Get Real With Visual Scene Displays Use of real-life scenes adds appeal to AAC apps that clients use to communicate about everyday needs and situations. App-titude
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App-titude  |   June 01, 2014
Get Real With Visual Scene Displays
Author Notes
  • Jeanne Tuthill, MA, CCC-SLP, is an assistive technology specialist for the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, Mass. She is a member of ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. jtuthillslp@gmail.com
    Jeanne Tuthill, MA, CCC-SLP, is an assistive technology specialist for the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, Mass. She is a member of ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. jtuthillslp@gmail.com×
Article Information
Augmentative & Alternative Communication / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / App-titude
App-titude   |   June 01, 2014
Get Real With Visual Scene Displays
The ASHA Leader, June 2014, Vol. 19, 34-35. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.19062014.34
The ASHA Leader, June 2014, Vol. 19, 34-35. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.19062014.34
If you work in the area of augmentative and alternative communication, you’ve no doubt heard of visual scene displays—photos or pictures that people can use to communicate messages to others. These photos depict familiar scenes, objects or people—and users can touch “hot spots” on the photo to speak messages that relate to the pictured scene or object.
For example, a person with aphasia might touch a hotspot on a picture of a sibling to say, “This is my sister, Jenny.” Or a child with cerebral palsy might use a photograph of her bedroom—including the bed, dresser, favorite stuffed animals and closet—to communicate with a parent about the bedtime routine.
Research indicates VSDs can effectively bolster communication skills of people with, for example, chronic aphasia, autism spectrum disorders and complex communication needs. Their strength? Compared with traditional AAC systems—in which symbols represent words in columns on a grid—VSDs can offer more context by using scenes that are similar to, or drawn directly from, a user’s environment.
VSDs’ appeal
Think for a moment about a grid of symbols that includes a generic swing, slide and monkey bars, and some core vocabulary. Compare that with a photograph of an entire playground with the actual swings, slide and monkey bars that a child plays on regularly. Using this type of VSD on a mobile device, the child can touch the objects in the photograph to communicate messages such as, “I want to go down the slide,” or “Will you go on the swings with me?”
In addition to providing more contextual information for expressive language, this type of display also can help with receptive language processing: A parent can point to the picture of the playground and tell the child, “We are going to the playground today!”
VSDs can be especially valuable for emerging communicators who struggle to relate to traditional grid-based communication systems—young children relate to VSDs more quickly, some studies show. However, it should be noted that VSDs have limited levels of complex and flexible language supports. They tend to limit the user to a subset of predetermined topics or environments and provide access to only basic vocabulary. The ultimate goal for AAC users is to access language that allows them to say what they want to say, when they want to say it—and this requires a complete communication system that cannot be fully met with VSDs alone.
App choices
Now that relatively low-cost mobile phones and tablets are widely available, we can increasingly think beyond traditional grid-based systems and look to a growing pool of AAC apps. These apps use VSDs, sometimes along with grid-based language supports:
  • AutisMate ($149.99, iOS; $99.99, Android) allows you to create VSDs with hotspots that can be programmed to speak messages, link to more complex grid-based communication pages, or link to other supports such as social scripts, schedules and video modeling. Features include a 12,000 Symbolstix symbol library, a QWERTY keyboard with word prediction, and a content library with pre-made visual supports. There is also a free version with limited page sets.

  • ChatAble ($79.99, iOS) is a relatively new app that allows you to create VSD, grid-based or hybrid pages. Features include a 12,000-widget symbol library, an ABC keyboard layout, a handwriting input option, and the ability to link to additional communication pages or to videos, music and websites (with an active wifi connection).

  • Scene Speak ($9.99, iOS) is a lower-cost, less feature-rich app that allows you to easily create VSDs. This app does not provide grid-based layouts for those who need access to more complex language. Features include text-to-speech voices, hot spots that can link to other VSDs, and the ability to use scenes to create social stories.

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FROM THIS ISSUE
June 2014
Volume 19, Issue 6