Back it Up!

Burned iPad

The importance of backing up any AAC system cannot be overstated.  Many of us (who program devices) have had the experience of spending hours upon hours customizing a vocabulary set, only to lose all of that hard work when a device “dies”, or an app gets deleted off an iPad.  

For school-aged users of AAC, backups are vital!  Accidents happen, devices get forgotten at home, or a child changes school districts. Depending on how an IEP is written, the school team may find itself “out of compliance” with the IEP if the system is not available during the school day.

The first step is to know your device or app.  Backup methods vary. Many AAC apps allow you to export a copy to the “cloud”.  This means that a copy of the file will be hosted on a remote server.  There are pros, and a few cons, to this method. If a copy of the vocabulary is hosted on the cloud, it can be downloaded to any device that that particular app.  This may be vital in the case of a natural disaster, or other emergency.

If the device belongs to a school district and contains student data, the IT department may have important security guidelines to ensure that student privacy is maintained.  They may specify which cloud services may be used, and which may not.  It is best to check first!  

You can also export a backup to iTunes on the iPad.  This, of course, will not help if the iPad itself is destroyed.

In the above screenshot from Proloquo2Go, you can see options to backup to Dropbox, to Google Drive, to “Export Backup” (to iTunes), and to “Connect to Computer”.  If you place the iPad on the same wifi network as your computer, you can download a copy of the file.  That file can be shared as an attachment to an email.

You cannot open the file on your computer, but you can share it with teachers, parents, or other caregivers. That way, if something happens, they can download the vocabulary to the iPad again.  I once had a student who knew how to hook her iPad up to iTunes on her parent’s computer and reset the entire device back to factory specs.  Having the file backed up to the teacher’s computer came in handy more than once!

It is also a great idea to create a low tech, paper backup.  The pages can be laminated and placed in a three ring binder.  How do we do this?  Screenshots can be taken on an iPad. Hold down the “off” and “home” buttons at the same time, and a picture of that screen is saved to the camera roll.

How do you print those photos?  After all, not everyone has access to wireless printing.  There is an app for that!  It’s called Wifi Photo Transfer.  

This gives you a local “address” to enter into the browser window of your computer.  As long as your computer and iPad are on the same local area network (wifi), you can easily download the photos you need.

Why backup AAC devices and apps?  It is not just for our convenience as clinicians.  It is vital for those we work with.  By maintaining customization, we maintain our client’s ability to rely on their motor programming to access their communication.  The buttons stay in the same place.  A paper backup allows them to more easily find their words.  A paper backup can ensure that a student maintains access to their voice, even if their device gets left at home.  A paper backup means that communication is still available even when the device breaks, and needs to be sent away for repairs.  

A paper backup also means that, if you don’t have a device backed up to the cloud, or saved on a computer, you can still recreate that individual’s customized layout when a new device is acquired.  

Yes, creating backups can take some time, but it is time well spent.  

Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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