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(President and Executive Committee members of ISAAC, www.isaac-online.org)
Mission and history: Founded in Lansing, Michigan 1983 when augmentative communication as an entity really began to explode, ISAAC now has an active international network of 11 Chapters, with 2800 members world wide who are users, family members, providers, researchers, manufacturers, any one who is interested in augmentative and alternative communication. ISAAC’s mission is to increase the communication capability and thus the quality of life for people with severe communication impairments. It does this by supporting information networks (publications, conferences, the ISAAC website, etc.), encouraging research, and advocating with decision-makers. AAC users are involved in every facet of its activities. This ensures that the organization’s efforts, planning and activities are rooted in reality, that the products that are developed meet the needs of real people, that information is readily available to family members, and care givers who have a varying levels of accessibility to resources, and that public education reflects a philosophy of integration and participation.
ISAAC is organized to bring together AAC knowledge, expertise and experience at local, national and international levels. Through ISAAC members in a local community, information can be provided, funds can be raised, pressure can be put on local authorities and public education can take place. Chapters can learn from the successes of others, and build their national strategies on others’ experience. ISAAC’s global approach is based on the recognition that research and best practices carried out in Europe and North America have universal application, and practical solutions, while often modified by various cultures, have general applicability, irrespective of the source of the knowledge or technology. This is especially true in our highly specialized field of augmentative and alternative communication
Through its Chapters around the world members of ISAAC are active locally and nationally responding to the AAC needs of the particular country or region, and building for a future that includes AAC where it is needed. Most Chapters have their own newsletter and offer workshops inviting ISAAC members as speakers, thus building the capacity for delivery AAC to their citizens.
Many lobby decision makers in support of people who rely on AAC. For example, in Denmark, every person with a disability is provided a computer by the government. ISAAC Finland has a project funded by the Finnish Slot Machine Association to educate the public about AAC and the accomplishments of AAC users. They have lobbied the Finnish Parliament on reform of special education as it relates to AAC users, and have done a survey to identify the needs of training courses in AAC. Membership in the German Speaking Countries Chapter has grown phenomenally over the past 2 years to over 600 members, and they have built on this success by offering workshops, sponsoring users’ weekends, and producing a public education video on AAC. With funding from the national lottery, ISAAC Norway is working on a Norwegian Bliss Dictionary, and a new website to both serve their own members and enhance the ISAAC website. Israel is the Chapter with the greatest percentage of AAC users as members – nearly 22%. The Chapter is very active – offering educational sessions, and in 1998 raised funds for an user and attendant to attend the ISAAC meeting in Dublin. Politically, the Chapter supports a forum for "The Advancement of AAC in Israel," a parent advocacy group, a coalition to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the country, and a demographic study to determine the number of people in Israel who need AAC. In the UK, the ISAAC-UK Chapter publishes "Communication Matters" an excellent newsletter, which is now available to all ISAAC members at preferred rates. They have developed an Advocacy Training Package for AAC, and information leaflets written with the help of a parent, in user-friendly language. ISAAC Canada has a bilingual newsletter, and sponsored a consumer (and Director of ISAAC) to attend the ISAAC Conference in Dublin in 1998. In the USA, USSAAC is the national Chapter of ISAAC, and will co-sponsor with ISAAC the Millennium meeting of ISAAC in Washington, DC. in August 1-3 , 2000.
In the over 40 countries where there are no Chapters, e.g. Australia, India, Venezuela, Japan, members receive their services directly from ISAAC. Members of ISAAC work together and sometimes involve ISAAC members from another area to provide workshops or support other culturally appropriate activities to promote AAC. Activities in many of the Latin American countries of South America have been initiated and funded through Iberoamerican initiatives involving experienced AAC mentors from Spain and Portugal. In other countries, ISAAC members work with related national organizations to achieve AAC goals. In 1998, ISAAC members in Australia elected an AAC user as their representative on the ISAAC Board. Those of you who were at the ISAAC conference in Dublin in August 1998 would have heard Meredith Allan’s presentation as the 1998 Words+ lecturer. In Japan in the last two years, there has a great increase in interest in AAC. 14 ISAAC members from Japan attended the conference in Dublin, and Japanese membership in ISAAC has increased significantly (Japan won one of the ISAAC awards presented in Dublin for a greater than 10% increase in membership in one year). A Japanese conference with an emphasis on AAC attracted over 400 people in the fall of 1998.
Other ISAAC activities are implemented by task forces and committees made up of people from a number of countries and reflecting various perspectives on AAC. For example, the emerging AAC countries committee undertakes projects which support the development of AAC in countries where AAC is an newly emerging entity. This includes sponsoring members to attend ISAAC Conferences, assisting in finding and supporting speakers at workshops or in developing strategies and approaches which will increase the availability of AAC for individuals who rely on it. ISAAC’s newest publication, an introductory handbook on AAC entitled Communication without Speech: Augmentative and Alternative Communication around the World was inspired by author Anne Warrick’s extensive experience working in developing countries to introduce AAC concepts and strategies. Launched in Dublin, the book is available from the Secretariat – and can be ordered from the ISAAC website: www.isaac-online.org
The Consumer/User Committee of ISAAC is responsible for activities related to specific involvement of AAC users in ISAAC. For example, this committee chooses the winners of the Words+ Scholarship, and the Words+ Lecturer, identifies consumer/user members for the Board of Directors and selected Michael Williams as the ISAAC Sentient System Consumer Leadership Chair in 1998.
The Research Committee of ISAAC is responsible for organizing the Research Symposium held in conjunction with the ISAAC Biennial Conference. In 1998, the outcome of the symposium is a book entitled New Directions in AAC Research and Practice. Published by Whurr, a British publisher that has produced other texts in the AAC field, the text will be available in the fall of 1999.
Currently, ISAAC has task forces working on various areas of interest: a task force making recommendations to improve the ISAAC website, another Task Force making recommendations to the World Health Organization on the communication section of the new ICIDH (International Classification of Impairment, Disability and Handicap) publication, and a Task Force on Fund Raising – working with staff to identify new sources for the funds which ISAAC needs to undertake its expanded programs in support of people who rely on AAC.
The coordinator of all this diverse activity is the ISAAC Executive Committee consisting of people from the USA (2), Britain (1), Portugal (1), Australia (1), and Belgium (1), with the assistance of the Secretariat which is presently located in Toronto. Over the last two years, ISAAC programs have expanded to address the needs of not only of those who are keen to have the most recent information in the field of AAC, but also those who have just been introduced to AAC because a family member or a student requires specific strategies to facilitate their communication. In addition to the newsletter, The Bulletin, and the peer reviewed journal (the only one in the field), Augmentative and Alternative Communication, ISAAC is using its website (specially designed to be easy to use by people with disabilities) to provide information and to expand the network in AAC. The secretariat responds to requests for information from members and the public, making connections and providing resources --- all part of the mission to improve the quality of life of people with severe communication impairments. In spite of the commitment of ISAAC members and volunteers, all of these programs require infrastructure, organization, technology and at times, outside expertise - all of which have costs associated with them. Until recently, ISAAC has depended on limited income from memberships, conferences and publications to support its programs. In 1997, the ISAAC Board of Directors began a four-year plan to invest in the future, and set up an executive secretariat with fund raising capacity to obtain the resources necessary to carry out the expanded mission of the organization.
Through ISAAC networks and connections, AAC experience is reaching all corners of the globe, shaping the body of knowledge, skills and public attitudes that support ISAAC’s goal of communication for all. We are building a resource, not only for members, but also for the world of AAC – now and in the future.
How can you get connected to this global resource and become involved in creating our global vision for AAC? Join ISAAC and be part of creating AAC for the future. What are the individual member benefits? Many – and valuable! Members receive preferential rates for ISAAC products and services: the cost of the CD-ROM of all volumes of AAC (up to 1997) for members is $25; for non-members it is $99. ISAAC members receive the Journal for $55 per year; individual non-members pay $95. The new ISAAC Series book, Communication without Speech is $18 for members, $23 for non- members; reduced fees at the ISAAC conference save you about $150 per conference – and the list goes on. It is similar for corporate members of ISAAC – they receive preferential rates for advertising in ISAAC publications, are hot linked to the ISAAC website, are permitted to place Product Updates in the Bulletin, etc. Your personal involvement is welcome as well. ISAAC members in many parts of the world donate their time and expertise in workshops and consultations, and families who have overcome barriers to communication share their experience and successes with others who have just begun the journey. It is through such efforts that global awareness and understanding of communication disorders will be achieved.
The communication age is here. The time to act is now. Get involved in ISAAC and strengthen your own personal involvement in AAC – for yourself and others, for now and for the future.
Note: If you would like more information about ISAAC, check out the ISAAC website at www.isaac-online.org, speak to one of us, or contact the Secretariat at (416) 385-0351; fax (416) 385-0352
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