Communication aids are crucial tools in special needs education. John Galloway reviews a welcome newcomer – Smooth Talker
Smooth TalkerThe Smooth Talker: clarity and versatilityAs a simple communication aid the new Smooth Talker, from Inclusive Technology, is a welcome development in two ways. For a start there is the sound quality, which is less muffled than its predecessors, providing a crispness and clarity that will make expression and understanding easier. Then there's its versatility.

Devices such as this have been with us for a while. The Big Mac, for instance, offers a quick and simple way for an adult to record a message that a child can replay with one press of the button. This works well for those who are non-verbal, so they can join in activities – registration for instance. A quick "Here, miss," or "Good afternoon, everyone," and the pupil with a speech disability is put on the same footing as the rest of the class.

From here progression has previously been by providing another device that gives a series of messages that build up with each press. Or one that gives two buttons for alternative messages. What the Smooth Talker does is to provide both these options, and more, in one device.

Versatility comes with five modes of operation

There are five modes on offer. The ‘sequential’ mode clicks through a series of messages in order, or you can choose ‘random’ mode to hear them in any order – handy for creating a talking dice for example. ‘Prompt’ mode plays a single message selected from any number recorded and just plays that one until it is changed. Then there is the option to attach a second switch and use either ‘choice’ mode, where two messages are available, or ‘converse’ mode where two users take turns to play a message, and thus to have a conversation. Recording messages is very simple – press and release the discrete 'record' button, then press the switch itself and speak, repeating these steps as necessary.

As well as providing a voice, the Smooth Talker will also activate toys and accessories attached to it, either with a standard mini-jack connector, or through a wireless connector from the Simply Works range. Or both. This means that as well as speaking the device will trigger an action. "Switch the light on," can be accompanied by a lamp lighting up, showing the student what their press of the button has done.

Overall this device provides a lot of options for flexible ways of working with children with a breadth of special needs and disabilities. If this range continues to develop it would be good to see the same facilities available in varying sizes of device.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose   5
Ease of use               5
Features                   5
Quality                      4
Value for money       5

Smooth Talker

Easy-to-use communication device for simple record-and-playback of voice messages and sounds. Has many more options than previous, similar devices, £109.00

John GallowayJohn Galloway is an adviser, consultant and writer, specialising in the use of technology to support special educational needs (SEN) and inclusion. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning and runs his own blog.