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Trialing and assessment of Assistive Communication Devices (AAC)

See our Assistive Technology Home Page for a full list of information about Assistive Communication and AAC devices, and links to information and strategies relating to communication.

Choosing the right AAC device for your needs

An assistive communication device (also referred to as Alternative and Augmentative Communication or AAC) can make a huge difference to the the lives of individuals with communication difficulties. It is crucial that you complete a thorough trialing and assessment of assistive communication devices (AAC) to find the options that will be 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. It may be that a communication device is not the answer and the individual can communicate more quickly and effectively using sign, gesture and some minimal speech. We need to ask a number of questions prior to setting up a trial of equipment:


What are the individual’s skills?
Draw up a profile of the individual, his difficulties and his skills. These are some of the questions you might ask:


  • What are the physical capabilities for access, and the individuals cognitive capabilities?
  • Are sensory issues involved such as hearing or visual impairment?
  • How does the individual currently communicate?


These are all important questions before starting to decide on communication options and how the user might access them.

What are the individual’s needs and what environments do they participate in?

  • What does the individual want from a communication device, and what does his family and team want?
  • Is the individual at school or in the workplace?
  • Where does the individual plan to use the device?


The goals of the individual and the family are also important in determining the type of equipment you want to trial. For instance, if the individual wants to go out on his own and buy a coffee, he may need something with voice output. He may also need something that has voice output at a high volume if he is going to visit busy and noisy environments.

What tools will match the individual’s skills, environment and needs?

  • What devices and or strategies are available that might meet the individual’s needs?
  • What systems are available to help the individual access these devices?


An experienced speech and language therapist / pathologist should have a good idea of the type of devices and communication systems that are available to facilitate the individual. Once a list of options has been discussed, you may also need to consider how the individual will access the device e.g. hand control, switches, eye gaze etc.


Trial and compare the tools
Set some trial goals and ask the individual to perform tasks based on his needs using the different types of equipment e.g. go and buy a cup of coffee using the communication device. Compare the devices:

  • Was it easy to use?
  • Could I get my message across quickly?
  • Did everyone understand what I wanted?
  • Was it easy to carry?
  • Is it robust?
  • Was the voice output good enough in different environments?
  • Can I control the device using my chosen form of access?


When you have compared the alternatives, make a choice and prepare a set-up and implementation strategy to train the individual and his team to use the equipment.


The SETT Framework
Above, we gave a very simple account of trialling equipment. Joy Zabala has developed the SETT framework which facilitates the assessment and trial process and helps find the best option for an individual, taking into account his needs, his skills and his environment. Check our links section to find out more about the SETT framework.



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.


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