Reviewed by A. Taylor, SLPAs
Abilipad (formerly Intellipad) is a one of a kind app and very difficult to describe. Is it a word processor? A writing app? A journal? An adaptive app for special needs? It truly is a hybrid of these- this app provides customizable keyboards, word prediction, text to speech, voice recording and picture support to encourage language and writing development.
The goal is to create custom keyboards to support learning in the classroom or at home. Its flexibility means it will appeal to a variety of users, from homeschoolers to special educators, to general education teachers. Teachers can use this to create simple writing prompts, or to create activities with more scaffolding through attaching photos, voice or entire sentences to a single keyboard button.
Customizable keyboards– add own text, voice and photos to keys
Sharing of Notepads/Keyboards with other Abilipad users
Emailing of Notepads
Printing of Notepads
Copying of Notepads
Text to Speech with Multilingual Support (quality Acapela voices- Each language has at least a male and female voice available; Text to Speech and alphabet letters are available for American English, British English, French, German, and Spanish.)
One of Abilipad’s coolest features is the sharing database, where users can download existing notebooks and keyboards that others are using in their homes and classrooms. As a busy parent or educator, having some pre-made boards to use a starting point is very welcome. There aren’t very many boards available yet, but as more people discover Abilipad, I am sure this database will grow.
Keyboards are easy to make as well- I was able to figure out how to merge cells (the keyboard “buttons”) easily so that an entire sentence could fit on a button, for example. To embed pictures into a keyboard button, you must first merge a minimum of four cells together, then you can add an image from your iPad Library. There is also a small Abilipad Starter Library as well. The included Text to Speech voices are of excellent quality, but adding your own voice to a key is also possible and a piece of cake.
You can also send notebooks with the images and written text created by the user (not the actual keyboards) through email. This is wonderful for sharing a student’s work with a parent, or vice-versa- a parent can send what their child has created to a teacher.
IDEAS FOR USE:
Experience sharing- Take a picture of what your student did that day and have the child write about it using the level of keyboard support needed… For a nonverbal child or a child who does not share about their day, this could be emailed to the parent. As a parent of a child who rarely offers information about his day, I guarantee this will be a hit!
Experience sharing- Enter pictures from a recent class field trip for students to write about.
Experience sharing- take pictures of your child doing his favorite things (eating a favorite snack, playing a game, etc.) Then have him/her write about it.
Writing prompts- Add a picture for students to use as a writing prompt.
Vocabulary activities- add pictures and create buttons with descriptive words, with synonyms, antonyms, homonyms and so on…
Grammar activities- use any of the above ideas to focus on present tense, past tense, prepositions etc. The possibilities are really endless.
Phonics activities- Color code the buttons so that vowel keys are one color, and consonant keys are another. You can also make keys for digraphs like “ph” and record the sound /f/ to that key. You could record short vowel sounds and long vowel sounds, changing the colors to differentiate between the two. (When using your keyboard from within a notepad, make sure you shut off the “Speak as you type” button off in the settings so the text to speech feature will not talk after the sounds you created)
Spelling Activities- make buttons with correct spelling and buttons with incorrect spelling to match images added to a notebook. If the child chooses the incorrect spelling, they will hear their mistake when they use the “speak” feature (unless you choose homophones, then you’re out of luck!)
Simple story retell/sequencing- Add a picture for visual support and have several different buttons with story elements on them (First…) (Then….)(Last…). Have the students press the buttons in the right order to recreate the story or sequence of events. Students can press the “Speak” button in the upper right hand corner of the screen to hear their “story” read aloud. This may help them determine whether the story is sequenced properly.
Articulation Practice- Insert pictures of words with your child’s target sound(s), then have the child write about them. You could assign one word per keyboard button- Your child can listen to the words through text to speech for auditory bombardment, or alternatively record his own voice/listen to your recorded voice- voice recording is done through the keyboard editing mode only. You could also have a child build words with an alphabet keyboard for practice. (See Phonics activities)
Navigating in Abilipad
When you open Abilipad, a toolbar with 9 buttons will appear at the top of a woodgrain screen- 7 of the 9 buttons are grouped on the top left side of the screen, the other two are on the far right.
The first button to get acquainted with in Abilipad is the Help button-this is the last of the buttons grouped on the left hand side- the question mark symbol. Here you can get a tutorial and overview of Abilipad’s features.
Through the Settings button- the wheel symbol- you can control the following features: Spell Check, Word Prediction, Text to Speech voices, and Speak as You Type.
The Email/Print/Copy button allows you to do just that- Email, print, or copy a Notepad!
To the immediate left of the Help button is the Notepad/Keyboard Sharing button. Here is where you can browse shared Notebooks/Keyboards from other users. Check here before you go reinventing the wheel. Downloading a premade activity is also a great way to learn about Abilipad’s capabilities first hand. Once have you become savvy at making your own activities, you can open one of your own and then go to this button to share it with others!
Once you’ve downloaded one of those shared activities into Abilipad, you can access it through the Notepad Folders button, which is the second button from the left. You can create new folders here as well, but you must create the keyboards that will be associated with those folders through the keyboard editing button embedded in the Keyboard Folders button. While Abilipad brings up a list of existing keyboards when you tap the keyboard tab, you cannot actually access them without first opening an existing notepad here through the Notepad Folder button. Then, you may load an existing keyboard by tapping the Keyboard Folder button, the third from the left.
You can add a new notepad,image,or page by tapping the Add Notepad button, which is the symbol in the far top left corner of the screen. You can easily create a notepad with multiple pages through the Create a New Page button embedded here- to view each page, just use a swiping motion. You can also use the Add a New Photo button to add a new photo to each page in your notepad. Within any notebook you can easily switch to another keyboard by tapping the keyboard symbol at the top left of the screen, tapping the name of the folder you want, and then the specific name of the keyboard. This means the same activity can be used with a variety of students- just change the keyboard to have the proper amount of support for the student, email the completed work, and set it up with a new keyboard for the next student.
On the far right top of the screen are two buttons- these are the Clear Text button, and the Speak button. These are used when a Notepad is open to delete text from the screen, or to speak the text aloud (this feature can be shut off or switched to a different language through the Settings button).
The Keyboard Folders button is where all your existing keyboards are found. This is also where you must go to create and edit keyboards. When you tap the Keyboard Folder button, a pop up window will appear. Through the button in the top right hand corner of this window, you can add a new folder to help organize your keyboards; through the Edit button in the top left hand corner, you can delete folders. You can tap on the folders in this pop up window to view a list of the keyboards nested in them, but you can only open them for use if you have opened a Notepad through the Notepad Folder first.
How do I make a new keyboard?-
To make a new keyboard, tap the Keyboard Folders button on the main screen. A new window will pop up with a list of your saved Keyboard folders. If you want your new keyboard to be grouped into an existing folder, tap the name of the folder you want it to save to, and then tap the Create Keyboard button in the top right hand corner of the next window. (See Keyboard Setup).
How do I edit an existing Keyboard?
This is quite easy, once you know the trick- you cannot open a keyboard to edit without first tapping the Keyboard Folders button in the top bar of the main screen, then, tapping the keyboard + symbol (as if making an entirely new one) and then tapping the title of the saved keyboard. It seems counterintuitive to do editing through this button, but if you try to jump to step three without first hitting the “make a new keyboard” symbol, it will think you just want to open it for use, not editing. (See Keyboard Setup)
Setup is fairly intuitive, but here are some tips that will make it even more of a breeze:
Main Buttons in Editing Mode–
Once in Keyboard editing mode, there are four main buttons at the top of the screen to help you navigate- the Keyboard Folder button, which allows you to select which keyboards to edit, Save Keyboard which will save the keyboard you are currently editing, Help – for tutorial/overview, and on the far right is a Return to Notepad button. After you have saved your work, you can jump to the Notepad screen, select a Notepad from the Notepad Folders button, and choose the Keyboard you just created.
When you first create a new keyboard, you will see the standard letter keys and symbols to choose from above, and a grid of blank buttons below (with exception to the five buttons along the bottom of the grid that remain permanent to every keyboard, and cannot be moved or removed. These are function keys and are inactive in Keyboard editor – Backspace, Capitalize, Spacebar, Keyboard bar, Return bar) To create a key, tap a blank button until it turns blue, then choose the key you want from the selection of keys at the top. You can select from Alphabet letters, numbers, and symbols. Right above the empty buttons is an editing bar. This editing bar contains three buttons on the left, a row of five buttons and a separate row of four buttons in the center, and two buttons on the far right of the bar. You can further modify the keys through these buttons.
Editing Bar Buttons:
The arrow symbol on the far left is for creating a key with a capital letter. Next to it is a spacebar symbol, which is essential for creating keys with a phrase or sentence. The third button from the left is a back button– use it to quickly erase the last letter or symbol entered on the key you are editing.
This is where the meat of your editing occurs. The first group of center buttons includes Color, Font, Text, Record, Picture. The second group of center buttons includes Merge Cells, Split Cells, Delete Cells, Clear Text.
When you tap the Color button, a pop up window will appear with a grid of available colors, a button to mix your own custom colors,a button to use built-in color templates, a button at the bottom to apply colors selectively and three options at the top of the pop up window to choose from- “Text”, “Background” or “Grid”. I can choose from 16 basic colors, or create one of a kind shades through the “Custom Colors” button. Choose your color and then tap “text” to change only the text color. “Background” will change the color of the button itself, but not the text. “Grid” will change the color of the gaps between the buttons. These changes will be applied to the entire keyboard, unless you choose the button at the bottom of the window on “Apply only to selected keys”. With this option you can apply color to two buttons at a time. If you prefer, you can access 11 premade color schemes by selecting the “Color Templates” button. (Current color schemes available are Scholarly, Night Vision, Cool as a Cucumber, Alert and Energized, Calm and Focused, Banana Float, Strawberry Shortcake, Water Colors, Red Dragon, Autumn Oak, Purple Pleaser)
The Font button allows you to choose from 11 different fonts (Arial, Chalkduster, Courier, D’Nealian Style, Heiti SC, Helvetica Neue, Marker Felt, Noteworthy, Times New Roman, Verdana and Zaner-Bloser style)
The third symbol, Letter Size , controls the size of the text on the buttons, which you can control through a slider bar. The size of the text you choose for the buttons correlates with the size of the text in the Notepad.
The fourth symbol is the Audio button. This allows you to record your own voice to keys. If you forget to select the button you want to record a mesage for, it will remind you. If you don’t record audio, another option is to select Text to Speech from the Settings button on the main screen.
The fifth symbol is the “Add Picture” button. In order to add a picture to a cell, you must first merge four buttons to make a cell large enough to accomodate an image(see Merge button)
Next is the Merge Cells button. Highlight two adjacent cells in blue and click the Merge cells to create one single cell in place of two. You can merge cells to make keys as big as you want, but only two cells can be merged at a time- keep repeating the process two cells at a time until you have created the size you want.
Split Cells button
If you want to unmerge cells, highlight the merged key in blue and click this button to undo the merging and return the cells to their normal size. You can unmerge one key at a time.
Delete Cells button
If you want a blank space between keys, you can highlight a key cell in blue, and press the Delete cells. Any text, voice or image will be deleted from the key, and it will become part of the grid surrounding the keys.
Clear Text button
You can also use the back button on the left hand side to delete characters one at a time, but this button will clear text (and an image on it as well) all at once, but allow the key itself to remain. This button will not clear any voice that you have attached to the key.
On the right side of the editing bar are two arrows. The first curves toward the left and is your undo button. The second curves to the right and is your redo button. These are handy when you’ve just made a mistake.
(I am quite picky and always have a wish list, so take this with a grain of salt- I really love this app!)
When editing, I would love to have a keyboard in standard qwerty order available- the current editing keyboard is abc order. I would also love to have a “swap” button. Sometimes when I am editing I realize I would like to move a button elsewhere. Currently the only fix I know of is to delete the button and recreate a new one in the location I want. If there is a way to swap buttons, I would love to know!
I would love to select more than 2 buttons at a time to merge, or to edit color for as many buttons as I would like at the same time. Currently I can select up to two buttons to color at the same time, or select all buttons to color at the same time, but there are no options in between.
I would love to clone a button- especially when I am editing an existing keyboard and trying to match the exact same shade of “reddish pinkish orange” that I want- a clone button would we wonderful instead of having my newest buttons be a shade or two off of the others. Perhaps there could be a library of saved custom colors too?
When I save a keyboard I have to type in a new name each time- which means I can end up with four different “same name” keyboards! ( I can delete the older versions however. I would like it to automatically pull up a list of saved boards, and then give me the opportunity to save over an existing file, or save as a new file.
I would also like some kind of “disable mode” where a student would not be able to press the buttons to add to or change projects. For example, from the main screen I can touch the notepad button in the top left hand corner, and create a new notepad, photo or page. This is useful for me personally, but I would like to see a button where you can shut these creation features off for this area of the app. This way Abilipad could be more accessible and better used in a centers type setting.