2000 Conference Proceedings

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AAC Toolbox for 2000

Paula Walser

Millions of individuals with severe communication impairments are now using AAC devices across all segments of society and around the world. We are experiencing an explosion of new technologies within the area of augmentative communication. The sheer number of devices on the market has made it difficult for professionals to keep up with the changes in technology. Speech and language Pathologists in the public schools face the overwhelming challenge of attempting to keep up with recent developments in the area of augmentative communication in addition to standards reform, IDEA 97, and current topics in the areas of voice, fluency, articulation and language development.

Augmentative communication is one of the most complex areas of assistive technology with hundreds of devices now available. In addition, there has been growing evidence that many young children with language delays can also benefit from the availability of augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) systems to speed the development of their speech and language even though they may not be long term or permanent users of those systems.

This session will present a system for categorizing the vast amount of AAC devices available on the market into six distinct categories. Sample devices within each category will be demonstrated and prices shared for inclusion in the AAC toolbox.

  1. Simple Communication Boards
  2. This category includes communication boards consisting of graphic symbols, pictures, or objects. The boards may consist of one or multiple pictures and various sizes depending on user ability. Various display set-ups may be used .Conveniently used for Aided Language Stimulation techniques to model use of communication boards and increase a child’s understanding of messages. This type of communication board may be used as the only AAC option for a young child or a child with a very limited vocabulary or as a back up to a more complex voice output device. Often with items within this category, communication displays are made for specific activities or to take along into the community or to a situation where a voice output device may not work as easily or well. This type of communication display is also often used to encourage use of visual language strategies as with calendars, schedules and step by step directions.

  3. Simple and /or Low Cost Voice Output Devices
  4. These devices provide voice output with one set of messages available to the user at a time. Pressing a key or cell produces one message. These devices may have any number of messages.. The overlay within such a device must be physically changes and the device reprogrammed to change messages.

  5. Leveling or Layering Devices
  6. This category includes those devices capable of storing several layers of messages. Each level can be programmed with different messages. Changing from one level to another requires pushing a button (or sliding a switch) and physically changing the overlay.

  7. Devices using Icon Sequencing or Minspeak
  8. Minspeak/Icon sequencing is a way of organizing language, which uses an ordered array of pictures to code vocabulary. The user presses one,, two, or three keys in sequence to produce one message. Prentke-Romich Co. devices typically use icon sequencing with their own set of picture symbols, called Minspeak.

  9. Dynamic Display Devices
  10. This category of device include those that represent pictures on a screen, much like a laptop computer;usually the screen is capable of touch activation and pressing a picture on the screen produces a message. The devices automatically change the picture overlays and the corresponding messages.

  11. Spelling with a Speech Synthesizer/Written Text

This type of device allows the user to type and the device either speaks or prints out the message. This category of device requires the user have good spelling skills. These devices often feature abbreviation expansion features to allow storage of longer messages with a few keystones to activate.

Another key ingredient in the AAC toolbox is an instrument to assist with the feature match process. Feature Match is the process of selection where the needs of the user are first assessed documented and then matched to the device, which most closely offers the required features. Software will be demonstrated that lists child specific questions and then selects devices matching identified needs.

Once the specific features of need have been identified and the team has gotten access to the devices the next tool for use is the Assistive Technology Extended Assessment Plan. This form provides a vehicle for documenting common goals for use of device, successful criteria for trial period, criteria for stopping the trial period, environments for use, and a general format for documentation of the AAC devices use.

A final ingredient in our toolbox is a listing of resources specific to the area of augmentative communication including vendors, web sites, and journal/books.


Glennon,S. & DeCoste, D. (1997) Handbook of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. San Diego, CA:Singular Publishing Co.

Reed, P. (Ed.). (1998). Assessing Students’ Need for Assistive Technology. Oshkosh, Wi:Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative, (WATI, Polk Library, 800 Algoma Blvd, Oshkosh, WI 54901)

AAC Feature Match Software , (1996). Doug Dodgen& Associates, P.O. Box 180503. Arlington, TX 76096;

Needs First, (1996). George Adams Consulting, 49 Overlook Road, Poughkeepsie, NY 12603

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