Alumna's app idea gives voice to those with speech difficulties

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Photo of screenshot of SpeechHero app.

Screen shot of app, courtesy of speechhero.com

KALAMAZOO—A Western Michigan University alumna's brainstorm has led to the creation of a new iPad app that can give voice to children and adults who have difficulty speaking.

Users simply tap one of SpeechHero's more than 6,000 "symbol tiles" and the application vocalizes the image displayed on the tile, whether it's a horse, an apple or the word "want," for instance.

The tiles represent a variety of actions, people and things that can also be strung together to create phrases or complete sentences.

The app is the result of a collaboration between Aynna Lloyd, who studied speech language pathology and audiology as an undergraduate at WMU, and app developer Drew McKinney, owner of Bloomingsoft.

Lloyd, now a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, works with children who have difficulty communicating due to a learning or cognitive disorder. Late last year, she asked McKinney, her cousin, to create an iPad app she could use for speech-therapy sessions.

Lloyd says that while there are other text-to-speech apps and devices on the market, she found them to be high-priced, difficult to use or featured a number of functions she didn't need.

"I really wanted him to make me a simplified AAC—augmentative and alternative communication—device for my iPad that I could use with my kids. The iPad is so common and it's not a big, bulky machine and it's easily accessible," Lloyd says.

"He said he'd like to make the app and market it." 

McKinney began working on the application in January and launched it on Sept. 1. It's available on Apple's App Store for $99.99.

Lloyd says that while SpeechHero was primarily designed to be used by educators and parents with schoolchildren, "it can be easily be used by anyone who has a communication disorder."

"We tested an elderly man with dementia who had word-finding difficulties. He was able to use the app and his wife was just so happy because the communication was much smoother. The tiles were a reminder to him. ... The iPad makes it so easy," Lloyd says.

Upgrades to the app, including SpeechHero for the iPhone, are already in development and should be out in coming months. And so that potential users can get a feel for how the app works before purchasing it, there will soon be a free version available, according to McKinney.

For more information, visit speechhero.com.