Archer Calder, 16, is a high school student from Utah. His 14-year-old sister Della has a rare genetic condition called Bainbridge-Ropers Syndrome. Although Della isn’t able to speak, she and Archer Calder share an unbreakable bond.
In 2020, Archer was searching online for an app that might help Della convey wants, her needs, likes, and dislikes.
He said: “It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to communicate with her the way I would with anybody else,”
What he found online made him disappointed. The available apps were prohibitively expensive, and they didn’t offer everything he was looking for. Because of the fact that Archer has always loved coding and computer programming, the boy decided to make his own app.
In addition, Archer was also determined to make his app better than the rest, completely open source, and free. Ever since, Freespeech was born.
According to Archer. he was compelled to help his sister communicate because he wanted to hear her thoughts and he also has an even more personal reason. Growing up, he had a stutter that kept him from expressing himself. It took Archer four years of speech therapy to overcome the obstacle, and the feeling of not being able to get his words out stuck with him.
Freespeech is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) that helps people communicate by pressing visual buttons that represent words. Users like Della can string together sentences by pressing multiple buttons in a sequence. It is an easy-to-use app that opens up a whole new world of communication for people who are nonverbal.
Archer explained: “It was different growing up with a sibling that you couldn’t talk with,”
“Using an app that I had created for her, I think that was one of the first times I was able to communicate with her, kind of like I would communicate with anybody else. With someone that was able to talk. So that was kind of a special moment for me.”
The teen has already seen a change in his sister’s life.
Archer said: “There is definitely a shift whenever she is able to use Free Speech, and she’s able to pull up these things that she wants to talk about, things that she enjoys, and she’s able to communicate it like anybody else would, through the iPad,”
Archer’s ultimate test subject is Della, so he often tweaks the code to improve it. By making the source code public, Archer encourages other programmers to make it their own and improve it. The teen’s also committed to keeping the Freespeech app free. Archer first debuted it on TikTok. The response was so positive Archer wound up sharing it on GitHub, where experienced programmers helped beef it up.
Their website states: “Our vision is to create a free alternative to the expensive AAC applications out there,”
“We want to create a static, universal keyboard for the non-verbal allowing for the most efficient user experience. Custom keys are also included, but the app comes pre-loaded with an expansive vocabulary.”
The boy says even if app Freespeech only helps one person, his sister, all the time and effort he put in was worth it.