Using an iPhone as a Communication aid

I have wanted an iPhone since they first came out,  as I always had in my mind a smaller device that I could just have with me when I needed to ask for anything in shops and people found me difficult to understand.  As my handwriting got more difficult to do quickly,  writing a quick note on paper was harder.

When I asked for assessement for communication aid I originally wanted the Say-it-Sam on a PDA as I thought I could manage this for both texting and using to ask for stuff.  The assessor thought I’d be better off with a Lightwriter,  although we did try the Typespeak on a 5″  screen PDA and I struggled.  The main problem I had was gripping them and trying to use them at same time and keeping hands steady.  The other issue with the original iPhone was the on-screen qwerty keyboard which was only available in portrait mode.

As it has been out longer,  there are now a much wider range of apps to help and the ‘assistive apps’ have really taken off.  With the latest version of the iPhone OS you can now connect a bluetooth keyboard which I knew would help with texting and setting up pages on Proloquo2go.

I managed to find a folding bluetooth keyboard I could manage on eBay,  it connected to my iPad so I knew it would connect to an iPhone,  I also found out about Tikinotes free app which reduces a qwerty keyboard to 6 big buttons and includes word prediction allowing me to be able to text from the screen as well as via a buetooth keyboard.

(First select the button that has the letter you want then gives each letter a button,  the word prediction is good too)

That solved the texting issue and setting up lots of sentences on P2G with the help of the Bluetooth keyboard too.  The next difficulty was keeping grip of it.  The iPhone4 looks gorgeous but is very slippy.  To start with, I got a cheap pink flip case off eBay.  I had been using a flip case with my Blackberry,  the front of the case gives you something extra to grip with one hand as you fold it back the screen is then clear to try and hit the buttons.  Attaching a lanyard also gives me something to grab and help me pick it up.

Its great to be able to slip it around my neck too so when I take dog out for walk I have phone with me and I can’t drop it if I need to text for help.  The only downside is when I took it xmas shopping to use to ask for stuff in shops,  people were unable to hear Proloquo2go cos of all the background noise, I also had to have bigger buttons so had to scroll alot up and down pages.  I knew if I could get right case I can use thumbs which are slightly still better co-ordinated and dont get intention tremor in them like I do with fingers.

I have seen some cases but getting batteries in and out of them are a struggle when you don’t have much strength in fingers and they shake as you are trying to push batteries into things.  I spotted the iMainGo X which has rechargeable batteries and got it form Amazon UK.  Unfortunately I assumed it would come with a UK plug end which it doesn’t so after a few confusing emails trying to sort out what plug was safe to use they are sending me a safe voltage converter I can use with it until a UK plug becomes available for it.  I’ll let you know how it goes when I have had chance to try it out and do a full review with pictures.

My main gripe with the iPhone itself,  maybe its just the vodafone deal, is they didnt tell me when I got it I was paying £1 a day for the internet whether I used it or not.  As I’m mostly housebound I didnt relaise,  I assumed I was getting emails cos it was connected to my wi-fi,  it wasn’t until a friend took me shopping and I was still getting them and my credit vanished really fast that I phoned up,  as I was quite sure I hadn’t asked or paid for a data plan.

They said its easy to just disable it then you won’t have to pay £1 a day so they turned it off,  a week later a friend tried to send me a photo (MMS) and I can’t receive them or send any back,  so emailed customer services again,  it turns out if I want MMS I have to switch the GRPS back on and pay £1 a day in case I want to send a photo or use internet outdoors.   This is annoying as if cheaper phones without internet and data plans can still send MMS without been charged £1 a day,  you’d think a £500 phone would be able to do it too!

I think if I hadn’t wanted a device I could both text from and use with Proloquo2go I probably wouldn’t have bought one.

As a communication aid however I love its compactness and Proloquo2go is a great app which allows you to basically design your own device.  I’m hoping once I get the adapter sorted for the speaker case I will finally have the device I wanted in the first place and solved my difficulties with gripping and using it at same time.  Its been a bit of a gamble and expensive for both the iPhone and case (not including P2G which I already had on the iPad),  but it is still significantly cheaper than most dedicated AAC devices and just as good.

It can also be done much cheaper if you got an iPod Touch instead of the iPhone,  and you could pick one of those up used for cheaper,  if you could manage putting batteries in cheaper cases you can have similar package for easily under £400. I also do believe you can use P2G over the iphone to speak for you but of course you need to be able to hear the other persons reply!  You would also need to take it out of the case for this I think.  As I’m deaf and only use it for SMS texting I would be able to do this from inside the case too.  I’d really only need to remove it if I wanted to use it for camera or video and to recharge the phone.  (the rechargeable part of iMainGo X only applies to the actual speakercase,  it doesn’t recharge your phone too).

Here’s some more screenshots of pages I have made on Proloquo2Go:

(click on a pic to enlarge)

In last four screenshots you can see me building a sentence via the ‘core words’ pages.  The auto-conjugation of verbs is a great feature in P2G (pic 9) whereby pressing and holding down ‘be’ also gives you am,  is, are, was,  were,  will be,  being,  been.   Some are disappointing for example ‘can’ only types ‘can’ where it would have been useful if it also brought up can’t, could,  couldn’t, so you can see on pic 8 I have added a category  ” n’t ” which includes words such as can’t,  won’t, didn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t and also some negative sentences to save time ‘I don’t want that’,  I don’t like it’,  I’m not ready etc.

Words such as the,  that,  there,  they’ll,  are commonly used so have their own category folder which I also included ‘time’ words..  tomorrow,  yesterday,  today,  next,  last,  week,  month,  year etc, so sentences such as “I’ll see you next week’ can be done quickly in a few keystrokes.

I have to create another category for contractions such as I’ve,  I’ll,  you’ve,  we’ll as they aren’t included and it would be useful if pressing and holding the ‘I’ would bring up the others I’ve,  I’ll,  I’d etc as that is the way most adults talk, they wouldnt say ‘I will see you Tuesday’ they’d say “I’ll see you Tuesday’.

This is an american based vocabulary though and also was originally aimed at children with language difficulties (mainly Autism) so you may find you need to create your own pages for stuff you usually need to say where people have difficulty understanding you,  if you are an adult with acquired speech loss.
Despite the time needed for all the setting up pages,  it is an excellent app  and I personally,  enjoy making my own pages and finding ways to create full sentences I’d want to say in just a few presses.  As a full qwerty keyboard would be far too small for me to use on an iPhone, P2G gives me a way to use a smaller device as a communication aid when I don’t necessarily want or need to carry a larger device with me.

I would like to see word prediction on an iPad version of P2G though where the keyboard is much bigger and easier to manage in landscape mode and possibly quicker for longer or spontaneous conversations where I hadn’t predicted that topic or question.

Overall I am glad I invested in it and took the chance that I could make it work for me.


8 thoughts on “Using an iPhone as a Communication aid

  1. Glad you find the iPhone useful in aiding your communication.
    And it’s certainly smaller and lighter to carry round with you.
    It’s a pity about MMS,but I don’t suppose any device is 100 per cent.

  2. Hi,

    Can Kati please email me directly. (I had her address, then my computer was stolen). i was about to buy P2G but then read about iEssence (but have no idea when it will be available here – presume tho, iTunes) What hardware platform wld you recmend?

  3. Hi Richard… email is on its way to you.

    What I didint relaise when writing about iEssence is its not a ‘stand-alone’ app ie it wont work on its own its an add-on. You first have to purchase the Touchchat suite (around $150USD I think then go to in-app downloads and select iEssence and pay another $99./.. the same applies to wordpower for iphone which is another $150 on top of Touchsuite app.

    If you are ok with having to buy an app you won’t use (ie Touchchat – mostly childs vocabulary) just to get iEssence then it maybe ok for you?

    However you can have P2G with no symbols and just words as shown in some of my screenshots about and create your own user page, you could lay it out the same as iEssence if you really wanted to.

    If you don’t want to o loads of reprogramming you can just use the default with all symbols off and text only showing throughout the app and just add a personal page, medical details, family members names etc.

    Word prediction is also coming to Proloquo2go which will make the keyboard option faster and you can instead have a list view.. I’ll send some photos in email. KT X

  4. Pingback: The complexities of Living with Ataxia « Kati's Blog

  5. I have bought the Touchchat suite for the iPhone (its about £85 after conversion), and would heartily recommend it. It has American voices inluded with it at the mo, but I wrote to them about a male English voice being included in the first service pack. They replied saying they would seriouly look into it, and I see on their website that ‘packages’ are ‘coming soon’

  6. I looked at the Wordpower 24 for iPhone, I thought that would be useful on iPhone as it brings up the next word in the boxes without you having to type on a tiny keyboard. However to get Wordpower I have to buy Touchchat suite also which I wouldn’t use and pay for both! Also the iphone version doesn’t work on iPad the same or if got HD version for iPad you can’t put it on your iPhone, unless you want to pay again for different version.

    It seems a good solution for professionals who may have different clients using different aspects of the software and add-on apps, but makes it expensive for individuals who maybe only wanted that one part. I don’t see why Wordpower 24 can’t be a stand alone app without having to have Touchchat suite too. (other than to make more money as one won’t work without the other)

  7. I forgot to mention too, a cheap alternative to the Touchpad for the iPhone is Speak It! It costs less than £10 and is easy to use

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