SwiftKey Symbol: Keyboard for autistic and other “non-verbal” users

This is a company on a mission

SwiftKey Symbols keyboard app autism Ryan Barnes
Credit: SwiftKey’s Ryan E. Barnes

SwiftKey has a new keyboard app: Symbol. It’s not a conventional QWERTY typer, but a visual-based system, aimed at non-verbal autistic people, and others with special needs.

And because it’s got SwiftKey’s AI built in, it’s unlike anything else that uses pictograms. It learns from the user, in a surprisingly deep way (or so says product manager Ryan Barnes—pictured).

It’s free and available now for Android.

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Is she Harry’s sister? Kirsty Styles waxes symbolic, in Swiftkey launches Symbols to help people with non-verbal autism communicate:

Symbols...opens up a different way for...non-verbal people...to communicate.

[It’s] particularly geared towards youngsters with autism, who may struggle with social interaction.

Swiftkey...has combined its predictive language keyboard tech...with a range of hand-drawn everyday symbols to ensure speedy access to the right image at the right time.

Swiftkey’s technology is already being used by Professor Stephen Hawking and Israeli startup Click2Speak, to address the needs of people with mobility issues.

That sounds pretty awesome. Cam Bunton calls it an AI-powered tool to help non-verbal people communicate:

SwiftKey is no stranger to releasing innovative communication products. ... Like the regular text-based keyboard, it can predict which image comes next based on your typing history and on its AI-powered learning.

They wanted to build a free app which could [help] people with learning and talking difficulties...communicate with their carers and others with similar difficulties.

Having worked in the care industry with people who have both learning and talking difficulties...I can appreciate how incredible this could be. ... [It] could help massively [and] bring freedom and ease of communication like they may not have experienced before.

Of course, image-based communication tools for people on the spectrum aren’t new. But SwiftKey’s Ryan Barnes explains how Symbols is uniquely different—SwiftKey launches SwiftKey Symbols: an assistive app for good:

A lot of the current communication tools [are] too slow to select a particular image. ... We realized that SwiftKey’s core prediction and personalization technology...would be a natural fit. [It] learns from each individual as they use it.

Only SwiftKey Symbols attempts to simplify finding the right symbols through machine learning. [It] complements routine-based activity and learns from each individual’s behavior to surface images relevant to them quickly.

One key feature...is that it factors in the time...and day of the week. ... For example, if the child has music class on Tuesdays at 11:00am, and has previously selected symbols during that time, these will appear as predicted symbols

A small team of SwiftKey staff, some with experience with autism in their families, came up with the idea.

So what else is out there? Arielle Duhaime-Ross rounds it up—SwiftKey launches symbol-based communication app for people who are non-verbal:

Apps like Proloqui2Go and TouchChat also rely on pictograms. ... But these tools can be expensive.

In the US, about two in 100 children have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. ... We haven't tried the app yet — but we're eager to see what it can do.

Whoop-whoop! Dat’s da sound of Martim Lobao—SwiftKey Launches SwiftKey Symbols, A Keyboard For People With Speaking Disabilities:

SwiftKey wants to get the keyboard into the hands of everyone who needs it. ... The app is completely free — there aren't even any in-app purchases.

If you have someone close to you who might benefit from using SwiftKey Symbols or just want to try it out yourself, go ahead and download it from the Play Store.

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