Grand Rapids-area space camp special educator launches iPad app

The Grand Rapids-area special educator featured in the ABC TV film about Space Camp has launched an iPad app to help those who cannot speak.

Robynn McKinney is perhaps best known for her portrayal in the film 'A Smile as Big as the Moon' as the plucky young educator who fights the establishment to get her special needs students a NASA-quality education. McKinney is now launching an App, called SpeechHero, to give a voice to the voiceless.

SpeechHero is an iPad app which allows non-verbal kids and adults to tap their way to spoken communication. Instead of showing kids text, SpeechHero provides symbolic image tiles to represent actions, people and things. The non-verbal user than taps these tiles to build phrases and speak them.

While there are a number of other more expensive technologies available, they require dedicated hardware and training. SpeechHero is unique in that it is one of the few which kids report enjoy using. "We've tested with over 40 students, speech therapists and educators", said McKinney. "in our testing, it is the only speech app that kids are excited to use. They tell us that that competing apps are either too difficult, too confusing or too boring."

McKinney partnered with premier voice technology company Acapela to provide natural speech delivery for the app. SpeechHero contains 7 different voices that take advantage of pauses, intonation and punctuation to provide a naturalistic voice experience.

SpeechHero launches August 29th at the price of $99.99. "We've been told by other vendors that our price is too low," said McKinney. Indeed, other apps charge about double this price, and specially-made hardware can cost upwards of $20,000. "Shouldn't everyone have access to this technology? I think so." said McKinney.