AAC: Mainstream V Dedicated Devices

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.  It refers to any method of communication other than speech such as signing,  pointing to pictures, alphabet boards or using High-tech VOCA’s (Voice Output Communication Aids)  such as Dynavox or Lightwriter.  These devices are also known as ‘Dedicated Devices’ because they were built with the purpose of communication in mind.

Some only do that like the older versions of these machines but now many of the touchscreen devices include access to the internet via Windows.

As computing in the ‘mainstream’ has evolved many programs have been designed for touchscreen tablet PC’s as a cheaper version of the dedicated devices which often run into several thousand pounds,  even for a basic touchscreen device.

As many people (particuarly adults with late-onset disorders,  which is kind of my specialist area) can’t always get funding for these more expensive devices it has been interesting for me to have opportunity to compare both devices as I now have both a Lightwriter SL40 and recently bought the Apple iPad and put Proloquo2go (shortened to P2G after here – see previous posts for more details on it) on it.

So basically my comparison is between these two devices:

The Lightwriter Sl40 dedicated AAC device and Proloquo2Go on an Apple iPad.

Lightwriter SL40

Works on simple premise of word prediction and typing.  I first used a second hand Sl35 with my first helper many years ago,  it helped her to understand me in the car and places she couldn’t hear me well as she could read the display.  My typing skills were much better then which was lucky as the word prediction wasn’t as good on the older model.  However the battery life was much better.

I was given the SL40 by my local NHS who were having difficulty getting hold of Sign Language Interpreters in a medical emergency and at one point I was having several allergic reactions in one month and they didn’t know what to.

I have to say…. the word prediction on this is brilliant!  It learns really fast and now I rely on it more as I can’t touch type like I used to and using only thumbs these days,  I often find I can compose sentences purely from the word prediction without even having to press any letters.  I used abbreviation-expansion more on the SL35 for pre-stored sentences but I use the word prediction more on this.

There’s less of an issue with screen glare as you can still see the keys outside,  although the word prediction can be difficult to read if sun is particuarly bright,  however you can work around this by using Abbreviations in that setting and this is what I do,  as long as other person can hear the machine I have certain sentences also saved to abbreviations so I know what its gonna say even if screen is difficult to see due to direct sunlight.

I also use sign and most people can guess with a few gestures but sometimes I need to spell words out for them or give an explanation.

I like the portability, it’s quite robust and has survived a few drops (indoors) until I got a strap for it so could wear it over shoulder outdoors.  The SL40 has text messaging and basic environmental control included.(8 slots)


Only thing thats an issue for me (more due to my own personal circumstances) is it doesn’t alert you to incoming texts AS you get them.  As I live on my own,  its not used everyday as a communication aid and most people who know me on daily basis can understand my speech/signs.  As I’m also deaf I need a vibrating alert like like something I can have in pocket and feel it vibrate or see it light up if its on table at side of me when message comes in.

It would be handy if the SMS number could be linked to a vibrating pager or something and this was included as part of the price as they do cost £3,200!


Its an excellent device and really easy to communicate with.  Also as I’m deaf I have used it by passing it to other people to type for me (like when I had chinese doctor I couldn’t lip-read her well,  she typed, I read it). There’s not many other devices you can do this with and still maintain face-to-face contact.

P2G on iPad

Great App and it gets full marks just for attempting to make AAC more affordable for people who can’t get funding.  The app is only £109 and for just over £400 you can get a 16GB wi-fi iPad,  huge difference in price to just a basic touchscreen device.

The basic setup (vocab)  it comes with is aimed at children mainly, although you can turn off symbols the home page is then quite dull as just black folders.  I found it nice to have some with pics although this meant having to choose pics for all and removing the pics of the ones you didnt want.  This is a mammoth task in itself (as it actually has quite a large vocab if you include all the expansion sets too).

It is easier to set up your own page from scratch and make each button individually so you get pics on the ones you want or words only on words you want.  Although for speed you often find yourself copying and pasting from other categories.

The issue here is if you change the button/category in ‘your home page’ it is then also changed in the original category,  which I didn’t relaise when I started so have lost some vocab that I thought I was only deleting from ‘my home page’.  Luckily they were mainly americanised words/terms that aren’t used in UK eg I deleted ‘Gateraid’ from the drinks category,  although I kept most of that category with pics as I love the little coke cans lol!

As the iPad is a ‘Mainstream Device’ I can do lots of other things with it too so it still gets used even if I’m not needing it to ‘talk’ with.  It’s handy for quickly checking email,  I love playing scrabble on it and a few other games.  The Zentap Pro app (provides word prediction and abbreivations)  has been useful for speeding up typing and sending straight into email. There’s even a British Gas App to send them your meter reading over wi-fi so you get an actual bill rather than an estimated one.  Sky Plus app is another one I often check to see whats on telly and anything I want to record I can set from the iPad.

It will also be used as jumbo touchscreen remote when the Red Eye IR dongle is available in UK towards end of this month.

P2G is more useful in settings you know you will say a particular thing and can set a whole sentence to one or a few ‘buttons’ to reduce keystrokes.  This will be handy for instructing helpers how to make up Inca’s dinner or tell them what jobs I wanted doing that day.

I can see it been handy first thing in morning as I keep it by bedside anyway as I like to play scrabble in bed.  When you’re half asleep it be much easier to just hit one larger button to say ‘can you make me a cuppa tea please’ or ‘I need to go to the bathroom urgently!’ (I’m always busting for a wee when I wake up.. lol!) when there came a time I needed live-in staff.

I can also see it been used as an eReader in the future if books became difficult to hold/turn pages,  it can be propped up on my table top easel on over bed table for me to ‘read a book’ that way instead.


Setting up to your own needs is time consuming,  its taken me best part of 2 weeks so far and still haven’t finished my ‘home page’

Spontaneous conversation isnt as quick as you have to remember which category to find words in,  unless you have ‘pages’ containing all vocab used in that particular setting.

It needs a word prediction feature and ability to use abbreviations for people who would like a choice to use text based options too.

Summary of both systems

I think with an external keyboard and word prediction/abbreviations added it would enhance communication on P2G greatly,  improve spontaneous conversations as well as been able to make use of the pages I have set up and improve future access if a pointer or mouthstick was needed.

It’s a promising start though and will be interesting to see how it develops further for a wider clientele.  At the moment I feel it was specifically aimed at one market (autistic kids who are mainly more active).

I feel I learnt alot more about AAC and page design/communication aids through setting up my own home page than I have from using the Lightwriter (which I have had much longer)  HOWEVER if someone turns up out of the blue like a repair man who is gonna struggle to understand me the Lightwriter is the one I go for,  as it’s quickest to construct a sentence on and if they find the computerised speech difficult to understand they can read the front.

As mentioned before the Lightwriter can also be used both ways ie if I have difficulty understanding them they can spell out a word as most people these days can type even if its just to send a text message and its just as easy for them to hit a key as write it on a piece of paper.  often they start typing it and find the word prediction predicts it and say  ‘ooh look its there’ and point to the word on the prediction!!  so one way or another we find a way with the Lightwriter to get across what we need to say to each other.

I have all my emergency medical details on both so if one breaks down I have back up from either in an emergency.

Problem I find with Lightwriter is cos its not used as often the battery goes down even if left fully charged and turned off and on one occassion I have gone to use it when someone turned up unexpectedly and it wouldn’t turn on despite been fully charged 2 days previous.  I had to plug it into wall to use so we both had to stand side by side at table which then cuts off face-to-face contact which I find particuarly important as a deaf person and meant the work man had to keep coming to look as he found it difficult to work out what the voice was saying.

I can see my iPad been used for many other things so even if P2G is only kept as backup or used for pre-stored pages scenarios,  the device itself will still get used daily for other things such as IR remote,  eReader,  game of scrabble or chess etc.

I think if they added word prediction and abbreviations to P2G (or another speech app came out that could do that which I could add to iPad) so the iPad could do what my Lightwriter can do (and as efficiently) PLUS all the other stuff I can do on it,  it would become my main device.


11 thoughts on “AAC: Mainstream V Dedicated Devices

  1. Have you tried using the iPad with an external keyboard for apps like ZenTap? It will work with any Bluetooth keyboard, although the Apple ones work best I understand – but they don’t cost much! I have a Bluetooth Apple keyboard around here and it’s quite small too, not much bigger than the LightWriter as it’s got the keys in a laptop-style layout. It sounds like that might work well for you for inputting text.

    It’s great to hear your opinions about the similarities and differences and which ones are most helpful. I know the LightWriter has a forward facing screen for the listener to see what’s typed – if a communication app on the iPad had the option of having an “upside down” section at the top of your screen so somebody across from you could read it more easily would that help do you think?

    • I’m looking for one that will also work with my Blackberry Storm so I can continue to text from that. I’m thinking of the Freedom Pro as I have seen it working on both, however I do not have a Data Plan on my blackberry so I cant access internet directly. At minute I’m waiting for BB to USB lead which i got off ebay for £1.50, as someone told me I can download drivers onto my BB via my Mac so I’m going to try it first before I spend money on the keyboard. If I manage to get the software on, I seen a few Freedom bluetooth keyboards on eBay from around £40 so was thinking of getting one of those that way I can also fold it in pocket and take it with me.

      I cant see how upside down part at top of screen would help as the it would make text smaller in both sections to read and the iPad would still be angled towards me for me to select the words.

      The Lightwriter works as its two seperate screens and the second screen is angled and directly facing for a person sitting opposite to read.

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  4. Would you mind enabling rss feeds, because this page is difficult to read on my phone. Don’t mean to be a complainer, but I figure if it would help me it would probably help others as well. Thanks 🙂

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