At TechOWL, we have a monthly meetup for people who use augmentative communication. Many of our past ACES participants have become regulars. Each month, we look forward to learning new tech, troubleshooting device challenges, and talking AAC.
We are now hosting our AAC Community MeetUps TWICE A WEEK!
Some AAC users have immune dysfunction or compromised pulmonary function. Even if we don’t feel sick, we don’t dare spread the virus to others. We are just learning about this new illness. We don’t know how many of us will remain asymptomatic, but still, be contagious. Testing has been insufficient to judge exactly how widespread COVID-19 may be.
It is our social responsibility to protect all people, including our disabled family, friends, and peers. Almost 20% of Americans have a disability. They are not disposable. We all need to stay home and stay safe.
How do we adapt to this new reality?
Maintaining human connection feels especially important right now, and this would be better than nothing. Through our virtual meetups, we have connected and shared in a meaningful way. It wasn’t without minor difficulties and we had to create a few participation rules on the fly. For one, there were lots of “Ryans” in the group. We needed folks to raise their hands to be sure of who was talking!
All of us agreed that the AAC users spoke more, and took more conversational turns, in the online context. I would guess this was due to increased awareness, and really, consideration given by the speaking members of the group. Being online made us more aware of taking turns and providing wait time. We all had to watch closely to see who was talking. We all had to pause for responses. The setting placed us on a more even playing field.
Many disability rights activists point out that they have asked for remote access for quite some time. This accommodation now seems reasonable in a world where we all need it.
Let’s give this some thought. Our current reality should help us recognize the need to make inclusive environments more commonplace. We need to extend this to AAC users in all settings, including higher education. Our virtual AAC Meetups will continue, even once life goes ‘back to normal’.