Empowering kids
with accessible technologies 

Snap + Core First leverages Windows 10 touch and visual features for its symbol-based interface
that empowers students with disabilities to communicate

Snap + Core First

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Snap + Core First is a symbol-based communication app that lets users start communicating quickly and stay engaged.

A big reason we went with Windows 10 was because of the visual and touch capabilities of UWP—those UI elements are a great fit for our user base, which is primarily kids with communication disabilities.
—Bob Cunningham, Vice President of Products and Development

In her first-grade classroom, Danica Hiltz sits happily at her desk, peering at her teacher from behind her glasses and locks of blond hair. She’s wearing her perpetual smile because she’s always content to be in class. But learning at the pace of her peers has been a struggle since she entered Hopewell Elementary School a few years ago. Danica has global apraxia, which makes it hard for her to speak and impedes her motor coordination. As a result, she often needs extra time to learn and process information. 

Making learning easier for Danica and other children with speech and language disabilities are hardware and software designed specifically for them. Tobii Dynavox is pioneering the development of communication tools, producing apps and devices for individuals with Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other conditions that cause speech disabilities.

In her classroom, Danica uses Tobii Dynavox’s Snap + Core First, a symbol-based communication app that provides voice output when she touches one of its many symbols. Using it to talk with her teacher and classmates, Snap + Core First reinforces the connection between motor, auditory and visual inputs to help Danica improve her communication skills. Aiming to provide their users with the best interaction available, developers at Tobii Dynavox chose the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) of Windows 10 for Snap + Core First.

Leveraging touch and visual powers of UWP 

Kids like Danica who have limited motor control benefit from the large touch targets in Snap + Core First. Danica can toggle between pages of color-coded symbols, then select multiple images with words to string together a sentence that her device speaks aloud. Non-verbal individuals also use Snap + Core First, executing commands with the help of switch scanning or eye gaze tracking. The app helps users build vocabulary and literacy skills by teaching words through symbols in a systematic and purposeful way. 

“We could have built our app in Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) or Win32, but UWP made it easy for us to build a robust touch app with smooth, swiping features,” said Bob Cunningham, Vice President of Products and Development. “WPF and Win32 are built for a screen and mouse, but because many of our Snap users lack fine motor control, easy touch targets are a critical element for us, and UWP made it happen. The UWP framework helps us support all of our users, whether their preferred input method is touch, eye gaze, or switch scanning.”

Cunningham and his team also leveraged UWP animations for a modern look and feel, and smooth transitions within Snap + Core First. Windows Runtime animations enable developers to create fast, fluid transitions between UI states that inform, but don’t distract the user. 

Microsoft Store frees up time for more app development

Because Snap + Core First is a UWP app, Tobii Dynavox was able to utilize the Microsoft Store as a distribution channel. Having the Store handle components like licensing and distribution freed up Cunningham’s team so they could focus on app development.  

“In the course of building a product, you deal with licensing, distribution models and installers. But with Windows 10, the Store takes care of all that,” Cunningham said. “Not having to deal with those added steps was freeing—it let us just build the software.” 

As a result, the Microsoft Store enables Tobii Dynavox to quickly deliver app updates to its customers. “I love that we don’t have to worry about people having a device that’s not up to date,” Cunningham said. “And upgrades are seamless to users. We’re able to deploy these packaged flights so easily—getting new builds to teachers and parents when they need them.”

Because many of our Snap users lack fine motor control, easy touch targets are a critical element for us, and UWP made it happen.
—Bob Cunningham, Vice President of Products and Development

Finding the best fit for parents and teachers with Windows devices 

To ensure its products meet customers’ needs, Tobii Dynavox works directly with users to understand the best ways to engineer not only software, but also hardware. For several years, students accessed Snap + Core First on traditional tablets. But with their slim shape and limited audio, some users struggled to hold the tablets and couldn’t hear voice output from the app. After seeing these limitations, Tobii Dynavox decided to design its own device.

In 2017 they released the Indi—a Windows tablet that’s affordable for teachers and parents, with enhanced audio, packaged into an easy-to-hold shape. The Indi is thicker than a traditional tablet, at more than 1 inch deep. 

“Going with Windows for our Indi devices allowed us to participate in the speech tablet market and deliver an affordable option for our users,” Cunningham said. “The Indi is our fastest-selling product in its first year.”

The Indi ships with Windows 10 and the built-in Windows Defender Antivirus to keep devices protected against software threats like viruses and malware.

“We used to have a third-party solution that handled security, but the deployment process wasn’t smooth,” Cunningham said. “Windows Defender Antivirus has been great. It’s much less resource-intensive in terms of memory and processor requirements. It’s unobtrusive and just works.”

Using the Indi in the classroom lets special education students learn with devices like the rest of their classmates. 

“Kids are used to screens and devices, and know how to put technology to work so they can learn faster than before,” said Grace Nah, Global Marketing Director. “When kids grasp information quickly—especially kids in a special ed classroom—it ultimately saves teachers time. That’s our end goal: developing technology that empowers students and gives time back to teachers.”