Special Needs App of the Day – Pictello

Special Needs App of the Day – Pictello

This review is courtesy of Wynsum Arts’ Every App Has a Story, the stories behind Wynsum Arts’ distinguished apps.

“We looked at existing story apps but nothing created a way to ‘page through’ a story, repeating a message as often as needed.”

– Jennifer Marden, developer of Pictello

Pictello is a 2012 Apps of Distinction recipient. Congratulations to the AssistiveWare team!

In one of our recent posts, we talked with David Niemeijer of AssistiveWare about his AAC app Proloquo2Go. He started the company after developing technology to make a computer accessible to a friend who became paralyzed from the neck down. His reputation for innovation in assistive technology has led to many partnerships, including one with Jennifer Marden, who brought her social stories app to AssistiveWare.

Niemeijer says, “For quite some time, I had wanted a companion app to Proloquo2Go for visual storytelling, but I lacked the time to develop it. In 2009, I met Jennifer, who had been working on something like this. I offered her to bring her project to AssistiveWare. We continued working on the app for almost a year, adding support for text to speech, a wizard mode for creating stories so that kids could easily make their own stories, a nice user interface with attractive artwork, etc. It was released as Pictello in the fall of 2010.”

We talked with Jennifer about how she came to create the app.

Why Did You Develop Pictello?

Jennifer Marden: A friend of mine, who has a teenage son with autism, wanted to find a social stories app for the iPod Touch. Her son needed to go to the local hospital for a sleep study, and such appointments are very difficult for him unless he knows exactly what will be happening in advance, with many opportunities to review and rehearse the information.

My friend took photos of her other son going through the steps of the sleep study and created a book. But she wanted a way to put all this material into the iPod, paired with her recorded voice telling the story. We looked at existing apps and at ways to make narrated movies on the Mac, but nothing allowed her son to ‘page through’ the story at his own pace, repeating a message on a page as often as he needed to.

I am a speech-language pathologist now, but I was a computer programmer for 14 years for Hewlett-Packard. I had free time over the school summer vacation, so I joined the Apple developer program, learned iOS programming, and came up with the precursor to Pictello. I was beta testing it for release, and came into contact with AssistiveWare. David Niemeijer, AssistiveWare’s CEO liked the app, and asked me to work with him to develop it through AssistiveWare. It’s been a very fruitful collaboration and an enjoyable two and a half years.

What Does Pictello Do?

Jennifer Marden: People use Pictello for simple daily schedules, to deliver the “facts of the day” message to typically developing peers, to share stories about vacation trips during morning circle, to share important events between home and school, and to promote social conversation and sharing. Pictello has also been used to reinforce literacy, academics, and auditory processing skills through its combination of visual, text, and auditory supports.

We have added support for sharing stories in various ways – as Pictello stories with sound and page turning interactions, and as PDF files, which can be emailed or printed. We have made the application multilingual, with the user interface localized in half a dozen languages, including Spanish, and free access to 50 natural sounding voices in 23 different languages and dialects.

Pictello is also unique in that it has two different ways to write a story. In Wizard mode, the user is walked through each step of the process, with visual cues and auditory help messages available at each step. This interface has been successful in allowing people with minimal literacy skills to write simple stories independently, and those with who have not yet developed minimal literacy can still accomplish most of the writing steps with some assistance. In Expert mode, stories can be written a bit more quickly, and the user can control things like the text font and size, and copy and paste pages between stories.

Wynsum Arts’ mission is supported through the purchase of apps from i.AM Search – available in iTunes. That’s how we can do what we do for free!

Amazing awaits.

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