Assistive technology, Assistive Communication, or Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)
Assistive technology, Assistive Communication, or Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC), these are generic terms that include assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices with a focus on facilitating communication. Modern new electronic machines (hi-tech) have become the way for many individuals to communicate. With advances in computer technology, new hi-tech devices are becoming smaller and cleverer. Through the use of scanning and switching many individuals are now getting access to tools that allow them to communicate and adapt their environment. Many machines now include environmental controls, so an individual can turn on the lights, text, or change the volume on the TV. General day to day technology has inadvertently had secondary positive effects for certain people with communication difficulties, for instance, text messaging on mobile phones was not developed to help hearing impaired people but has provided them with a quick and easy way of communicating.
However, assistive devices do not have to be expensive or electronic, they can be lo-tech (picture cards for instance), and often the simpler lo-tech option is a better, more functional option, depending on the individual and their disability. Whatever assistive device is used, the end goal is to facilitate communication and independence.
Hi-tech devices for communication
Hi-tech generally refers to electronic devices. These tend to be a more expensive option, and can sometimes offer voice output. Electronic devices may require you to type your message and then it is spoken, have pre-loaded spoken messages, or they may contain computer software that offers thousands of words and phrases, word prediction, spoken output, visual displays, internet access and Mp3 players etc. To read more about Hi-tech devices – Click Here.
Lo-tech devices for communication
Lo-tech options such as picture communication books, alphabet charts and E-Tran frames can often work as well, if not better, than hi-tech devices for many clients with a communication delay. For instance, it may be much quicker for a person to point to a picture in a book than scan through several pages on a computer screen to say the same thing. Some people become too fixated on hi-tech when the lower tech option would be more appropriate. Lo-tech options can also be a short term fix if an individual is waiting to receive a hi-tech machine. To read more about Lo-tech devices – Click Here.
Access for communication devices
In the past access to communication options has often been a barrier because of some individuals physical difficulties. However, technology is now finding ways to give almost everyone access to some form of communication option. Machines can now be mounted on the individuals wheelchair and accessed via switches or eye scanning. Switches are available in many forms to allow for different means of access. Switches can be pressed, knocked, and blown to activate a control, and some can now be activated by small movements such as eye blink. The latest technology for facilitating access to technology is eye scanning, with eye movement controlling the actions of computer software.
Trialling and finding the “best fit” for communication devices
When looking at assistive communication devices, it is crucial that you do a thorough trial of several different options to really find the “best fit”. The higher tech, most expensive option is not always the best. You have to take account of many variables including portability, functionality and speed of use. All too often, individuals and their team are attracted to hi-tech options, when a simpler option works better. A suitably qualified speech and language therapist / pathologist can help you trial the appropriate equipment to see which options work best. To read more about trialling equipment to find the best fit – Click Here.
For more information about communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets about assistive technology devices and information and strategies for improving communication go to the Downloads Section.
For a wider range of books, click here to see our Bookshop.