Inspired by his sister, who can’t speak, a Texas teen creates a free communication app for non-verbal people. Archer Calder’s only sibling, his sister Della, has a rare genetic condition which makes her unable to speak. Growing up, Della used a combination of hand signals and short sounds to communicate, and then a few years ago, she was introduced to augmentative and alternative communications apps, known as AAC apps, which allow non-verbal people to press pictures on a computer or tablet and have the device speak for them. But because the software and devices are expensive and Della didn’t always like them, the family was disappointed with the technology.
Archer didn’t think it was fair that being able to communicate should cause families like his to have to sacrifice financially. So the teen decided to use his coding skills to make a web-based application to help people like his sister. His site, FreeSpeechAAC.com, can be accessed from any device that’s connected to the Internet and is totally free to use. And although it took a bit for Della to learn to use the app, in time she was able to communicate with the family, which has helped them to discover more of her personality.
Archer posted his creation on GitHub, an open source software coding site, where other coders helped him add features to the app. He also posted a video about FreeSpeech on TikTok, and was shocked when it racked up millions of views. The exposure helped him bring in more collaborators who also wanted to help improve the app. Going forward, Archer plans to continue to make FreeSpeech better, not just for his sister, but to give a voice to other non-verbal kids around the world who wouldn’t have that chance without his app.