My computer geek husband took no encouragement to head to the Apple Store the day the iPad came out. I told S that dad had a very exciting present for him when he got home. When S saw the iPad, his face fell . “Oh.” he said, “I thought we were going to the circus”…
S has never really been a technology fan. Unlike M who pounced on the iPad the moment he saw it. M also spends a lot of time watching Thomas the Tank Engine on YouTube. And as this photo proves, there are no parenting awards heading my way. ..
But it’s already become apparent that S’s lack of interest in computers has had a lot to do with lack of access. He finds it virtually impossible to use a mouse – not only because of all the fine motor control needed to move it and get it into the right place, but also the co-ordination then needed for left/right clicking while keeping the mouse in the place you want it. It’s frustrating as hell for him. (We’re actually off to CPEC tomorrow to trial a joystick alternative to a mouse. More on that later.)
Back to the iPad, so far, the main program we have for S on there is the proloquo2go AAC app – which is the number one reason we were keen to get the iPad. We wanted to try the P2Go to see whether it could be a viable alternative to the much more expensive Dynavox we’ve been hoping to purchase.
Here’s what I can tell you so far.
The iPad (16GB) + case + P2Go = less than $1000 AUD. In Australia, the iPad can be claimed as a an educational tool for tax purposes (not sure if you can also claim the cost of P2Go).
P2Go is an AAC program with a large vocabulary base. However, I found the way it’s been organised when you purchase it to be not very practical for our purposes. I decided to consider it more as a base from which to create our own page set. What I mean by this is that while there are lots of words, we found it very hard to guess where particular words might be found. And to create a sentence involved a lot of going backwards and forwards between categories and pages.
I’ve already spent at least 15 hours rearranging and editing the vocab so that it’s easy for S to access language that is likely to be most important to him. I’ve also done my best to set it up so that he can structure whole sentences – important if this is going to be a device to help him fully access the curriculum when he starts school next year. There is a cool auto-morphology feature so for example, if you hold down on the word ‘eat’ a pop up appears with various forms of this verb (eating/ate/eaten etc). It’s a bit tricky for S to hold down the item until the pop up appears, but I hope he’ll get better at that with time.
I’ve also deleted and edited a LOT of vocab which is either more useful to an American user (for example, an extensive list of US holidays, US currency, US food that we just don’t eat here and different names for things between US and Australian English) or were just not a priority for a 5 year old boy.
I decided to set up the vocabulary using the same categories S has in his PODD communication book and the Dynavox Minimo we have on loan. I figure he’s used to that system and hopefully it will be useful for him to find what he’s looking for if he recognises the categories and similar placement of items.
On a definite plus side, the P2Go editing process is incredibly user friendly. You can add, cut, copy, edit and paste items with just a few clicks. It’s shown pretty clearly how to do it in this great quick ‘visual’ manual from the P2Go website.
This is what the screen looks like in edit mode. The functions are simple, clear and easy to follow:
You can also rearrange items within a category easily too. To start with, they are mostly listed in alphabetic order. So say you want ‘tiger’ to be closer to the top in a ‘wild animals’ category, but ‘aardvark’ is a less important word then it’s easy to just click the program into edit mode, hold your finger on the item and shift it to where you want it to go.
On the down side, I am still trying to work out if you can ‘lock’ an item in position so it doesn’t move when you rearrange other items. This is a nuisance if you want items to remain in the same column, but they then move as you add or cut another item.
You can also easily create a new category and either add new words to it or copy words from other places into it. Categories can be placed in multiple locations too – so for example, we have prepositions and pronouns in multiple locations or can add the ‘transport’ category into the ‘places’ category to save having to go back ‘home’ to get to it (I hope that makes sense?).
And on an absolute plus side, you can easily ‘lock’ and ‘unlock’ the editing function so that S (or probably more likely M) doesn’t delete or rearrange hundreds of words after lots of hard work putting them in place.
There is also a frequent reminder to ‘back up’ changes to the iPad itself and it’s possible to back up changes to an external device via the P2Go website, but we haven’t done that yet (but must soon!).
It’s possible to display each item with the word and a symbol, or just the word. Obviously for S, we need the symbols. I am pretty happy with a lot of them – the nouns are pretty clear and easy to identify. Most of the prepositions are pretty good too. I am not as thrilled with some of the verbs and adjectives. A lot of them are stick figure images and some of them are pretty hard to figure out OR are pretty similar so it’s a bit tricky for S to identify the correct ones. I am hopeful that he’ll be able to work his way around that, especially as his literacy improves and he can identify the words. He’s very proficient with the boardmaker images used in his PODD communication book so I am hopeful he’ll figure it out. It is also possible to use your own photos from file if necessary, but we haven’t tried that yet so I am not sure how far you can take that.
You can use the iPad in either landscape or portrait mode. For the P2Go, we keep it in landscape. There’s a simple ‘lock’ switch on the side of the iPad that you can use to stop the screen from continually rotating around. S couldn’t turn that switch on and off on his own (it’s very small) but at this stage, there’s no real need for him to do that anyway, so it’s not a big deal.
There are 6 options for the size of the page, ranging from ‘very small’ to ‘extreme’. We use the ‘medium’ page which in landscape mode, gives S 25 visible items to a page. It’s possible to have many more items to a page, with a scroll function to move up and down to further items. I have been pleasantly surprised by how easily S has been able to use this scroll function.
In the ‘very small’ mode, you can display 49 items to a page and in the ‘extreme’ mode, you can display 4. We use the ‘grid’ display option, but you can also display items as a list. I like the grid a lot more.
Here’s what our ‘Category’ page looks like for now:
There are loads of other options within the settings for adjusting how you view the screen (for example you can choose whether you want to display the message window or tool bar, make items wider etc).
There’s also a keyboard option which allows you to type messages. These messages can then be saved into your page set. S found the on screen QWERTY keyboard itself fairly accessible, but there’s a huge problem with the ‘save’ ‘speak’ ‘cancel’ and ‘back’ tabs when you are in keyboard mode. They are TINY tabs and they can’t be enlarged. It’s definitely a major drawback. Very hard for S to accurately access them.
They are hard to see, but the problematic tabs I am talking about, are on the black bar between the message bar and the type pad.
There are several voices to choose from. They are all American. There are also some British voices you can download. The voices used are from ‘Acapela’. You can use this nifty tool on their website to hear what the voices sound like. You can also make the voices deeper or slower/faster. At the moment, we are using ‘Kenny’, the American English boy voice, but I am not really in love with it.
And the volume of the P2Go is a disappointment. At home, I thought it was more than loud enough, but when we trialled it at S’s early intervention group and again at kindergarten, the sound didn’t at all carry over the other sounds in the room. If we want this to be a voice he can use to really command attention in a school/social setting, we will need some external speakers. I’ve looked at a few options so far. There’s these cool looking ones at RJ Cooper (which I like because of the shape and the way they integrate with the device) or at our local Apple Store, these altec lansing speakers are probably the best local option (they retail for $69.99 AUD). I’ve also been recommended this iHome speakers. I’m still not sure which ones will be best. I’d love to hear from anyone who has already chosen speakers they are happy with, both for sound and portability.
I also hope that in future versions, the P2Go might be louder. When using other apps on the iPad, the sound is much stronger – which can be a bit of a pain, as we’ve cranked the volume to its highest point for the P2Go. So we can get a LOUD baby-waking shock of sound if a different LOUDER app is opened in its place.
Now on to the most important point:
EASE OF USE!!!!
I was most worried about the ability for S to accurately touch the item he wants to touch. And I was right to be worried. It’s tricky for him to not brush over other symbols with his hand as he aims for the item he’s after. You can adjust the settings so that you have to touch an item for anywhere between .25 of a second up to 3 seconds. We’ve set it at 3 seconds to avoid some of the accidental touches. It’s helped, but it’s not perfect. He also sometimes brushes over the ‘home’ button of the iPad itself. This bounces S out of P2Go altogether and to the home screen of the iPad. He finds this frustrating.
It helps a lot if I hold his wrist for him to keep his hand steady and up, off the device. We’ve also found that using other, simple fun apps are helping him with his accuracy and are also helping him to use the pad of his finger rather than the point which isn’t as effective. We’re still learning about all the great PLAY and LEARNING apps that are out there (and there are LOTS!) and I am sure S’s control will improve. But what we really, really would love for now so he has real independence with his communication straight away, is a keyguard. A keyguard is a plastic overlay with holes in it that you place over an AAC device, keyboard etc so that it makes it easier to not accidentally hit the wrong keys. Here’s an example of what they look like:
A US company called Lasered pics are making very reasonably priced keyguards for Proloquo2go and will ship them.
The only other downside is, as I mentioned earlier, the tabs when you are in typing mode are just too darn small AND probably even more problematic, the ‘back’ tab in the usual ‘grid’ mode is the same tiny size and can’t be enlarged either. I’m really hopeful than in the next version of P2Go they will be adjustable. On the plus side, the ‘toolbar’ at the bottom of the screen is quite big (and can be enlarged) and it’s easy for S to go ‘home’ from here if he has to.
Aside from these issues, S finds the P2Go reasonably easy to use. He’s still working his way around the page set we’ve created (and we’re still adjusting the page set and fine tuning it so it’s more user friendly and useful). And he often hits the same item more than once or has a few extra items than he’s intended, but he’s using more and more opportunities to bring the iPad loaded with a message to us to get our immediate attention.
Congrats if you’re still with me! I didn’t think this would be such a marathon post.
And there’s still more to say.
But I think that’s enough for now.
I will leave with a few links to bloggers who are blogging about their experience with the iPad and P2Go:
A site that features useful articles and reviews:
The RJ Cooper site I mentioned earlier, which has a few solutions to keeping the iPad safe and making it more accessible:
This interesting article about stress testing the iPad:
And this fab forum which is part of the P2Go website for problem solving P2Go issues. It’s heartening to see the P2Go ‘people’ are on the forum themselves responding to questions and concerns:
And of course the P2Go website itself which has lots of info, video samples, manuals etc:
Final thoughts for now?
It’s not perfect, but we’re really happy with the iPad and especially what P2Go could mean for S and for so many others given the relatively low cost and many features. I think future versions of both will be even better. Exciting times ahead!
I will post some better pics and hopefully a video or 2 of S using the iPad down the track. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything.