2001 Conference Proceedings

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The Mentor Project: Using the Internet to Share the Knowledge of AAC Users

Carole Krezman
Michael Williams
Augmentative Communication News

Janice Light, David McNaughton, Maija Gulens
217 Moore, The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA,USA,16802


There is no limit to the kinds of things a person who relies on AAC might want a mentor for... Falling in love, starting a new school, starting a new job, changing communities or homes, mastering a skill, learning a new piece of assistive technology - all are easier and more fun if the experience can be shared with and guided by someone who has ‘been there’. (Williams, 1996; p.1-2)

Adolescents and young adults who use AAC face many challenges in their drive to achieve educational / vocational success, participate in society, and become self-sufficient. In order to successfully overcome these challenges, adolescents and young adults require: (a) well developed problem solving strategies; (b) access to information on disability-related resources, services, and legislation; and (c) encouragement from relevant role models (Williams, 1996). Mentoring by adults who have significant physical and speech disabilities who have successfully overcome challenges offers tremendous potential benefits for adolescents and young adults who require AAC. Such mentoring can provide support in collaborative problem solving, access to specialized information on assistive technology and other disability-related resources, and positive social interactions with appropriate role models. As Bowe, Fay, and Finch (1980) argued, "Disabled individuals with several years of disability experience are frequently better aware of the needs of disabled people and better informed about government benefits than able-bodied professionals in the rehabilitation delivery system" (p.285).

Recent pilot research by Light and Cohen (1997) provided a preliminary investigation of the use of electronic mail as a medium to deliver a mentoring program to a small group of adolescents and young adults who use AAC. The study indicated that electronic mail was used effectively by the adolescents and young adults to establish regular communication and develop supportive relationships with mentors who also used AAC. The adolescents and young adults used the network to interact socially with their mentors and to work on personal goals related to education, employment, independent living, personal care attendants, assistive technology, family issues, communication difficulties, finances, and disability-related resources.

Currently, there are a limited number of adults who use AAC who have experience as mentors and have the skills required to fulfill key mentor roles. There are, however, adults who use AAC who demonstrate the potential to be effective mentors if they are provided with support in developing or refining problem solving strategies, information resources, and communication skills required (Williams, 1996). This presentation will discuss the Mentor Project, a project designed to address the need for trained mentors through the achievement of two major objectives over a three year period (1998-2001).

The Mentor Project

The Mentor project has two distinct objectives over a three-year period:
  1. To develop, implement, and evaluate the outcomes of a consumer-driven leadership training program conducted via the Internet to teach adults who use AAC to use effective mentoring skills;
  2. To develop, implement, and evaluate the outcomes of a mentoring program for adolescents and young adults who use AAC, delivered via the Internet, by adult mentors (trained under Objective #1).

Leadership training program.

A total of 30 adults will participate under Objective #1: 15 during the investigation in Cycle 1 (1998-99), and 15 in Cycle 2 (2000-2001). All participants will meet the following criteria: (a) have a significant congenital physical disability; (b) use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC); (c) demonstrate functional literacy skills; (d) be over the age of 21; (e) have successfully attained meaningful educational, vocational, social, and personal goals in their lives; and (f) have demonstrated leadership potential as evidenced through nomination by peers and rehabilitation professionals.

The instruction for the leadership-training program will be conducted via the Internet using an accessible site on the World Wide Web and electronic mail during small group and individual interactions. The leadership-training program will include instruction in three areas: collaborative problem solving skills; knowledge of disability-related resources, legislation and services; and positive communication skills. Case examples based on actual interactions with adolescents and young adults who use AAC will be used to prepare the mentors for subsequent protégé interactions.

Mentor program.

A total of 30 mentor-protégé dyads will participate in the project: 15 during the investigation in Cycle 1, and 15 in Cycle 2. The mentors will be the adults who use AAC who participated in the training program described under Objective #1. The protégés will be selected based on the following criteria: (a) have a significant congenital physical disability; (b) use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC); (d) demonstrate functional literacy skills such that their written messages can be understood by others and such that they can understand written texts; (e) be between the ages of 14 and 29; and (f) be experiencing transitions in their educational/ vocational, social, and/or personal lives.

Each protege-mentor dyad will interact regularly in one-to-one interactions via electronic mail at least once per week. During these interactions, the mentors will implement the skills that they acquired during the leadership training (i.e., collaborative problem solving, information dissemination, and positive communication skills).

Each mentor will work with his/her protégé to: identify problems in educational, vocational, social or personal domains; define these problems specifically; set priorities; identify appropriate goals to address the problems; develop action plans to work on these goals; implement the action plans; and monitor progress toward attaining the goals. The mentors will model appropriate problem solving strategies during their interactions, prompt their protégés to use these strategies, and check the protégés’ use of these strategies. Mentoring will occur within the context of real life problems encountered by the protégés, thus ensuring the relevance of the intervention.

Additional instruction will be provided for the mentors as required to ensure their ongoing use of effective mentoring skills. A listserv of all mentors on the project will be developed and facilitated by the Mentor Project Facilitators to provide ongoing support for the mentors.


A mentor provides a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes a kick in the pants.

Josefowitz (1980)

Mentoring by other consumers with disabilities is critical to give people with disabilities the opportunity to empower themselves (DeJong, 1979; McAweeney, Forchheimer & Tate, 1996). This presentation willpresent information on the first two years of the Mentor Project, including the impact of the leadership training program and of the mentor program on the mentor and protege participants in this project.


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Williams, M. (1996). Mentoring, Alternatively Speaking, 2, 1-7.

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