Developing Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) apps is one of our core activities. However, there is so much more to AAC than putting an app on an iPad. AAC Awareness Month is the perfect excuse to shift focus from software to wider themes in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This year we want to focus less on the AAC user and more on the communication partners.

Be a better communication partner

When starting out with AAC it is easy to get focused on the person with the speech impairment. In reality communication should be a two-way street. Both partners need to contribute to establishing an effective and meaningful conversation.

We recently shot a video of a French family with an adult daughter. With Proloquo2Go she obtained a high-tech communication solution for the first time. In watching the raw video material it became clear how access to this new communication solution was totally changing the way the family communicated. Before the introduction of Proloquo2Go communication was essentially a one-way street. The parents asked questions and their daughter confirmed or denied. If she felt she was not understood, she gave up and took to herself. Now she was suddenly taking the initiative and starting conversations. She was also asking questions and using her ability to communicate to direct her parents and control her environment. Such a shift requires the communication partners of the AAC user to create space and adapt their own role to the new situation.

Often, introducing a high-tech AAC solution does not produce such quick and dramatic changes. Communication partners need to do more than adapt. They need to take an active role in modeling the use of the AAC device. They also need to leave enough wait time to allow for initiative from the AAC user. They need to create communication opportunities and give more control in the conversation to the AAC user. There is so much we can do to be better communication partners and give the AAC user the best chance of successful interactions.

Communication partners in the community

Family members, teachers and therapists are all key communication partners for AAC users. They thus need to know what it takes to be a good communication partner. Still, they are by all means not the only communication partners. Peers, friends, co-workers and people in the community are all potential communication partners too. They also need to learn to be better communication partners. We can lead them by example or through awareness raising. There is a lot of work to do, considering the top three challenges reported in last year's survey among adult AAC users. They reported that others don’t take the time to speak to them, that they experience discrimination because of AAC use and that they fear people underestimate their competence because of their AAC use. This shows we have a long way to go in helping others to become better communication partners.