Friday, September 12, 2014

Speakit! for Chrome

Recently, I had to go looking for a text-to-speech extension for my Chrome browser.  I wanted an extension for the browser since I've had bad experiences with screen readers in the past, and was having some difficulty with the built-in accessibility features on my computer.  

And really, all I wanted was something fairly decent to read to me my course lectures and articles so that I can follow along with the text.   I tried one or two extensions, but they either sounded off, or would stop in the middle of the text. 

My best experience so far has been SpeakIt!  It has a lot of good quality voices, you can slow down or speed up the pace, even the pitch! I haven't tried the voice to text feature yet, but it has that too.  I do recommend it, and it's free

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Speak For Yourself

Last year at the Autism Society conference '13, I had a chance to meet up with Heidi and Renee, two of the creators behind the Speak for Yourself AAC app. They had some very interesting badges for us to put on our name-tags, as well as a chance to test out their app.  Both of them were thrilled to hear feedback and suggestions by autistic adults, and a couple of us were willing to discuss various topics about our experiences and communication.

First, I have to say, that I am not a regular AAC user; when I do lose verbal skills, I tend to grab pen and paper, if not a keyboard, and write.  Which is why I have the free version of Verbally, just in case, on my iPad.  The paid in-app upgrade, $99.99,  lets you save words and phrases, as well as upgraded voices.  I like the app because I can type out what I want to say.

Speak for Yourself, on the other hand, is a more traditional AAC; that is, it is a picture and word (PECs?) based AAC.  The full version is $199.99 , but there is a free version for testing out, which is what I have.   I can't speak for the usability of the app, being that I'm not a regular user.  However, reviews have pointed out that Speak for Yourself has features such as no repeating words, words that stay at the same place every time, and the ability to customize it.

The full app comes with a qwerty keyboard and the ability to customize words.  Any type of word, and the app voice is capable of speaking adult words.  At the conference, this was something that other adults and I discussed with the developers, the ability for self-expression and for the app to grow with a person.  The developers heartily agreed with us, and even showed us how to program the app to include swear words.

While I doubt that those words are included in the immediate vocabulary, it is good to know that they are not censored from the app, so adults can fully customize the words (and I believe the pictures) to suit their needs.

For these reasons, I highly recommend the Speak for Yourself and Verbally apps for adult autistics.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Inspiration Maps

First off, I need to disclose my own bias towards the software. I've been using Inspiration 7 since 2003, and have found it to be a great tool. With the new products that they have out, I'm able to brain storm, input research data, and organize my arguments for essays a lot easier and faster than in a linear, non-visual way. And I'm now able to take the program with me, either through the web-based program, or through the app on my iPad!

The app is $9.99 and unfortunately, only available for iPad.
I found that it worked well, very smooth and easy to use. It may not have all the features that the full software has, but it is very functional on its own. It also is able to save a customized default appearance for the thought-bubbles, a feature I've kinda missed from Inspiration 7*.

Projects, or maps, are saved on the iPad itself, and can be sent to print, emailed or exported to other devices and services. One down side is that it'll only save files in three formats, PDF, rich text, and it's own special file format that can be read only by it and Inspiration 9.1. This means that either one exports the file in PDF or rich text to either Dropbox or email it to oneself, and the open it up in a word processor, or one buys Inspiration 9 to import the map and work on it on the computer. It depends on the project and how one works.

For example, for most of my projects, I've actually found that working on my iPad to be sometimes easier. There are less distractions, or at least it's easier to pull away from said distractions, on the iPad, and I can take my work with me to different locations very easily. On the other hand, some of my projects need more visuals that the app does not offer. It's not often, it does happen.

And I've found that over time I'm getting better at organizing my thoughts in a non-visual fashion with it as well. Being able to take chunks of texts, entire points with notes, and move them around, without the fuss of printing out, cutting and stapling together (my old method), has been very useful and helps me be quicker to put together assignments.  

This feature for instant outlines is what put Inspiration above other mind mapping apps for me.  A lot of the other apps I tried, DropMind, Simple Mind, Total Recall, Mind Meister, Mind Maple, while very functional mind mapping apps, do not have outline features.  Most of them have export options and can connect to itself on other devices.  Mind Meister has some nice arrow features as well.  So if you're looking for just a mind mapping app, then these are mainly a matter of opinion on the interface, usually for free or very cheap.  

But I do recommend Inspiration Maps not only for mind mapping, but also for the outline features it brings. It's worth it for brainstorming and argument organization.  

*Currently, Inspiration 9 is out, and I haven't been able to pick it up. I had a subscription to the web-based service, WebspirationPro, which allows me to access my projects on any capable computer. However, now that I have an iPad, I've switched to the app for further portability and lack of distraction.  I'll be interested in continuing my subscription should the file formats between the app and the online version be compatible.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Waterfalls, Rain Sounds and Relaxation

Over the years in school, I have discovered that not only do showers and the sound of running bath tubs help me to relax and think, but also helps me to understand difficult textbooks and articles.  Unfortunately, I cannot stay in the bathroom all day with the tap running, so I've turned to some alternatives. 

Now, when I'm at my computer, I tend to go to the Niagara Falls Webcam from the Hilton Fallsview Hotel.  It provides quite soothing rushing water sounds that also act as a good sound barrier for other sensory issues. 

However, when I'm away from my computer, I need to rely on Apps to provide me with anxiety reducing sounds.  So I took a look at quite a few.  Instead of doing independent posts for all of them, I'm putting together the ones I found worked the best, mainly that they did not stop when my iPod went idle. 

eSleep lite
 eSleep lite is perhaps my favourite.  Developed by Vanke Software, the lite version is free on Apple devices.  Tracks can be customized with multiple music and sounds.  A timer and alarm can be set.  Recordings can be made, and it doesn't shut off when in idle.  Unfortunately, it does not work in the background.  

Sleepmaker has a number of apps, most focusing on specific sound tracks.  The one I like and tested was the storm app.  It includes various 45 min tracks of different storms and rain sounds.  While it has no timer, it does work in idle and in the background, so I could multitask on my iPod. 

There are both free lite versions and paid pro versions available on Apple and Android devices

Relax Waterfall
Relax Waterfall is a freebie part of the paid app Napuru, which includes the other sounds and tracks not included in this one.  From what I can tell, the only difference in the apps is the collection of tracks.  The free version is pretty good as it is, with a single track of a waterfall.  It also has an alarm, and works in the background and in idle. 

SleepStream Classic Lite
I tried the SleepStream Classic Lite, although now Explosive Apps has more versions out for 99¢ to 8.99$.  The Classic Lite version is still free though.  It has a selection of tracks, such as birdsong, rain, and ocean waves.  The player is very simple and easy to use, and plays in idle and in the background.   So it's a very decent player. 

Personally, I think that the tricky part with relaxation tracks is finding the right one that works for you.  So what would work for me might not work for other autistics.  However, I feel that these four apps are the best choices currently available. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

ChipIn for School iPad

I remember back in 2003, when I was first setting out to university, it was suggested that I get both a laptop and a palm pilot.  Remember Palm Pilots?  I vaguely do.  From what I remember, I was to use one as a digital calender/schedule book to keep me on track.  Given the recent developments in technology, I'm not sure whether they're even still made nowadays.

I was suppose to use a laptop as a glorified typewriter, to take class notes and write essays on.  I wasn't too keen on that, given how bulky, heavy and expensive laptops were (and still kinda are).  My parents and I found a compromise, getting me a Dana from AlphaSmart.
AlphaSmart Dana, now known as NEO

Basically it was a PalmPilot with a full keyboard and a big enough memory that I could type up research, pieces of essays, and some class notes with ease.  It would sync with a computer and transfer a document into, well, any open window.  I had a note taker in class, so I mainly used my Dana for research.  I'd go into the library, find passages of information I needed, then copy it down with references.  It was light-weight enough that I could take it to school regularly in my backpack.  Unfortunately, the battery passed on some time ago.

Now, my needs have changed over the years, as I've gone from being on campus all the time, to being on campus occasionally.  I need something less like a Dana, and more like a laptop, without being as bulky and heavy (cause yes, they are still that) as one.  I need something that I can take to my intensive sessions, whether for two weeks or a weekend, that has the assistive technology of my full computer and iPod, but can do notes and be portable.

People have suggested I get an iPad.   To be honest, I've thought about it, for over a year now.  At IMFAR, I got to see iPads in action.  For the past year, I've browsed through iPad apps and sighed as I wishlisted them.  Every chance I got, I'd test out the display models in stores.  And in long last, I have decided that I should get an iPad.

It's light and portable.  It has full keyboard and word processing capabilities.  It has apps, for functioning, stress relief and communication, plus testing apps for the Autistic Adult App Project.  It'll be used for school and education purposes only.

The only issue is money.  I'm a low-income student, with a part-time job and two courses.  I could maybe afford the apps that I need for on the iPad, but I can't afford the iPad itself.  So, I've started up a ChipIn.  I'll be grateful for whatever people donate.  Every little bit helps!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Miracle Modus

I found out about this app in the most interesting way.  Basically, I happen to know the programmer/developer who made this, being a long-time friend of a mutual friend, and follow both of them on Tumblr. 

The Miracle Modus
Seebs is an autistic programmer who made the Miracle Modus as a way to migrate sensory overload and stress.  It provides rhythmic rainbow shapes and bell sounds in a variety of patterns that can be soothing.

While even Seebs admits that not all autistic people will benefit from the app, especially when the patterns are subtle and the sounds not right, there have been quite a few reports and reviews that say it has been very helpful.  

I tried it myself, because I find spiralling patterns and sounds to be calming.  Sometimes I found a lack of control with the settings.  While I could turn off certain modes, there is no way (at this time; Seebs is continuing to work on it and does appreciate feedback) to flip between modes in a controlled manner. 

Overall, I felt myself relaxed while watching, listening and playing with it, and highly suggest it for people who like and find moving shapes and bell sounds relaxing. 

It is free and available for most Apple devices and Android devices

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shopping List Review

Shopping List is a productivity app by Hensoft.  There are two versions of it, a free lite version and the full version for $2.99.  It is simply, a shopping list app. 

I have to admit, I have been using the full version of Shopping List for about a year.  I really like it because it's fairly easy to use.  I can sort items in my list into categories like fruits and vegetables, meat, canned food, household items and so on.  I can also put in the price of an item and it calculates the total cost with tax, even if I want more than one of an item. 

It also saves items, so when I'm adding items to a current list, I can quickly select the items I need to buy.  There is also an option to sync with an account, but I haven't tested that function yet because I find the app useful even without. 

There are some differences between the free and full versions.  The free version is limited to a single list and the catergories that come with the app.   It also doesn't have all of the functions with calculating prices. 

With the full version, I can create my own catergories and can have multiple lists.  This is useful for me because sometimes having everything on one list is confusing and overwhelming for me.  Also, I can keep track of my budget for specific lists. 

For example, I am in charge of buying cleaning supplies for my house hold.  By keeping a separate list, I can keep track of what I'm spending with my own money and what I'm spending with the house hold money. 

As an adult Autistic, I found the Shopping List app to be useful for spending and budget keeping, as well as remembering what I need to buy.  I recommend it for other Autistic adults for the same purposes to support their independence. 

Reviewed by Corina Becker, 2012