Picwords iOS Application

August 7th, 2012

PicWords was an iPad application developed for individuals with disabilities. My cousin and I worked on this together for our cousin who's disability impaires his ability to communicate. There are simlar other tools on the market called Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS). However, most of them are either very expensive, or only provide a limited number of pictures.

Our application allowed users to leverage the iPad camera and microphone to set customized pictures and audio.  Users can then communicate needs by selecting the presented items.

While the app had moderate success in the App Store, my cousin and I really enjoyed this project. Not only was it our first venture in iOS applications, being able to provide our cousin with a useful tool was very fulfilling. 

While it is no longer available in the App Store, we hope to be able to provide updates when we have more free time.

App Store Content

PicWords is a simple Augmentative and Alternative Communication app, also known as a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS/AAC).

It was designed with two basic ideas in mind. The big and easy-to-touch buttons were developed for people with physical disabilities. It reduces the difficulty of navigating across pages with smaller buttons, or reaching areas on the screen that might be out of a person’s range. The buttons only need to be touched to trigger the action - they do not need to be tapped.

The items created can be completely determined by the user. This way, the person using the app will see familiar, accustomed objects and places, rather than hand drawn or generic images. Similarly, the audio can be recorded by someone whose voice is easily recognized by the user.

The goal of PicWords is to help a person with physical and communicative disabilities convey needs and wants. For example, a category called “Breakfast” can have 12 possible items such as eggs, cereal, toast, fruit, etc. The user can swipe through and select what is desired that morning. The app can also be used to alert more pressing needs such as going to the bathroom or requesting medicine.

PicWords can be used in a variety of ways. The main action is simple. When the user touches an item along the bottom, the image is displayed larger at the top of the screen and the audio for that item is played. The app was designed to be used by the person with the disability, however, parents or caregivers can select items to communicate as well.

Images can be created by taking pictures in the app or by using any photo in the iPad’s photo library. Audio is easily recorded with the built in mic. Re-record audio or change pictures at any time by editing existing items. The app comes with four default categories to help you get started - "Around the House," "Food," "Responses," and "Fruits." Get creative and make your own custom items!

The creators of PicWords developed the app for a family member with Cerebral Palsy. The degree of his physical disability made apps with small buttons or complicated interfaces hard to use. Knowing that the iPad had the potential to be an extremely useful communication tool, the creators worked with parents and caregivers to design a simple yet effective platform.

Please contact us with comments, questions, requests, or feedback of any kind. We welcome ideas that would make PicWords better for you!


  • Big, easy to touch buttons
  • Customizable categories
  • Create new images with the camera
  • Use images from your photo library
  • Record your own voice
  • Four basic default categories
  • Different color backgrounds
  • Up to 12 items per category
  • Swipe between groups of items in a category
  • Easily edit the audio, image, and title of any item
  • Help pages with instructions
Black and white profile photo of David Boland

David Boland

Blogging about web, mobile, and whatever other tech stuff I come across. I work a lot with content management systems. I am an Episerver MVP, and a Contentful certified developer.