InnerVoice: Fun and Easy Communication App
The InnerVoice app is a revolutionary communication app with facial animation and emotional inflection on text-to-speech. Matthew Guggemos and Lois Jean Brady are speech language pathologists who built the InnerVoice app to help people with autism spectrum disorder communicate. The new version features a tutorial, a video sharing option, and robust app customization.
Easy-to-use communication app
Why create a communication app? Aren’t there plenty of those? While there are a lot of options for communication software and devices, there’s none like InnerVoice. As Matthew Guggemos explains, “Most of these communication devices you need an engineering degree to figure out. And the last thing you want is your child with autism screaming in frustration while you’re trying to learn new software.”
InnerVoice is about using the app to communicate – not learning how to use the app.
The brand new tutorial walks you through setting up your avatar with a provided picture or your own photo and choosing your voice. You create a sentence and then tap emoticons to choose the emotion. And that’s it. No complicated setup. No technical jargon. You can speak with your avatar almost immediately upon opening the app.
Learning with video modeling
Every day we communicate verbally and nonverbally. We show how we feel and place emphasis on words through body language and vocal inflections. The same sentence has different meanings depending on how it is delivered. For people with communication and social interaction difficulties, seeing and listening to how an avatar speaks is a beneficial learning tool called video modeling.
Video modeling is a method of teaching where the learner watches a video demonstrating a behavior or skill. Video takes the pressure off of the learner, because the learner does not have to engage with the teacher in the video.
Instead of a single video recording, InnerVoice is a dynamic video as the avatar animation and text-to-speech are made in real time. Plus, you can add words and personalize the avatar. When you add a picture of yourself for your avatar, you practice self-modeling, where you learn through watching yourself perform an action or skill. Since the avatar is always ready to speak, the learning possibilities are endless.
Sharing the fun
While InnerVoice was designed as a learning and communication tool, it’s also meant to be fun. Why is it so important to have fun? Matthew Guggemos answers, “We learn complex things better when we do so in a fun way. I don’t care how smart you are. If you’re listening to a lecture on high level statistics you’re not going to grasp everything as well as you would if you made it a game. It’s easier if you make it a game because it activates the reward center of your brain.”
The app is about what works for you. If you don’t like the way your avatar looks or talks, you can change it! Play around with adding photos of athletes, movie stars, or your pets. You can share videos of your talking avatar with friends and family as a fun way to keep in touch.
You can add buttons for as many words and phrases as you like. You can also add folders to organize your buttons. For instance, you can make an “Animals” folder and then have buttons for “dog,” “chicken,” and “horse.” The app comes with a wide selection of images and gifs that you can use to represent your words and phrases. You can also add your own photos.
The InnerVoice app takes it to the next level with gifs and videos. This feature is especially useful for showing action words. Take the verb “to walk.” You can add a gif of a person walking to your walk button. Moving images show the meaning of words instead of relying on text. They can also help differentiate between actions like walking, skipping, and running that look similar on a still image.
Another useful feature is the parts of speech color coding. “Horse” is a noun so the button will have a yellow outline. Verbs are pink. For a basic sentence, you have a noun and a verb, so yellow and pink, for “A horse walks.” The parts of speech color coding helps you piece together a sentence along with keeping your homonyms straight. You wouldn’t want to say, “A hoarse walks!”
For the avatar’s speech, you can choose to use a recording of your own voice or text-to-speech. Recording yourself speaking is another way to practice self-modeling. If you have a lot of words in the app, it can be time-consuming to record yourself for each word – consider it practice!
InnerVoice comes with text-to-speech voices powered by NeoSpeech. Text-to-speech is generated instantly and you can control the speech rate and pitch.
Communication for everyone
The original motivation behind making InnerVoice was to provide a communication tool for people with autism, but the app has become a resource for all non-verbal people. “There’s a bias that all non-verbal people have a cognitive disability,” says Matthew Guggemos, “That they can’t understand anything simply because they can’t talk. And that’s not true. Take Stephen Hawking for example. It looks like he’s staring off into the distance. But through his communication device we’re able to understand that there’s a lot going on in his mind. We’re trying to break this bias by helping non-verbal people communicate.”
Does that mean InnerVoice is only for non-verbal people? With the avatar customization and video sharing across platforms, it’s about communication for everyone. “With the Universal Design concept it’s making one thing everyone can use. That’s the gold standard,” says Matthew Guggemos, “Not making something and then making another version specific to disabilities. We want the avatars and the video clips you make to be funny. We’re making it cool for everyone to talk with an avatar.”
InnerVoice is so easy to use and anyone with an iOS device can use it. Read more about InnerVoice in their press release. InnerVoice is also affordable at a onetime price of $19.99.
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