2004 Conference Proceedings

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Sarah W. Blackstone
Augmentative Communication Inc./AAC-RERC
1 Surf Way, #237
Monterey, CA 93940
Email: sarahblack@augcominc.com

Johana Schwartz
Augmentative Communication Inc./AAC-RERC
1898 Mt View Ave
Pentaluma, CA 94952
Email: johana.schwartz@stanfordalumni.org

Michael B. Williams
Augmentative Communication Inc./AAC-RERC
2725 SojournerTruth Court
Berkeley, CA 94702
510-649-0653 (ph/fax)
Email: augtalk@lmi.net

Richard Ellenson
President, Blue Elephant Advertising
37 West 28th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212-889-0005
Fax: 212-889-0006
Email: richard@blueelephantnyc.com

The AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade was established in late 2003 by the AAC-RERCII with funding from the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). This session will describe the rationale, goals and early progress of the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade.

The Writers' Brigade has a specific purpose-to broaden dissemination of information about the activities and accomplishments of the AAC-RERC and to publicize important research, developments, issues, practices and policies related to AAC technologies more widely.

Like a more traditional Writers' Workshop, the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade will meet periodically. However, we will meet "virtually" using a variety of assistive and mainstream technologies to support the process.

Like Writers' Workshops in which novelists, poets, and other artists have gathered over the centuries to discuss their work, support each other's efforts and improve their skills, the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade will utilize group sharing as part of the group process. However, unlike a typical Writers' Workshops, the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade will rely primarily on individualized, tutorial formats to achieve specified goals. Over time, participants will write using a variety of dissemination genres.

Like people with similar interests who form learning communities, such as study groups, book clubs, and so on, the Writers' Brigade is meant to broaden and deepen the experiences, skills, ideas and opinions of participants. Unlike typical groups, however, the Writers' Brigade will interact virtually and have guided discussions on AAC-RERC-related issues, without the typical constraints of time and space.

This session will describe the first six months of the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade. The Brigade was established because the AAC-RERC partners wish to (1) increase the dissemination of information about AAC and AAC-RERC activities more widely, both within and outside the AAC community and (2) increase the experiences and employment options for individuals with complex communication needs. In AAC-RERC 1998-2003, researcher David McNaughton and Diane Bryen investigated the employment status and needs of individuals who rely on AAC. They showed that individuals with cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, traumatic brain injury and autism, who have complex communication needs and rely on AAC technologies, are too often unemployed or underemployed. The researchers also collected the perspectives of employers and co-workers in an effort to identify strategies to improve the employment situations of people who rely on AAC. Their work is continuing. In addition, the employment status of individuals who rely on AAC has been the focus of the Pittsburgh Employment Conference since the early 1990s. At this well-attended conference, individuals who rely on AAC and the professionals and family members who support them have voiced concerns about the limited employment opportunities for individuals with complex communication needs. McNaughton and Bryen report that individuals who rely on AAC and seek employment often look in information technology areas. Thus, the interests of people who rely on AAC technologies and the needs of the AAC-RERC to disseminate information more widely may constitute a "win-win" situation.

The AAC-RERC has an operating philosophy "Nothing About Us Without Us." Individuals who rely on AAC have always participated in the AAC-RERC as partners, advisors to the AAC-RERC, researchers, presenters, co-presenters, authors, co-authors, research participants and advisors to specific projects. The AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade will expand the ways in which individuals with complex communication needs can participate in the AAC-RERC over the next five years. We plan to increase the overall dissemination efforts by RERC partners and simultaneously, support more individuals who rely on AAC to develop employable skills, expand their social networks and influence the research and development underway. The goals of the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade include:

The AAC Writer's Brigade is coordinated by Johana Schwartz with the support of staff at Augmentative Communication Inc. and other AAC-RERC partners. A panel will focus the conference session on components of the AAC Writers' Workshop and will include the following participants:

Johana Schwartz, Coordinator of the Writers' Workshop. She is a recent graduate of Stanford University with a B.A. in English. She has experience in Writers' Workshops and in tutoring writers.

Michael B. Williams, editor of Alternatively Speaking, an independent AAC consumer newsletter. He is a successful, widely regarded author and a partner in the AAC-RERC.

Richard Ellenson, president of BlueElephant, an advertising agency in New York City. He is highly successful at marketing and has ideas about extending the message about AAC beyond the disability community.

Sarah Blackstone, President of Augmentative Communication Inc and author of Augmentative Communication News. She is an AAC-RERC partner, author and publisher of AAC materials.

The topics that the panel will address in the session include: (a) formation of AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade; (b) goals of the AAC-RERC Writers' Brigade and plan for achieving goals; (c) the processes and technologies used; (d) the genre's used for various stakeholder groups; (e) use of email and the Internet in conducting the Writers' Brigade.

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