What is AT / AAC?
Assistive Technology (AT) is any form of software, hardware or system that helps a person experiencing communication challenges to maintain, improve or increase their capabilities.
The purpose of AT is to help people be more independent and make life easier. This could be, for example, a system to help someone work their computer, or it could be a method of opening doors or windows.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) uses Communication Aids to add to or replace speech. Communication aids that ‘talk’ are sometimes called Speech Output Devices or Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs).
A communication aid helps a person to communicate more effectively with those around them. There are various types, ranging from the simple (for example, a letter board) to the complex, including sophisticated software and hardware.
Charts, books and boards
Here a non-speaker communicates by pointing or looking at words, pictures or symbols that are often grouped together in topics.
- Can easily be tailor-made to suit the individual
- Can be used anywhere
Words and symbols
Words are often used together with symbols, which can be useful to reinforce reading or understanding where appropriate.
- Users don’t need to be readers
- Symbols can be abstract or pictorial
Speech Output Devices or Voice Output Communication Aids
These may use either artificial (i.e. computer generated) speech or pre-recorded speech.
- Artificial or synthetic speech now sounds much less robotic than in the past, and it continues to improve.
- Pre-recorded speech consists of words or phrases spoken by a human being and stored in a device.
The simplest devices are often small, sturdy battery-powered gadgets with built-in microphones for recording messages.
- Can help teach cause and effect
- Easy to operate
More complex devices store several words in various ‘layers’. The picture shows an aid displaying four messages that are spoken when the touchpads are pressed. The user can move through the levels and a new overlay is inserted to show the right symbols or words.
- Small and accessible
- Works well where 20 or fewer words/phrases are needed
High-tech solutions include those that use touchscreen buttons.
- Can contain hundreds of messages – or more!
- Can be purpose-built
- Can incorporate or be based on computer features, e.g. email, internet
Aids like this are usually expensive.
I have difficulty accessing my computer. What should I do?
With each version of Windows that has been released over the past several years,
Microsoft and other developers have been made aware of the issues surrounding
accessibility and ease of use on the PC. The latest version of Windows includes a
number of settings and options that can be relatively easily configured to make it more
accessible to users. It is surprising to learn just how many people are unaware of many
of these features and also, importantly, many of them are free.
How to find the right communication aid?
Without doubt, Assistive Technology, including Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems and strategies, can be life-changing!
There is no ‘one fits all’ model, however, and certainly no ‘magic wand’ solution– low, light & high technology tools can most definitely improve quality of life, but using AT to help you fulfil your potential is a lifelong journey that requires teamwork throughout. Equipment alone cannot be the answer; it is essential that you find the right equipment for you, and that you and those around you have the training and ongoing support you need in order to use it effectively.
Very few people manage to get the most from AT in isolation: individuals, families and professionals all need to work together from the first step of identifying a need, through to the ongoing support of the long-term goals of the individual.
It’s absolutely vital that an assessment is carried out before a communication aid is chosen, and we’re not saying that to drum up business for ourselves!
It’s essential to build up an accurate picture of a person’s abilities before trying to identify a suitable communication aid. We believe that this is best done through a multidisciplinary assessment, where variables such as seating, mobility, access, motivation, educational needs and cognitive levels are all taken into account.
It also makes sense to try out a communication aid before making a decision about purchase. Sometimes the children and adults that we assess trial quite a few aids from our extensive loan library of equipment before making a final decision. Their skills change over time too – as does technology – so the suitability of an aid needs to be regularly reviewed.
Once a communication aid has been purchased, everyone involved with the individual – family, carers, teachers, therapists etc. – will need to know how to use the aid suitably and effectively, and here we can offer help through our training service.
- Thorough assessment of your needs, giving due consideration to such issues as seating, mobility, access, motivation, educational needs, individual preference and cognitive ability;
- Trial of hardware and software;
- Technical skills training to use preferred equipment to maximum effect;
- Training to enable family and local professionals to implement and support equipment;
- Ongoing review of needs as your communication and learning develops.
How Ace Centre can help
If you are new to Ace Centre and would like to find out what Augmentative and Alternative Communication is and how that might help a person you know then we answered some of the common questions which might help you decide what your next steps are.