SwiftKey is no stranger to releasing innovative communication products. In fact, its original keyboard for Android (at time of launch) was arguably the smartest and best virtual keyboard for word prediction and customization. The app it launched this week has potential to be even more innovative, even if only a small percentage of people actually use it. SwiftKey Symbols has been designed to help people on the Autistic Spectrum, particularly non-verbal people, to communicate using images to build phrases…

Like the regular text-based keyboard, it can predict which image comes next based on your typing history and on its AI-powered learning. The idea was born when several of SwiftKey‘s team members — some of whom have experienced autism in their families — decided to build an assistive app using SwiftKey’s prediction and contextual language technology as a base. They wanted to build a free app which could be used by people with learning and talking difficulties, and help them better communicate with their carers and others with similar difficulties.

Like some of its other Greenhouse beta apps like SwiftKey Neural, SwiftKey Symbols uses machine learning prediction to simplify the process of finding the right symbols and images:

A lot of the current communication tools on the market are often too slow to select a particular image a child might choose. We realized that SwiftKey’s core prediction and personalization technology – which learns from each individual as they use it – would be a natural fit for people on the autistic spectrum who respond particularly well to routine-based activity. Although other apps make it easy to define favorites, only SwiftKey Symbols attempts to simplify finding the right symbols through machine learning prediction. The ability to provide the technology free is also a huge benefit to this community where assistive tools can be costly and inaccessible.

Images used in the app are hand-drawn by a member of SwitfKey’s team, and can be selected from a set of categories, or by using the prediction slider on top. What’s more, users can create their own cards by adding images and categories and use audio playback for its text-to-speech feature which reads out a sentence for the user.

Having worked in the care industry with people who have both learning and talking difficulties in an age when we didn’t even have smartphones, I can appreciate how incredible this could be for some carers, and those they care for. For someone who can’t speak to easily and quickly be able to type out a sentence could help massively. This type of tool can bring freedom and ease of communication like they may not have experienced before.

You can download the app for free from the Play Store. It works with any Android device running OS version 4.4 or later.

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