2003 Conference Proceedings

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Mentoring AAC Users via Email

Carole Krezman, Michael B. Williams
Augmentative Communication, Inc.

Janice Light, David McNaughton,
217 Moore, The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA, USA,16802
Email: jcl4@psu.edu


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)

Young people who use AAC may experience many challenges as they strive to achieve educational goals, vocational success, participate in society, and become self-sufficient. Mentoring by adults who have have successfully overcome similar challenges offers tremendous potential benefits for adolescents and young adults.

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.

Adolescents and young adults who use AAC need problem solving skills, access to information and encouragement from relevant role models (Williams, 1996) to successfully meet the challenges of becoming successful adults. 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).

There is an outstanding need for adults who use AAC, who have experience as mentors, and who have the skills to fulfill key mentor roles. 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 had two distinct objectives:

  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 who were trained in our leadership training program.

Leadership-training program. A total of 30 adults participated in the leadership-training program: 15 during the investigation in Cycle 1 (1998-99), and 15 in Cycle 2 (2000-2001). All participants (a) had a significant congenital physical disability; (b) used augmentative and alternative communication (AAC); (c) demonstrated functional literacy skills; (d) were over the age of 21; (e) had successfully attained meaningful educational, vocational, social, and personal goals in their lives; and (f) had demonstrated leadership potential.

The instruction for the leadership-training program was 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 included 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 were used to prepare the mentors for subsequent protégé interactions.

Mentor program. A total of 30 mentor-protégé dyads participated in the project: 15 during the investigation in Cycle 1, and 15 in Cycle 2. The mentors had successfully completed the Internet-based leadership-training program described under Objective #1. The protégés were 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 interacted in one-to-one interactions via electronic mail at least once per week. During these interactions, the mentors implemented the skills that they acquired during the leadership training (i.e., collaborative problem solving, information dissemination, and positive communication skills).

Each mentor worked 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 modeled appropriate problem solving strategies during their interactions, prompted their protégés to use these strategies, and checked the protégés' use of these strategies.

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

To date, more than 1,500 email messages have been exchanged by the mentor-protégé dyads. Results of the project will be presented, highlighting key issues of concern to adolescents and young adults who use AAC, including problems, strategies to overcome those problems, and recommendations to professionals, technology developers, family members, and individuals who use AAC.


A mentor provides a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes a kick in the pants. Josefowitz (1980)

Mentoring of individuals who use AAC by those who use AAC is critical to successfully meeting life's challenges. This presentation will present information on the completed Mentor Project, including the impact of the online leadership-training program and of the email mentor program on the mentor and protege participants in this project.


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