Special Needs App of the Day: MyVoice Communication Aid

Special Needs App of the Day: MyVoice Communication Aid

This review is courtesy of Wynsum Arts’ Every App Has a Story, the stories behind Wynsum Arts’ distinguished apps.

“We realized there is a real need for simple, socially acceptable, affordable communication aids.”

— Aakash Sahney, co-founder of MyVoice

MyVoice Communication Aid is a 2012 Apps of Distinction recipient. Congratulations to Aakash Sahney and Alex Levy!

MyVoice is an augmentative and alternative communication app that groups vocabulary by place or event and uses GPS to determine location and automatically supply vocabulary for that location. For example, if a nonverbal person using MyVoice on an iPhone walks into a movie theater, the app will recognize he is at the theater and will open the words associated with going to the movies. He can quickly order a drink, popcorn and buy a ticket. He doesn’t have to find the food words to order popcorn and then the furniture words to say “Let’s find a seat.”

We talked with Aakash Sahney, co-founder of MyVoice Inc., to find out how he and Alex Levy came to develop this location-based communication app, which works on the iPad, iPhone, iPod and Android devices.

Why Did You Develop MyVoice? Aakash Sahney: In 2010, Alex and I were researchers at the University of Toronto and we were studying technology that could assist the elderly. This is how we met Bill, an older gentleman who had lost the ability to speak after his stroke. He was renting an expensive speaking aid that was slow and frustrated him. In fact, sometimes he carried around a briefcase full of papers and pointed at words and phrases rather than carry his AAC device.

Users of traditional communication aids speak only eight words per minute. Bill asked us why there weren’t better options for nonverbal people. He wanted something much faster.

We developed a smart communication aid prototype — with location awareness — on an iPhone. Within a few months, Bill was using it more than his other device and this prototype had become a research project for us. We were speaking about this project at conferences.

Speech and language pathologists were excited about the prototype and we realized there is a real need for simple, socially acceptable, affordable communication aids.

We knew that we could improve many people’s lives if we turned our project into a real product for sale. In April 2011, we debuted the app for the iPhone and iPad. In June 2011, we launched the Android app.

How Does the MyVoice App Work?

Aakash Sahney: In traditional communication aids, users must often hunt through thousands of words and phrases to find the ones they need for a particular situation. MyVoice suggests vocabulary based on where the user is. The app can recognize when the user is at home, at school, or at a restaurant, and suggests vocabulary that is appropriate to the location.

Users or caregivers can log into the online Supporter Studio from any website to customize vocabulary and tag locations such as home, school, or Grandma’s house. By associating useful words and phrases with location, MyVoice speeds up the act of communication.

The app also has a fixed vocabulary to cover most commonly used phrases and basic needs, such as “yes,” “no,” and “go to the bathroom.” It also features nonverbal expressions of language, such as laughing and “um,” to improve conversational comfort.

Because the app can be controlled from a web portal, caregivers can update vocabulary without having to deprive the user of the device for several hours. Changes sync automatically — and nothing is lost if the user loses his device. A user can also add phrases or tag new places within the app.

Nearly 12,000 people in 30 countries use the app. We make improvements every day, based on feedback from users, teachers and speech and language pathologists. In fact, we recently added scanning and switch control for users that have difficulty with touch screens due to fine motor control issues.

Wynsum Arts’ mission is supported through the purchase of apps from i.AM Search — available in iTunes. That’s how we can do what we do for free! Amazing awaits.

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