Families of individuals who have conditions that make it difficult or impossible for them to communicate verbally can attest to the fact that going through diagnosis and treatment can be astronomically expensive.
So, when the tools and apps that can facilitate communication for those with verbal difficulties come with a hefty price tag, it can be frustrating and feel unfair.
This was the case for the Calder family, who have a nonverbal 14-year-old daughter named Della with a rare genetic condition called Bainbridge-Ropers Syndrome. Her 16-year-old brother, Archer, was shocked at the prices for the apps while scrolling through the app store.
Like many families who have a child with a disability, the Calder family had already exhausted their funds on unaffordable medical care. According to Caitlin Calder, Archer, and Dell’s mother, she realized early on that her daughter “needs more than what the state is willing to offer, so [they] started paying for things on [their] own.”
After all his family had been through, the last thing Archer wanted was for more money to be spent on something that he believes should be accessible to all who need it, because as he says, “it’s not just the app,” that has to be paid for, “it’s also the tablet and all that comes with it.”
Archer wanted to help his family and others like them, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and develop a free app of his own in January 2020. The result is Freespeech, an assistive communicative application that allows people to communicate through pressing visual buttons.
The ambitious teen coded the first version of Freespeech and posted it on TikTok, where it got a lot of exposure and attention. This eventually led more experienced developers to contribute their support through an open-source code-sharing platform called GitHub.
Through the app, Della, and others with similar speech difficulties, can press a button with a word and corresponding image to sound the word. She can also string different tiles and words together to create a sentence.
The Freespeech app is a wonderful supplement to the other ways Della communicates and provides a way for her to get specific about her meaning. Her family and friends encourage her to use the app, even if they can infer what she wants to say, and as time goes on, Archer says, “She’s becoming… a little bit more understanding of how it can help her… every day’s a little bit more progress.”
Archer hopes that he can continue to enhance and refine the app and will work to keep it free and accessible to all, because he can imagine that, just like him, other families like theirs “just want to see [their loved ones] do better and be happier.”