I once read an AAC article that stated “Communication is the essence of life.” How cool is that? That us lucky SLPs get to work on something each and every day that could be considered “the essence of life”.
Because of this, I feel like I have very high, sometimes possibly unrealistic expectations for AAC devices & apps. Smarty Ears was kind enough to let me check out Expressive, an AAC app. It uses Smarty Symbols library. According to the app’s description in the App Store, “This is an entry to mid-level, easy to use, and powerful app that allows children and adults with speech impairment or communication difficulties to express their wants and needs through the use of pictures and symbols. Expressive was designed to meet the needs of a wide range of users. Children can use this application to communicate by tapping buttons with symbols or pictures that generate sound. Expressive includes over 10,000 built-in images from the Smarty Symbols library.”
When I read that, I immediately wanted to compare the stats with the AAC app I am most familiar with: Proloquo2Go. I know, I know. The comparisons aren’t really fair considering Proloquo2Go costs $219.99 and Expressive costs $26.99. Regardless, I think the comparison is still important. Proloquo2Go offers 14,000 included symbols using SymbolStix.
So overall, what do I like about Expressive?
Symbols: Personally, I like the symbols included in both Proloquo2Go and Expressive equally. It’s easy to upload your own pictures in Expressive, which is very useful! The symbols are as salient as possible! See the picture above for a search for “girl”. There were 3-ish more rows below the ones shown with different options. I searched for different symbols for a while trying to find weaknesses and honestly couldn’t find any. I couldn’t find anything that I Proloquo2Go has that Expressive doesn’t as far as symbol selection so that is great. (actually I couldn’t find some football team icons but that could be easily added via uploaded pictures!) One quick critique: sometimes when searching for specific verbs, the options for gender & race of the people in the symbols are very minimal. You will probably have an AAC system where the majority of the symbols are white and male. I don’t want to discount Expressive for this though, because many AAC systems have this problem! (see the second picture above for ‘About Me’)
Customization: Expressive can be easily customized, including adding folders, images, and buttons. Each can be customized with any text, pictures, and color coding system if desired. It’s all very easy to figure out and very intuitive! The buttons can also be rearranged easily.
Price: AAC devices and apps can be ridiculously expensive! Expressive is at a fantastic price point which makes it good for an entry-level AAC app. I’ve also heard of SLPs starting with Expressive as a trial system. I can’t imagine an AAC app could ever be priced better actually!
Layout: The layout of the app kind of fits in with customization, but Expressive is incredibly intuitive. The layout is visually appealing and it just ‘makes sense’. It also looks great in both landscape and portrait mode.
What is missing?
A keyboard option: I think keyboards are critical for some AAC users. If I had an AAC client that was considering a system, I might not choose this one because of a lack of keyboard option (if the client could use/grow to use a keyboard).
Great voice quality: I am personally not a huge fan of the voices Expressive comes with. I tested this by creating sentences, and having the system speak the whole sentence to a friend of mine in the room. She was unable to identify what I was trying to say in about 25% of the trials. But, if most of the listeners to the student can see the screen, they could always just read the buttons themselves. Voices on ANY system are slightly questionable in my opinion, and Expressive is no different.
Multiple boards: While this may not matter a whole lot, particularly to AAC users who own their iPad, as an SLP I would love to see an option to make many boards and switch between them for different clients!
Overall, it is worth the price? ABSOLUTELY YES. Expressive is definitely worth investing in!! I think it could help a huge population of AAC users. Check out in the App Store here.
Have you used it? I would LOVE to hear your opinions!!