Our story started when I was working as a speech pathologist, supporting students who use AAC at school. Learning to read is challenging for both students who use AAC and their teachers. This is because best practice recommends phonics instruction, but the difficulty is that this type of instruction assumes students are able to participate verbally. Clearly for my students the answer lay in programming AAC systems to support their participation in instruction. Whilst supporting students to read single words is reasonably straightforward, supporting literacy development when students start reading connected text in books is far more challenging.
I wanted my students to benefit from the same learning opportunities as their classmates. I wanted them to experience joy of sharing books, the sense achievement of working out a word by sounding it out, and the pride of independently reading aloud a book.
My difficulty was that I couldn't meet my goals by programming existing AAC systems. In fairness they were never designed to meet the communication demands of reading. There was no capability to incorporate sounding out, the amount of time it took to enter all the book vocabulary was impractical, and the vocabulary layout required too many button presses to support reading fluency. So, frustrated with the existing situation I teamed up with my “retired” Dad, Richard to design an AAC prototype for reading. We would design an AAC system that incorporated sounding out, had a redesigned grid layout to maximise reading fluency, and provided pre-entered vocabulary so that once the app was set up for a student they could simply purchase a book, download it and start reading.
Like many things, this was simple in theory and far more complex in design! So here we are eight years later, after several prototypes, with considerably more grey hair; and now with a fabulous team of very clever and patient software engineers.
We hope that the launch of AacapellaRead will greatly improve the communication and instructional support needed to ensure that all students who use AAC can participate in literacy instruction. This is only the beginning - we will continue to refine our app and broaden our range of books and access options so that every student who uses AAC has the opportunity to learn to read.