I'll be honest, CoughDrop is not made up of a group of AAC experts. Some people would be surprised by that and might ask, "then what gives you the right to build an AAC app?" The answer is that we don't have the right to build one -- not on our own, anyway. This project has always been about collaboration with as many real-world experts as we can find. Our team brings some strong technical expertise and a sincere desire to make things better, but without help and feedback there's no way we could build anything awesome.
And that's actually on purpose. Some companies have one or two in-house experts that help them make development decisions. We have none, which forces us to get out there and vet our ideas against lots more than just the two people we already know. It's maybe a little different than people are used to, but we think it's a lot more effective.
Anyway, I wanted to share some of the things we've learned so far after talking to over thirty Speech and Occupational Therapists, Assistive Technology Specialists, AAC users and parents (and by no means are we done talking). If you're neck-deep in AAC then none of this may be surprising, but in the spirit of openness we want to share with everyone what people out in the field are telling us about their experiences.
The parents and users we've spoken to have had very similar experiences. After being thrown into the world of AAC they often feel on their own in getting started. It's great how many parents step up and take the initiative for their child, but there's still lots of starting-from-scratch happening that is probably unnecessary. The isolation and intimidation parents feel at first is probably an area where a little extra effort can go a long way.
Therapists often feel like the devices and apps are too complicated for others to program, so parents and teachers leave it up to them to do all the editing -- which takes away from therapy time. They worry a lot about whether the device is used in the classroom and at home. They also often have crazy-huge caseloads that keep them from focusing on individuals as much as they'd like. In the end, a lot of the concern comes down to difficult interfaces and poor visibility into what happens outside the therapy room.
AT Specialists spend a lot of time switching between all the different devices and apps, and find that modifying vocabularies is often not terribly straightforward. They seem highly motivated to find the right system or device for the individual. They also care a lot about practicality, and know people will be less inclined to use a device that's bulky or outdated.
In addition, everybody worries about consistency for the communicator. They want to make sure the device is used at home and school or work, and that it won't get taken away when the communicator changes districts or locations. Most everyone has a story about an individual losing their device (a.k.a. a major piece of their communication strategy) while waiting for repairs, a replacement device, or approval from the new school district. It was great to hear just how concerned everybody is with a successful outcome for the individual, rather than just getting their job done. There are some amazing people working in the AAC field.
There's a lot more I want to share, but this post is already getting long so let's call this a good start and save the rest for another day :-). Thank you again to everyone who has spoken with us and shared input and insights, we could never have gotten this project rolling without your help.
If you'd like to participate in our discussions or hear the inside scoop, just let us know!