The unparalleled popularity of the (iOS) platform coupled with the impressive speed with which apps (including those that have been specifically designed to augment communication) are being produced has resulted in many practitioners forgoing, or at least temporarily suspending, established clinical assessment strategies. (Gosnell, et al. 2011)
Feature matching is the systematic process by which a person’s strengths, abilities and needs are matched to available tools and strategies (Shane & Costello, 1994). It is an important part of any AAC assessment. Whether it be for low tech communication systems, speech generating devices or for the growing number of apps that are now available, feature matching is an essential step to ensure you are making the right decision about the many tools available for that individual.
So, now let’s take it one step down the track – you’ve determined through a thorough clinical assessment that the iDevice platform offers the hardware features that your client requires, for example, being an integrated system which is portable and light weight. The next step is to select the most appropriate app (or software) to load on to the device to meet their communication needs – now that is where it can get really difficult!
Every app has different features including those such as the voice output possible, the vocabulary available and the access options it offers – just to name a few! Matching the person to the app that is most appropriate for their skills and abilities requires careful consideration of the various features in a systematic way.
In addition to the apps lists that exist, some comparing features, such as Jane Farrall’s apps for AAC list, there are some AAC app feature matching charts available for download on the net which might meet your needs, and here is a selection of the ones I have found to be most suitable and comprehensive:
- Boston Children’s Hospital: Jessica Gosnell has developed a very comprehensive feature matching chart for use with multiple apps which can be downloaded as a PDF. This page also has case examples and a video demonstration of the chart in action, as well as some related articles discussing feature matching in more detail.
- Crawford, S. & Watson, P.: Have also developed an Apps feature matching chart which considers key features of multiple apps.
- Kelly Fonner and Scott Marfilius have also created a feature match checklist resource for a variety of assistive technology, including apps – I’m sure you will find this really valuable for evaluating all types of technology.
- There has also recently been a great article posted on Speechie Apps on this topic and is well worth a look.
- Carole Zangari from PrAACtical AAC (which is a fabulous resource in itself!) has written a great Blog Post on the topic of app selection resources and has listed those apps which come in a FREE or LITE version, which can be a handy way to try the app with your client to ensure it is the correct choice before going ahead. Carol has also developed a Rubric for Evaluating the Language of Apps for AAC (RELAAAC) which is a really useful tool for scoring the capacity of the language and communication functions of the app you are considering in more detail. I also really like her 5 things to do before you choose an AAC app: Take A GULP.
I have also developed a very basic apps feature matching worksheet designed to be used as a feature checklist when reviewing an individual app, highlighting key features and functions. I use this in training and education sessions with students or therapists who are really new to the world of apps and need a basic screening tool when evaluating apps. Feel free to use this in your workshops and training sessions if you think it will be useful!
I trust the information and resources above will assist you in developing a mental framework of your own to begin your clinical decision making process when considering an app for the children and adults with communication difficulties that you support.
Gosnell, J., Costello. J., & Shane, H. (2011). Using a clinical approach to answer “What communication apps should we use?” Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 87–96.
Shane, H., & Costello, J. (1994) Augmentative communication assessment and the feature matching process. Mini-seminar presented at the annual convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, New Orleans, LA.