A collaborative team from IIT Bombay and the IDC school of design have developed an app to that serves as a learning and communication device for people with speech disabilities. The concept was a part of an IIT Bombay students’ project in 2004 and has, since then, evolved from a physical aid mechanism to a free app that can be used on any android device.
“The unique thing about the app is that it takes into account emotions by using expressive buttons,” says Professor Ravi Poovaiah, one of the project investigators of the app. Jellow has six key buttons — like, dislike, want, don’t want, more and less — along with an extensive vocabulary which make it easier for a child with speech difficulty to communicate. To avoid error, the app also repeats out loud whatever is typed into it.
The team had faced difficulties in the app’s conceptualisation as the “touch interface” was not so common at the time. The concept was presented at the Microsoft Expo in 2004 and was later turned into a website in 2008. With the rising of tablets and touch screen phones, the team could finally focus on bringing forward a touch-based app.
From 2015, the team which included professors, students and professions from both IDS school of design and IIT Bombay, did a lot of user studies. With the feedback, the entire content from the website was revamped.
“Before it was created specifically for children with cerebral palsy,” says Dr Sudha Srinivasan, who is involved in the app’s research, vocabulary development, and user studies, “Now it has expanded to be used by anyone with expressive and speech problems.”
The app is not only a communication device, but can also be used as a tool for learning. Although there are other AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) apps around the world, the Jellow Communicator is the only one that is designed to suit Indian users, taking into account the country’s socio-cultural practices.
“For instance, other apps might have things like waffles and pancakes in food items,” says Dr Sudha, “But what we eat here is dal, chawal, khichdi and so on. So, we are concentrating on creating content on the app that Indian kids with such disabilities can relate to.”