Understanding the C in AAC: Communication

HomeCEU is pleased to announce several new additions to our catalog of continuing education webinars for SLPs just in time for "Better Hearing and Speech" month, a celebration of the incredible contributions that Speech-Language Pathologists make every day. Patricia Ourand, MS, CCC-SLP, will be presenting "The C in AAC - Communication" the course will teach therapists new techniques and tools that can be used for overcoming communication barriers in emergency situations and more. Read on as Patricia walks through the role of communication, communication partners, and augmentative and alternative communication techniques for those with communication disorders.

"The C in AAC: Communication" by Patricia Ourand

Communication is a right not a privilege. If you cannot communicate using speech you are at risk of being isolated and marginalized the Communication Access Symbol highlights to the community the importance of being communication accessible. (SCOPE, Australia)

The integration of AAC techniques and strategies is becoming increasingly evident and successful in the lives of individuals with severe disabilities. (Johnston, Reichle & Evans, 2004) A positive outcome of this increasing awareness and utilization of AAC will facilitate the inclusion of all individuals across all aspects of mainstream society. (Hourcade, Pilotte, West & Parette, 2004) To communicate one person must “say” something by using: any combination of speech, gestures, writing, pictures, and/or objects. And, to communicate at least one person must “understand” what is meant by the: speech, gestures, writing, pictures and/or objects. Communication is an essential part of our humanity. Every individual with communication difficulties must be provided with the tools, strategies, and technology needed to be able to communicate. This philosophy is part of our federal laws and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. (Cafiero, 2008)

The field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a broad and integrated international movement and field of study, research, clinical practice, and consumer involvement that assists people with successfully accomplishing basic to complex communication needs. AAC techniques and strategies are in addition to the communicators’ innate speaking, voicing, gesturing, handwriting, typing, dialing, drawing, calculating, computer-access, and/or other communication capabilities which combined meet their current and projected needs and preferences. In today's society, communication occurs more and more with devices and programs, so we must include these as potential “partners” in any definition of communication. Increasingly, different cultures and societies interact with any variety of technologies including, but certainly not limited to cell phones, iPods, computers, customer service centers, and other communication-driven technologies. We use speech, keyboards, keypads, trackballs and mice, typing, handwriting, and/or drawing, to name just a few, as input and/or output methods and media of information exchange to meet many daily communication needs.

Dating back to 1992, the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities among others emphasized that AAC must be understood in terms of the communicator in conjunction with his/her communication partners. The variety of communication partners for individuals who use AAC techniques and strategies include the various stakeholders, those partners interested directly or tangentially in the field of and people who use AAC. This group has grown consistently over the recent two decades and may include, but would never be limited to:

  • individuals who assist in selecting and supporting the use of a device - the team
  • AAC researchers
  • AAC device manufacturers
  • mainstream application developers and technology manufacturers
  • public policy makers

Given this growth in the numbers and types of communication partners, and strong indications that individuals with disabilities in general and more specifically those with complex communication needs, are at a higher risk for having limited social networks, the need for training communication partners is becoming increasingly apparent within the field. The availability of healthy social networks for individuals with complex communication needs can play a positive role is a host of life circumstances, including, but not limited to health, education, employment, recreation and leisure activities all of which have a pivotal influence on optimizing social involvement and inclusion. (Bryen 2006; Robertson et al. 2001)

There are numerous complex issues associated with exploring techniques and strategies to support, augment, and bolster communication for individuals whose innate abilities are not meeting daily communication needs. AAC methods and devices, no matter how simple, cutting-edge or dramatic when depicted in movies, news articles, or catalogs, are not magic wands. No technique, strategy or piece of equipment can instantly confer communication abilities to individuals who use them. The dynamic processes within the field of AAC, with a nucleus of effective and ethical practice, are so much more subtle and complex than most expect or recognize. Light (1989) suggested that the development of skills in these four areas will ensure the greatest degree of communicative competence for an individual utilizing AAC techniques and strategies.

  • Linguistic Skills/Competence
  • Operational Skills/Competence
  • Social Skills/Competence
  • Strategic Skills/Competence

To ensure these skills are obtained as readily as possible, issues surrounding Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE) and soft technologies (Cook & Hussey, 2002) must be considered. Karwowski (2005) defined HFE as “a unique and independent discipline that focuses on the nature of human-artifact interactions, viewed from the unified perspective of the science, engineering, design, technology, and management of human-compatible systems”. Cook & Hussey, (2002) defined soft technologies as decision-making, strategies, training, and concept formation.

About the Author

Patricia Ourand MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech/language pathologist who operates a private practice and consulting business, known as Associated Speech & Language Services, Inc., in the Baltimore/Washington area. She holds a Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Loyola College, as well as a Master's degree in Technology for Rehabilitation & Education from the Johns Hopkins University. Pat works as an Augmentative Communication Specialist providing written and verbal Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) evaluations for adults and children with developmental and acquired disabilities. As well, consulting on topics including assessments, funding, and program development is a service of this practice.

Why Participate in a Webinar?

Live presentations, especially webinars, add more dimensions and offer a more fulfilling educational experience than text-based courses. Audio, visual and interactive components all contribute to a great experience where learning doesn't simply mean leafing through giant textbooks.

This article was written by Amy-Lynn Corey

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