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.