Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Ola Mundo Messenger: Remote AAC device for non-verbal children


Purpose of the app:  Ola Mundo is a symbol-based communication system that allows non-verbal children to communicate with family and friends whether close or far away. It's the first AAC app with remote messaging.

Strengths: Wonderful and original concept that provides a way for AAC users to communicate with friends and family anywhere.  Great customization features enable you to tailor this app to the needs or your child and family. The app can be downloaded on multiple devices under one account.

Weaknesses:  Children already using an AAC system might find it difficult to learn a new set of symbols. The symbols are very similar to each other which might make it difficult for younger children to use. Requires a pricey subscription service to use past the first 55 messages.

Suggested Audience:  Designed for non-verbal children with autism and their families, but can be used with any child who could benefit from symbol based communication. This app could be used for side-by-side communication or remote messaging.

Star Rating Breakdown 

Meets Intended Goal
Entertainment
Worth the Price
Ease of Use
Educational Value
Level of Customization

If you would like to download Ola Mundo (iPhone/iPad, free to download then requires subscription service) please support Smart Apps for Special Needs by using the link provided:

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No ads.  Subscription services can be purchased within the app. One month - $29.99, Six months - $59.99, One year - $79.99
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AAC devices can help non verbal children communicate with those around them, but what about when the friend or family member isn't right next to them? Social networking through messaging is an increasingly important form of communication. Ola Mundo Messenger gives children the ability to message family members using a symbol-based system.

 To get started, create a new account which requires an email address and password. Then add a profile using an avatar or with an actual picture of the user. Up to five additional profiles can be added, and these are the people available to message. The app can be downloaded to multiple devices using the same account. The main user will appear in a box in the upper left hand corner with his/her contact list below. The iPad version is designed for use with the AAC user, while the iPhone version is designed to use by friends and family members.

The chat view fills the upper half of the screen, the symbol categories appear across the middle of the screen and the symbol bank is the bottom half of the screen. The settings can be easily accessed anytime by touching the three lines at the top of the screen. Simply tap “back to chat view” to hide the settings.

To message a contact, tap on their name under the profile picture. If the person you wish to communicate with is in the same room, select the side-by-side option. It is easy to switch back and forth between these two modes making this a versatile app.

There are three choices for symbol size. Selecting the largest size means the symbols will be bigger and it features less symbol categories (seven to start). The smallest symbol size has 28 categories. You can choose to edit the number of categories at any time no matter what symbol size is selected. Add or delete categories from a bank or even create new categories. This feature is available for symbols as well. This means the app can grow with a child and is useful for children with varying communicative abilities. The symbol categories are well organized and I love that they can be added or deleted based on the child’s needs. Many of the symbols are quite similar to each other, though, which may make it difficult for younger children to select the appropriate one. Editing the symbols with actual photographs is easy and would be helpful for many pictures, but not all of them.

To change a symbol, go to edit symbols under settings. You can choose to edit symbol, add symbol or edit audio. Pick an option and then select a symbol. Add family specific names for people or objects--take a picture or use one from the camera roll to represent a person or other symbol. You can also download an image from the internet. Delete or hide symbols to further customize a category. For example, under food you can hide the soda symbol if that is not something your child is allowed to drink.

Categories can be edited, added, created or deleted. There are more than 30 different built in categories to choose from, ranging from time and body parts to common logos for restaurants and stores. The symbols are organized in tiers depending on the number of pictures in each category. You can even move symbols from one category to another. Again, I would limit the number of categories and symbols for new or young users until they are more comfortable navigating the app.

The app can be used for side-by-side communication with or without an internet connection. Internet is required to utilize the remote messaging. The iPhone version of Ola Mundo is designed for friends and family members. They can receive messages from the child and reply back using their qwerty keyboard. When the message appears from a family member, the child can read it or tap on the profile picture to hear the message read aloud.

Ola Mundo is available in both English and Hebrew. Voice options allow you to change between text-to-speech and recorded voice. A back-up feature ensures that you can save all message conversations and gives you the ability to restore your profile and it’s personalized customization.

Communication is complicated so any app attempting to replicate it is going to be complex. This app is detailed, but fairly easy to navigate. The Ola Mundo website is a wonderful resource with FAQs and support available for specific questions. They also have a user guide which I would recommend downloading. The customization features are wonderful and simple to implement. Even with customization, younger children will need lots of support to use the app and children who are already using some type of AAC device may have difficulty switching over to a different interface and new set of symbols. Confusion between AAC styles could lead to frustration.

The app is free to download and offers 55 free messages before a subscription must be purchased. This is a fair amount of messages to determine if this app would be a good fit for your family. I like that you can take advantage of all the customization features before committing to a subscription. The fees for subscription do seem expensive to me, but would be worth it if a child could safely and effectively communicate with loved ones on the go.

*****
Sarah's children have hidden their Easter candy so she can no longer sneak a treat. Smart Apps for Special Needs was paid for a priority review.

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