2001 Conference Proceedings

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Amy Dougherty, CCC-SLP
Tracy Agate, CCC-SLP
Speak Your Mind, LLC
32 A Brandywyne
Brielle, NJ 08730

For many years, professionals have struggled with determining ways of expanding an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) user's vocabulary on a static display system. Without the ability to utilize text-to-speech, individuals are limited to vocabulary that can be represented in symbolic forms. Limited vocabulary sets can affect an individual's communicative competence, often resulting in communication breakdowns, messages of limited complexity, and syntactic appropriateness, and lack of AAC system use (Carlson, 1981, as cited by Light & Binger, 1998).

AAC systems typically are differentiated by the method of vocabulary representation and organization. Vocabulary can be organized on static or dynamic displays. Dynamic display systems can offer additional vocabulary to an AAC user, when compared to static display systems, by linking together various displays. However, dynamic display systems are disorienting and difficult to use, owing to the time required to search and navigate through the system to locate vocabulary (Van Tatenhove, 1995). Additional problems of repeated visual refocusing interject into a language act many non-linguistic cognitive tasks.

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Baker (1982, 1986) designed an iconic encoding technique referred to as semantic compaction, or Minspeak(R). Minspeak uses sequences of icons that are combined to retrieve words, phrases, and sentences in voice-output AAC devices manufactured by the Prentke Romich Company (PRC). Semantic compaction or iconic encoding typically is considered a rate enhancement technique to retrieve vocabulary on AAC systems (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998). Iconic encoding also can serve to expand the number of accessible vocabulary items stored in an individual's AAC system if he or she is using a static display. Semantic compaction or iconic encoding can enable an individual's vocabulary set to expand from approximately 120 items to vocabulary reaching approximately 2,000 words (comparable to the Minspeak Application Program Unity(R)). The advantage of a static display is that it promotes automatic access as with touch-typing. Motor planning supports selection, because the keys and vocabulary remain in the same physical position.

Minspeak Application Programs (MAPS) have been created by Semantic Compaction Systems and sold by PRC to provide AAC users with pre-programmed vocabulary sets in voice-output AAC devices. Unity (R), the current MAP that is included with PRC'S communication devices, is based on multiple meanings associated with each line drawing or icon on the display. Icons on Unity displays are rich in detail to assist the user in learning the multiple meanings each icon represents.

Individuals who demonstrate the ability to associate multiple meanings to a single icon may have greater success associating meanings to icons they have already learned. Single meaning icons, such as Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) by the Mayer Johnson Company are typically used early in the therapy progress for individuals experiencing cognitive impairments. Because of familiarity, the potential to improve their ability to retrieve vocabulary in Minspeak(R) based systems may increase. These individuals may not, at first, require such extensive vocabulary sets that Unity offers. Therefore, individuals who demonstrate the ability to utilize multiple meaning icons set and have already become familiar with PCS, but have limited world knowledge, may be appropriate candidates to use a hybrid Minspeak/PCS language representation application program.

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