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At a Loss for Words? This Minuteman Grad Has an App for That

Minuteman High School graduate Bijan Bowen has created an an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) solution app for the iPad that helps people, such as autistic children, communicate if they have difficulty speaking.

The following feature was provided by Judy Bass, communications specialist for Minuteman High School in Lexington, a regional vocational school that educates students from a number of area communities, including Concord.

Most teenagers like to hang out with friends, go to the movies, and play sports.  To those typical pursuits, Bijan Bowen can add one that’s quite offbeat – creating iPad and iPhone apps that have garnered praise as well as users.

In June, Bowen, 18, of Newton, graduated from Minuteman High School in Lexington, where he studied Programming and Web Development.  He said he wanted to attend Minuteman rather than his hometown high school because he felt Newton didn’t seem to offer the same in-depth instruction in computers.

In fact, computers have long fascinated Bowen, who, as a child, liked to modify video games to make them more fun.

“When Bijan was young,” said his mother, Maryam Bowen, “He loved taking things apart to fix and improve them. Once he gets an idea in his head, it is almost as good as done. He is always coming up with ideas on how to create or improve things, and this will serve him very well in life.”

That talent has served him admirably already. Bowen has created several apps including his most recent, Montell, which, in technical lingo, is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) solution for the iPad that helps people, such as autistic children, communicate if they have difficulty speaking.

Click on the YouTube video posted above for a tutiroal how to use the Montell app.

His first app created is The Men’s Shoe Guide, an informational tour of men’s footwear styles which was recently selected by Men’s Health magazine as one of the five Best Style iPhone Apps.

Montell (Bowen devised the name by combining the French word for “my,” which is mon, and tell, as in tell a story) is ingenious. As he explained it, the app has a section featuring pre-recorded sounds that can be paired with pictures.

So, for example, you might click on a button for a picture of an apple. The app can be directed to say out loud, “I would like an apple.” There are 170 different pictures of everyday objects like clothes and food, plus representations of emotions, all of which can be paired with appropriate recorded comments.

What makes Montell unusual, however, is its customizability and almost unlimited versatility. It boasts a section that allows users to take their own pictures and then program what the recorded voice will say.

The next variation he wants to devise, said Bowen, is having the voice speak in different languages.

Formulating Montell wasn’t easy, he noted. His impromptu “focus group” consisted of family members who patiently “test drove” the app to help him troubleshoot it and eliminate any pesky glitches. A lot of late nights went into its development, Bowen attests, but the effort was clearly worth it to him.

When Bowen put the finishing touches on Montell, he said he felt great, especially when Apple included it in its iPad App Store, where it’s available for $9.99. 

The Men’s Shoe Guide app, developed during Bowen’s junior year at Minuteman, was done early on, when he admits he had “no idea what he was doing” as far as app creation was concerned. Bowen, a self-proclaimed shoe aficionado, said that he was inspired to create it when he had free tickets to a web developers’ conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Boston and wanted to bring along a prototype of his work to display. After doing some research on YouTube, he crafted it – and the rest is part of sartorial history.

Even though Bowen excels at app creation, he said that it’s not a cinch for him. “Learning how to do it took a lot of time and hard work,” he explained, and the process requires a lot of time and dedication. His education at Minuteman was definitely a plus because it not only gave him the training and the background, but time was allocated to work on projects like his during class.

Even at his young age, Bowen already has considerable background in his field. He had a co-op job in information technology at Karmaloop, which has been dubbed “the world’s largest online retailer of streetwear,” and he is currently in his freshman year at UMass-Boston majoring in IT in preparation for a potential career as a database administrator.

Modest, enthusiastic and innovative, Bowen has a future that is dazzling. Above all, though, he isn’t concerned with amassing wealth or accolades. Instead, as he humbly said, “I just want to make things that help people.”

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