changes to the image, sound and text, but it also is where a new board can be added, by selecting Board from the menu. A new row or column can be added to an existing board, or an entirely new board can be created. The app can generate a board with up to 100 rows and ten columns, which I did, just for kicks.  Then the user taps "done," and toggles back to the View button, before finally getting to the newly created board. Go back to the Edit view to create new cells.

The user can add images from the web, from the device photo album, by taking a picture with the device, or by searching the SymbolStix library. This flexibility makes MyTalkTools a great choice for a variety of users. Some can use the more abstract SymbolStix, but other users benefit from using actual photographs. I like an app that I can customize for both.

I also really loved the ability to add a video. This makes the app perfect for developing video modeling boards or social stories. When an app can be used for more than one function, it helps make the higher cost seem more worth it.

I found it complicated to create an entirely new board with just the app. I can add a sub-board to the existing sample template, or overwrite the content on the existing template, but to actually insert a brand new board from within the app perplexed me.

Thankfully, the wonderful people at MyTalk Mobile Apps talked me through it, and are in the process of creating a brand-new tutorial video to address this desire to start with a blank home board. To sum it up, simply tap a cell in the edit mode, and then select "Delete Last Row" or "Delete Last Column." When the board is then down to a single cell, add one row again. Then drag the content from that top cell down to the bottom, and again select "Delete Last Row." This then makes a blank single cell, and new rows and columns can easily be added.

Creating new boards and toggling between multiple boards is easy within the online Workspace. Unfortunately, that ability is not Tt5available for free for all users, after an initial 30-day free trial. I did not evaluate the Workspace function for this review, but aside from figuring out how to create an entirely new board, I was very pleased with the ease of creating content from within the app itself. Cells can be easily moved around a board to customize for a user, without having to add a new recording or image.The Workspace also remains free even after the 30-day trial for SLPs and other support personnel — a great option to make it much more functional and useful for use in therapy.

The number of features for this app are hard to describe in a readable review, but include such things as the option for advanced text-to-speech in more than 17 languages (requires additional in-app purchases), multiple fonts, a phrase mode, and switch capability. Before all readers tune out, the key to emphasize with MyTalk Tools is tht customization is easy, and functional across the age and ability spectrum. By being able to add in a variety of images and a variety of board sizes, users can take this app from four choices all the way to 1000, all within the same app (but if I'm ever your child's SLP, I will not be volunteering to create that 100x10 board!)

MyTalkTools is a great option for the professional as an AAC app that allows a lot of customization for a variety of users, which is just what I need in therapy. It does not use Minspeak or any other alternative representation of language, and so even with its customizability, it won't meet the needs of every user. But it has certainly earned a place in my therapy toolbox, allowing me to create a simple communication board to match my immediate needs, without a complicated process. This Top Pick is highly recommended as an AAC option.

Winners will be chosen in the evening (CST) of Tuesday, February 11th and contacted by the email attached to their name in Rafflecopter.

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HeatherHeather H. would use this app even more if she had about 10 more hours a day for getting everything done, leaving more time for therapy planning. SmartAppsForKids.com was provided with a free copy of this app for review purposes. No other compensation was provided.

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