Getting Started with AAC

AAC Apps: Let's Get Personal!

Vicki Clarke
June 15, 2023

AAC Apps: Let's Get Personal!

Vicki Clarke
June 15, 2023

Communication device manufacturers have been doing an increasingly good job providing us with comprehensive communication systems.  

There are several excellent choices in the AAC application world that give us keyboards, 1000's of "fringe" words in categories and subcategories, topic based and functional pre-stored messages, and solid core vocabulary displays of our most frequently occurring words.  Morphological/syntax supports such as word endings (verb tenses) and cues for word ordering sentences are available on many AAC applications.  BUT, is the AAC application, even for a dedicated communication device truly a "out of the box- straight to the user" experience? Definitely not.  One of the most important features that a communication device needs is personally relevant, meaningful and motivating words and messages.  

Every person using AAC needs a way to talk about their family, their favorite leisure activities, favorite places to go, and subjects to discuss.  

As diligent as an AAC developer may be, they can't know this type of information about every user.  At the beginning of the AAC journey, this is one service professionals can help with the most! It is highly important that professionals offer to assist our families of AAC users in planning, and sometimes programming their AAC systems to include all of these highly relevant messages.

When I am called in to troubleshoot an AAC application that has "never worked" for an individual, I VERY often find that there isn't a single personal word or message anywhere in the system; no family photos, no Larabars or Snickers, no Six Flags or McDonalds.  At times we can drastically change a person's acceptance and willingness to use their AAC system simply by adding photos of these items.  We want to be thoughtful to put these items in places which are easily accessible, both cognitively and physically (not buried too deep but not taking up all the space on the Home page.)


  • Family Survey: Ask the family to give you lists of the person's favorite food items, names of important people, favorite/frequent places they go, leisure activities, favorite artists/characters, personal medical/hygiene items and anything else that is particularly important to the individual.
  • School Survey: Ask the school team members to contribute as well (think teachers, parapros, and therapists).  Get lists of classmates, teachers and staff, a schedule of the daily activities, subject taught, school places, classroom materials, routines and places/classes they go.
  • Personal Photos: Request photos of the people (yes, even when they get all shy on you). Important people photos are critical, so we rarely accept no for an answer on this one without a lot of discussion.  Consider google image searches for favorite artists, and community places. Generic symbols are wonderful because of their flexibility, but a photo of Mom beats that "mother" symbol any day!  You don't need photos of every personal word list item, but be thoughtful about the ones that matter to this specific individual. Generally people, favorite places and characters/artists are significant.
  • Programmer: Who's responsible? There isn't one correct answer to this question.  In most cases there is one person who takes a leadership role on customization. It may be a parent or sibling; a teacher or therapist; or if you are a member of our DTA Schools program, an AAC specialist or technician.  Be sure someone accepts responsibility for making sure it's done, and that the words are placed where they belong in the overall language/message organization of the system. DON'T let someone put all of these words on the Main/Home page.  There is simply not enough "real estate" there for a growing number of important words.

Development Resources


Word List Generation- a way to gather word lists from important people (person using AAC, their family & team; aka "the stakeholders").  We use a survey form for home and a separate one for school. If you have one of our DTA Schools facilitators, you can request our Google Forms versions of the Home Word List Survey and the Classroom Word List Survey which come right back to us.  If not, these are easy for you to create in Google Forms for your own district! We have added a way for families to add photos right into the Google Form sending them conveniently to our Google Drive!

AAC Device Desktop/Tablet Editing Programs are very helpful to allow you to begin customizing a system, without ever taking it out of the individual's hands!  This is particularly helpful if you are in the process of funding a device and the equipment hasn't arrived. Using the desktop version of the matching software, you can get the system ready to load and deliver the day the equipment arrives in your office! Here are some of our most commonly used programs:

  • TD a $50 program you can download on the Windows store.  It is the same program that runs on Tobii Dynavox communication devices.  This is the least expensive AAC program you can purchase that includes a comprehensive communication vocabulary system.  IF you own a dedicated Tobii Dynavox device, you also have access to a free copy of TD Snap.  Just download the free version onto your computer from the Tobii website.  Once you create an account and are logged in, choose DOWNLOAD and get your Windows version of the software.
  • Chat a free downloadable program for Windows which allows you to edit your students NovaChat or Chat Fusion device.  It comes as a non-speaking application BUT if you connect your student's device to your computer, it will start speaking!  This can be helpful for testing your modifications to make sure they say what you mean for them to say!
  • PASS NuVoice the software on Prentke Romich Accent devices.  Just like the above programs, it is meant for customizing a student's AAC device, AND, like the others, you can download and run it on your Windows computer too!  It has a limited amount of time it will speak but is ultimately a great way to customize your systems.
PRO TIP! Professionals, including SLPs, classroom teachers and AT Specialists who are supporting students using AAC can often get a free copy of these programs! Ask your company representative to find out if this is offered by software manufacturer!

Video Examples & Tutorials

  • TouchChat Support Videos This is a collection of video tutorials for the TouchChat App for the iPad which mimics the programming on the NovaChat devices.
  • Saltillo Chat Tutorials These are a collection of tutorials on many of the features and functions of the Chat Editor software- the editing software for the NovaChat devices and TouchChat application. Look at the Customizing Vocabulary section for adding your own words.

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