Is there an app for that? Signing apps relevant to the Australian context.

Quite often I get asked whether there is an app to teach Key Word Sign in Australia. The short answer is “no” – however, there are apps that you can use as a reference to learn the Auslan signs which are then used when communicating using Key Word Sign and Gesture – confused?!?! – well read on!

As you may know, Key Word Sign (formerly Makaton) is the form of signing that we use when working with children and adults with communication difficulties. It has shown to be effective with people with autism, physical disabilities, intellectual disability and developmental delay. When we use key word sign and gesture for communication we borrow the signs from the native language of the Deaf community (which is Auslan in Australia) but we use the principles of Key Word Sign which are:

  • Always use speech together with the sign
  • Speak in normal, grammatical sentences
  • Sign only the key words in the sentence
  • Use facial expression and body language
  • Use directionality and placement
  • Teach signs that are relevant

While the following apps are specifically referred to as Auslan resources – this is OK because we know that for Key Word Signing we borrow the signs from Auslan. So you can use these apps to see how to produce the correct sign and then apply the principles of Key Word Sign.

RIDBC Auslan Tutor: has been designed to assist families of young deaf children learn Auslan. More than 500 signs are included, with each sign having five entries including a photo of the handshape, a video clip of the sign in isolation, in a phrase, in a sentence and a note about the Auslan grammar.

RIDBC Auslan Tutor: Key Signs – a FREE version of the app described above with 150 key signs was released in 2010 to mark the 150 anniversary of the Royal Insitute for Deaf and Blind Children. It includes a photo of the handshape of each sign and a video clip demonstrating how each sign is produced. It is a fabulous resource to use as a reference for some of the key signs you will need every day.

RIDBC have also released the Old Macdonald app which is a favourite of mine and the first in a five part series of “Songs for Listening and Language” which, according to the iTunes store, are coming soon.

Baby Sign and Learn: This app is designed to teach your baby signs and so the vocabulary is suited to young children but includes some of the interactive signs. There is a free version that gives you only a few signs to sample and then you can purchase a version with around 100 signs in your country’s native sign language. It has an animated character that produces the sign and a flashcard section and quiz.

Auslan Let’s Sign: There are three apps available in the Auslan Let’s Sign series (Family & People; Feelings, Health & Manners; Fingerspelling). They are really a book with pictures of signs belonging to the category and some instruction on using them with people with special needs.


Key Word Sign Australia

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About Katie Lyon

Katie is a speech pathologist and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) consultant who has been working with young children and adults with complex communication needs for the past 13 years. She has had worked in various roles including Coordinator of the Non-electronic Communication Aid Scheme and Regional Communication Service in Victoria as part of the state-wide Communication Access Network. She has a keen interest in supporting families, teachers, direct support workers and therapists to access information about AAC and assistive technology through education and training. She currently works part-time with Spectronics and part-time with the Communication Resource Centre at Scope in Victoria.

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