1998 Conference Proceedings

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AAC USER PROFILES AND RELATED SOFTWARE SELECTION

Dana Bertrand
Assistive Technology, Inc.
850 Boylston Street
Chestnut Hill, MA. 01267
Voice/Message: (800) 793-9227
FAX: (617) 731-5201
Internet: dbertrand@assistivetech.com

This session will present a clinical framework from which to categorize types of AAC users and to select appropriate software for each level of use. Five categories of AAC user profiles will be defined in terms of the levels of literacy and symbolic representation experienced by each group. The range of levels include non-symbolic, non-intentional communicators; symbol based communicators; literate alphanumeric symbol users; auditory scan users; and individuals who utilize topic and alphabetic cueing. Individuals who are in the process of transition from one level to the next (or use representational material from multiple levels) are included in the preceding group for ease of presentation.

Recommendations for appropriate software selection to support augmentative and alternative communication systems for each level will be reviewed. In addition, the session will highlight innovative uses for more personalized and customized applications through the use of Companion (TM) software, a unique and innovative authoring tool. Suggestions for clinical use are based on specific application sets that use realistic graphic environments as the basis of the learning and communication materials.

The first group of AAC user types to be profiled is comprised of individuals who have not yet developed intentional communication or the ability to utilize symbolic representation of materials. Communication from individuals within this group typically requires the interpretation of behavior and affect from informed caregivers. The communication objectives, therefore are to identify a means of communication and to develop communicative intent . In order to develop these skills, it is important to select software programs which are designed to help to develop a level of awareness and attention to task. Customized applications created with Companion software which target these objectives will be demonstrated. Key features of the environments presented include colorful graphics and digital recordings (photographs, movies, recorded speech) of familiar persons (family members, therapists, pets) and objects (toys, favorite household items. As communicative skills emerge, exposure to symbols and graphics will be introduced in order to develop symbolic comprehension.

The second group of AAC users are individuals who utilize a symbol based system of communication. The objectives in selecting software for individuals in this group include: developing recognition skills and the ability to associate symbols with the items they represent; accessing a wide range of communicative content; facilitating concept development and promoting increased independence in communication. Customized applications created with Companion feature a variety of actions accompanying symbol selection: making choices, speaking recorded messages, linking to other environments with increasingly specific messages, selecting and launching software applications, and displaying multimedia feedback options (e.g., playing movies and showing pop-up pictures).

The third group is comprised of individuals who are literate and utilize alphanumeric symbols to represent ideas and communicate messages. Software selection reflects the need to retrieve maximum linguistic information per user action, to select rate enhancement options, and to increase the scope of communication available (i.e., use of Internet and Email). AAC users in this group often use a combination of software programs to provide the maximum efficiency and scope of communication. In this way, system integration is the most important component of the total solution. The Companion applications which address these needs include several proprietary sample applications such as Talking Letter Board for cueing and clarifying meaning, Talking Environments for communicating stored messages, Talking Keyboard for generative speech output, and Photo Album for encouraging social exchanges. In addition, customized environments which are personalized both in style (altering preference settings) and content (particular topics of interest, personal pictures, voice recordings etc.) are also used to illustrate variety in software content and the flexibility of design afforded by Companion.

The fourth group of AAC users are individuals who utilize spoken lexical symbols in the form of auditory scanning. Persons in this group are similar to those in the preceding group in that they may be literate, however visual or cognitive impairments may impede the ability to identify graphic symbols and/or letters. The symbol type for this group is comprised of spoken words. The objectives for software selection are similar to those of the preceding group: increasing the scope of communication and maximizing the encoding techniques to retrieve the most linguistic information per user action. Companion applications customized for auditory scan users highlight the labeling feature which automatically labels objects and allows the user to set pronunciation exceptions at his or her discretion. In doing so, the object or symbol choice on the screen announces itself for the user to make his scanned selection. As with other examples, a variety of actions and multimedia feedback options will be demonstrated.

The fifth group of AAC user types is comprised of individuals who use cueing techniques to supplement speech in order to clarify meaning to the listener. Persons in this group speak, but the intelligibility of speech is influenced by the familiarity of the listener and the content of the expressed information. The communication objective is to alert the listener with a topic or alphanumeric cue so as to improve speech intelligibility. Software selection, therefore is based on the ability to create customized screens which the user can quickly access a familiar layout of letters, letter clusters, or symbols. Companion environments are used to illustrate a variety of displays for alphabetic and topical cueing.

The presentation will conclude with additional examples of Companion features such as customizing individual preference settings, launching AppleScripts(TM), and incorporating other popular software applications for learning and communication into customized environments. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussion with presenters as allowed by time.


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