Make AAC always available
Make every environment set up for instant access to AAC. AAC should always be available. Consider cases, straps, paper-based copies as well as having the device charged and turned on.
A crucial step in the AAC process is setting up environments and places so that AAC is always available.
For many individuals with little or no speech, their voice lies in their AAC system. If they wish to communicate what they want, when they want, they must be able to access that AAC system. It is no good to them in the cupboard or left in the bag. They cannot communicate if the battery to their AAC system is flat. Deciding that the AAC system should only be used at school or at mealtimes or at McDonalds is not useful to them. Having access to their AAC system is essential. Everyone should be responsible for making AAC available.
A key strategy for using AAC is modeling. Modeling means people in the environment point to the words on the AAC system while talking to the AAC user. When the AAC user sees people in their environment using the AAC system to communicate, they will learn how they can also use their AAC to communicate. This modeling is more likely to happen when AAC is available and easy to access.
If a person has a physical impairment, we do not take away their walker when they need to walk. If a person has a hearing impairment, we do not take away their hearing aids when they need to hear. So why do we take away a person’s AAC system when they need to talk?
This article will cover strategies to ensure that AAC is always available for users. Some specific topics will include:
- Allowing access to AAC for multimodal communicators
- Giving everyone accessing the AAC system
- Keeping the AAC system turned on and charged
- Paper-based AAC options
- Utilizing whiteboards and tv screens, and
- Considering accessories to keep AAC accessible
- Multi-modal communicators
Keeping AAC available is often complicated for many AAC users. Often they have multiple ways to communicate their messages. In addition to their AAC system, they may use a combination of vocalizations, word approximations, gestures, and signs. Sometimes, in our fast-moving world, it can be faster and easier to rely on their vocalizations and gestures. We do need to value and respond to all methods of communication.
But what happens when that communication fails, when we cannot understand what the individual is trying to tell us? What if the individual has far more to say, than they can communicate with the sounds and gestures alone? Many AAC users need all the words and language in their AAC system all the time. It needs to be there and ready for them to use as soon as they need it.
For example, Matthew, is an excellent multi-modal communicator. He communicates very effectively using some words and vocalizations, combined with a great repertoire of signs. He uses these methods of communication all day. Often, they give him a fast way to get his message across. However, these things do not work so well with unfamiliar people. Nor does it help him to tell the teacher what he has learnt from the lesson on recycling. It also doesn’t help when Mum has NO idea what he is trying to tell her about what happened at school that day. This is when Matthew uses his AAC system. There are many, many times in the day that he uses it because his vocalizations and signing are not always enough!