Graduate Student’s iPhone App Gives Voice to Disabled Users

By Mary Helen Miller
January 15, 2010, 04:58 PM ET

Not many iPhone applications get reviews that call them life-changing.

Samuel Sennott, a doctoral student in special educaton at Pennsylvania State University’s main campus, created an iPhone application that helps people with communication disabilities speak. He worked with David Niemeijer, an Amsterdam-based developer, to build the software, called Proloquo2Go.

Users tap words, symbols, phrases, or sentences on the screen to create messages that are read aloud by the software. There are four different voice options, including both child and adult voices.

Before the application came out last April, people in need of augmentative and alternative communication devices—popularly known as AAC devices—could expect to spend up to $8,000 for a dedicated machine. Now they can download Mr. Sennott’s Proloquo2Go for $190 and have a full AAC system using a device they already carry in their pocket.

Mr. Sennott said that users of Proloquo2Go are all ages and usually have communication disabilities associated with autism, Down syndrome, or ALS. People with apraxia, aphasia, developmental disabilities, and brain injuries also use the application, he said.

Mr. Sennott would not say how many applications have been sold, though it is the 62nd-highest grossing application. However, Mr. Sennott says, he is not just in it for the money. “It’s my life’s work, it’s my vocation,” he said.

Customers have given the application a 4+ star average rating (out of 5) and impressive reviews.

“You have changed our lives in just one day,” one user writes, who identifies herself as a mother of a 7-year-old with a mitochondrial disorder.

Another customer wrote of her autistic student: “She is ordering at restaurants, telling about her day at camp, and telling us what she wants to do.”

Mr. Sennott is also excited about the possibilities for research that the application may allow.

“The fact that it’s an Internet connected mobile device means that we can keep real-time data on users,” he says, emphasizing that he would only do so if users volunteered to participate in a study.

“There’s potential for innovative single-subject research with electronic data capturing,” he says.

Reproduced from http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Graduate-Students-iPhone-App/20549