AAC in Excel in 5 steps

image description: image of displaying a colourful AAC board in Excel with different cartoon pictures conveying different greetings, feelings, and basic phrases.

5 Steps to Make an AAC in Excel

Due to the cost of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices and their lack of personalisation, and due to my own circumstance as a human with significant challenges with the whole speaking thing, I often build my own tools to help me communicate.

I like to sign with the people I am closest too, and I use my board a lot, but I wanted something more techy, yet personal. However, my impatiently excited ADHD brain also wanted to be able to make it within 30 minutes and for it to be adaptable quickly as I go. So, my brain decided upon using Visual Basics Applications (VBA) in Microsoft’s Excel (don’t worry, it is really not that complicated) to make an AAC board that I just needed to click for speech and could adjust easily, and it is really quite a nifty contraption! I have written it all out for easy copy pasting for anyone with access to Excel to make and adapt quickly!

Step 1: Making Excel Talk

Firstly, we need to set up Excel to work for us here as an AAC with speech, so we need to do the following:

  • Click Customize Quick Access Toolbar
image showing the location of the Customize Quick Access Toolbar in Excel situated to the right of the undo and redo buttons at the top of the page.
The Customize Quick Access Toolbar can be located at the top left hand side
of the page, to the right of the undo and redo buttons.
  • Then proceed to click More Commands…
the list of drop down options from the Customize Quick Access Toolbar, showing More Commands as second up from the bottom.
More Commands is second up from the bottom of the list.

Now you should end up with something popping up which looks like this:

image of tables to customize the quick access toolbar in Microsoft excel
Customize the Quick Access Tool Bar

To add speech from here, we do the following:

  • Make sure you are in the Quick Access Toolbar section from the options on the left.
  • Go to the drop down options which are titled Choose commands from: .
  • It is usually set to Popular Commands, but we are being inventive here, so we want to move away from this and choose All Commands instead.
  • Scroll down to Speak Cells on Enter and left click on that.
  • Click Add >> (make sure it moves across to the box on the right, that’s where we want it).
  • Click OK and the window will close.

Huzzah! The Speak Cells on Enter shortcut/button should now be on your Quick Access Toolbar (top left of your page). So, click the Speak Cells on Enter function to enable it and you will have now made a talking Excel! Go ahead try hitting enter on a selected cell with typing in it, Excel should speak it out! If you don’t like the voice don’t worry, we will get to changing that later on.

Step 2: Keeping Things Tidy

Okay, we have added the speech component, now we need to adjust one setting to keep things tidy:

  • Click on Customize Quick Access Toolbar.
  • Go to More Commands… again.
  • Instead of being in the Quick Access Toolbar section this time, we are going to click on Advanced which should take you to the following space:
image of advanced options for working in Excel, displaying multiple editing options.
Advanced options for working with Excel.
  • The first box here After pressing enter, move selection will most likely be ticked, but we want to untick this box.
  • Press OK.

Huzzah! You have completed step two! Look at you go! You have now done everything you need to do to set up for Excel for speech, the next steps will focus on making it into an interactive AAC!

Step 3: Pictures & Phrases

Firstly, we ought to choose an area to place symbols/pictograms within cells, and once you have decided
this, it is time to sort out our first cell!

  • Put an image in a cell within your predetermined area, but make sure it does not fully fill the cell as the AAC will operate by pressing the cell, not the image.
  • Once you are happy with its location, you need to open up VBA.
  • Right-click the sheet’s tab at the bottom of the screen (e.g. “Sheet 1”) and left-click View code (I promise it is not that scary or difficult).

A new window will appear for the file with a further window for the specific sheet which will be at the
front, this window for the sheet is what we want. In this window, add the following using VBA
to assign value when we click on the cell containing the image you want (i.e. the cell location):

Private Sub Worksheet_SelectionChange(ByVal Target As Range)

If Not Intersect(Target, Range("[put the cell in here, e.g. C4]")) Is Nothing Then _
  Range("e.g.C4").Value = ". put the text you want spoken here with a fullstop and a space at the start to allow for speech to sound more natural"

End Sub

You can repeat this for as many cells and pictures you want; for example:

Private Sub Worksheet_SelectionChange(ByVal Target As Range)

If Not Intersect(Target, Range("C4")) Is Nothing Then _
  Range("C4").Value = ". Hello! It is good to see you. How are you today?"

  If Not Intersect(Target, Range("D4")) Is Nothing Then _
  Range("D4").Value = ". You are the best! Thank you so very much!"

  If Not Intersect(Target, Range("E4")) Is Nothing Then _
  Range("E4").Value = ". Goodbye! It was good to see you. I hope you have a nice day!"

End Sub

Now, all you need to do is click a cell and press enter and Excel will read out the value you
have essentially given to the picture in the cell. And huzzah! You have made an Excel AAC! It is a bit messy though, so let’s tidy that up.

Step 4: Tidying Things Up

Now you may notice it is a little messy in showing the textual value you have assigned for the
cell when you press it, so we are going to add a ClearContents module to remove text appearing
with just one click on the page. I have done this with the bottom right cell in each sheet of my AAC and it is super helpful.

To do this we do the following:

  • Go to Insert at the top of the page then Illustrations then Shapes (wowza that was a journey!).
  • Choose whichever shape you desire, I personally like to use a rectangle to completely fill a cell which I have even added text too saying “Clear Text”:
display of an AAC board with a clear text button at the bottom right hand side
My clear text button is just a shape fitted to a cell at the bottom right hand side.

Now you need to turn this shape into a module (i.e. a button which can do a nifty function for us that we will use to remove text):

  • Open your code again (you can do this the same way as before or just hit Alt+F11).
  • Click on Insert at the top of the page.
  • Click Module.
  • Add the following code into the module window (don’t include the “e.g.” though):
Sub ClearContents()

Range("[cell; e.g C4]", "[cell; e.g. L4]").ClearContents

End Sub

This will set up a module, or as I like to call it, el clicky button, which will clear the contents of all cells within the range provided when pressed. This can be layered upon to clear multiple rows/columns; for example:

Sub ClearContents()
Range("C4", "L4").ClearContents
Range("C5", "L5").ClearContents
Range("C6", "L6").ClearContents
Range("C7", "K7").ClearContents
End Sub

Now we can go back to the worksheet and turn that shape into a functioning button linked
to this ClearContents module and it is pretty simple:

  • Right-click the shape.
  • Click Assign macro…
  • Click on ClearContents.
  • Press OK.

And that is you sorted, so that now when you press enter on a cell, you can easily remove the text by
pressing this button and you still get to keep the visual representation of the text and pictures
for every time you click it. Just an aside, the neat thing about ClearContents over using something like
ClearCells is that it will not remove any colourfill or borders or anything like that,
just the value that appears now upon pressing a cell.

So, you have your phrases set to go and you have a function to tidy Excel up, all you need now is to make sure you have the right voice for your AAC.

Step 5: Getting the Right Voice

To change which voice is used in Excel, we will be altering the text-to-speech voice across programmes.
To do this in Windows 10, do the following:

  • Type in Control Panel in the Search Bar at the bottom left of the screen.
  • Click on Control Panel.
  • Click on the Ease of Access selection.
  • Click on Speech Recognition.
  • Click on Text to Speech (this should be to the left).
  • A window will pop up in which you can adjust settings/change voice (non-microsoft voices can be added, I personally use a voice which has a local accent which is non-microsoft).

And that is it! You now have a homemade AAC in Microsoft Excel! There are no doubt easier ways to do this, and please do share them if you ever want to, but this was one of my ways to make speech and sound and have fun with all of it. My university’s motto was Ever to Excel, and, in my ever autistic way of doing things, I guess I chose to take that very literally.

The Author

This is Practical Neurodiversity’s first blog post. It was made by @pallyallywrites who created this space and who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.


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