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.