Unable to communicate with his non-verbal sister who has a rare genetic condition affecting her ability to speak, a 17-year-old from Cypress, Texas, coded an app called ‘Freespeech’ that allows people to communicate with visual symbols — making the app completely open source and free!
Texas Teen Creates free App To Speak With Non-Verbal Sister
Unable to communicate with his non-verbal little sister Della, who suffers from Bainbridge-Ropers syndrome (a rare genetic condition that affects her ability to eat, move and speak), 17-year-old Archer Calder, from Cypress, Texas, coded an app called Freespeech that allows people to communicate through buttons with visual symbols that represent different words, then made the app completely open source and free.
Texas Teen Creates free App for Non-Verbal Sister
Della Calder, 14, has Bainbridge-Ropers syndrome and uses a combination of hand signals and short sounds to talk to her family. He elder brother, Archer Calder, 16, told CNN he was frustrated with the augmentative and alternative applications provided to Della and decided to take matters into his own hands. He also said some programs costs hundreds of dollars which can put a financial strain on families.
"She wants to communicate like everybody else. And just imagine how hard it would be if you couldn’t communicate by talking to people," Archer said.
Archer created a web-based application called "Freespeech." It allows users to input images of their choice that represent words. All you have to do is click the image of the word you want to say, and the website says it out loud. The app is easily editable, something Archer noticed a lot of other applications lacked.
"Della’s interests come and go. We need to be able to add buttons for all the Clarence characters and add all the Addams Family characters and then take them off when she loses interest. These are the things she wants to talk about," Archer and Della’s dad, Chad Calder , said of Della’s favorite TV shows.
"Freespeech" is free for anyone to use, thanks to Archer. He put the website on GitHub , a code-hosting platform. He has worked with other coders who have helped him implement more add-ons to the app, like a password or the ability to make it accessible offline. Continued below…
Open source and completely Free for anyone to use
By using GitHub, Archer was able to connect with other coders who contributed their code to add different features to the project.
"For example, Della is really mischievous. She goes into the app, and she wants to delete everything and edit everything, so I realised we needed a passcode feature," Archer told CNN.
After posting about his needs on GitHub, a group of coders was quickly able to build a password option into Freespeech.
Archer also took to TikTok to post about his new application, hoping it might reach other families like his who might find it useful. The response was overwhelming.
"When I first made my first video, I only expected it to receive a few hundred views. And when it received a million views, I got a lot of comments congratulating me… I kind of felt this sense of imposter syndrome," Archer said. "The good part about it was…it got a lot of eyeballs on the project and I got a lot of contributors who wanted to contribute their code."
For Archer, Freespeech is still a work in progress. He’s currently working on plans to make the software available to use without an internet connection, something he sees as a drawback.
He said he’s motivated to keep working on the project, not only for Della, but by the dozens of people who have since reached out to share how the app has helped their own families.
"I remember one email. It was a parent talking about a kid that they had that was around my age at the time, who was able to talk about their special interests, and their favorite video games for the first time because of the app… It meant that through my efforts, I was able to help give someone else a voice," Archer said. "I was very proud of that."
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