Supporting AAC users to speak about what is happening in the world

  • 7 minute read

We live in a complex world. AAC users need to be able to communicate about difficult topics. These include racism, discrimination, inequality, protest, civil unrest, and violence. These may be an issue in their own life or community. These may be something we see on TV or hear others speak about. So how can you support an AAC user to communicate about these topics too?

Increased vulnerability

People with disabilities are more vulnerable than the average population. They are more likely to experience discrimination and violence. Non-speaking people are even more at risk. From childhood, AAC users need support to communicate about these problems. They need to be able to self-advocate and report issues.

Support AAC users to speak about complex topics

As parents and teachers, we should speak with children about the things happening in their life and world. This gives children an opportunity to express fears and anxieties. It helps them understand what is happening in the world around them. Children who are learning to use AAC need support to join the conversation. Adults show children how to use AAC to speak about these kinds of topics. We model simple language for a young child, or someone just learning language. We model more complex language for a more advanced user.

Model more than the actual term

Discrimination and protest can be nouns or verbs. It is important not to focus too much on the specific term. These words may not already be in the AAC system. Instead, use adjectives and plain language (core words) to talk about these issues. When we describe and give meaning to these issues using the common words in the AAC system we do three things. First, we demonstrate how the AAC system can be used to speak about that topic. Second, we show the AAC user how to talk about things when the exact word is not in their system. Third, the symbols are a visual support to help the AAC user understand what we are saying verbally. The symbols offer what educators call a “scaffold” to support comprehension and future expression.

Two examples: Discrimination and Protest

We need to explain the concept when we speak about topics like discrimination or protest. We also need to talk about its meaning and significance. Let’s look at some examples for these two terms: discrimination and protest. Below, we provide examples of how to do this. Our examples are as short as two word messages, or as long as full sentences. Use the shorter messages for beginning AAC users.

It helps to look up the definition of a complex idea before you try to explain it with AAC. Discrimination is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” Protest is “a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.”

We can say a lot with AAC

AssistiveWare offers communication apps like Proloquo, Proloquo2Go, simPODD and Proloquo4Text. We have also made two kinds of light-tech communication boards. We have core word boards and quick communication boards. We download and print these for when we don’t have the app in front of us, or when the iPad battery is dead. We can use any of these AAC options to talk about complex ideas.

Quick communication board
Crescendo quick communication boards

Remember, when modeling, we speak in normal, grammatically correct sentences. But we touch only the key words on the AAC system. We use the system while we talk with the AAC user. We may need to do that many times before the AAC user is ready to talk back.

The Crescendo core word board has 77 words. This board, which you can download here, matches the words found on the 7x11 button home page of the Proloquo2Go app. Here are some ways to use it to talk about discrimination and protest.

Things you can say with just a Crescendo core word board

  • People different
  • Some people different
  • Think people different
  • Think different people not good
  • Not like different people
  • Some people more good
  • Say some people not good
  • Stop some people
  • Not like she because she different
  • Not help he because he different
  • Say people not good because they different
  • Not like
  • Stop now
  • People not like
  • People say not like
  • People say it stop now
  • People go places, say not like
  • Some people go, say not good
  • People say what they think
  • Bad things, people go, say not like
  • People not like, people say not good
  • People all done/finished, they now say not like
Share Opinion
  • It bad
  • It not good
  • We all people
  • Look different but we all people
  • Not say bad things different people
  • Bad to stop different people
  • Bad to do different to different people
  • It good
  • People say what they think
  • Good that people say what they think

Additional things you can say with Crescendo quick communication boards

You can say even more with the Crescendo quick communication boards. They provide quick access to over 250 words.

  • Think different people not nice
  • Think different people dirty
  • Not give work to different people
  • People angry
  • People worried
  • People tell not happy
  • People want change
  • People not work people say they want change
Share Opinion
  • It disgusting
  • We all same
  • All people same
  • People always same
  • Some people scared of different people
  • It noisy
  • I scared
  • People angry
  • It good but I scared

More things we can say with the Proloquo2Go and Proloquo:

The Proloquo2Go app has thousands of words. Find the word “discrimination” by using the search feature, then add it to the vocabulary. Now we can refer to the word directly. However, we will still need to explain what it is or express some thoughts about it. Proloquo2Go gives us lots more verbs, adjectives and other words so we can be more precise. For example, using the words we already have, we can define discrimination as: Not fair to act towards different group of people because different color skin or woman or man or any other thing.

Discrimination is pre-programmed in Proloquo2Go, but we can easily add it. Other words, such as racism, are not. We do not need to add a word to explain it or talk about it. If there is no symbol for the word, we can add just the word. We can also use the keyboard view to type the word. This shows the AAC user the value of spelling. If the AAC user is a beginner, just focus on showing them the first letter of the word.

With Proloquo2Go, we can easily find and add the word “protest” using the search feature. There is a lot we can say about protest using the built-in words. We can define it as: people say that they angry about something. We can expand further, like: people go outside to tell government that they are angry about something.

You can find the vocabulary to speak about these topics in the Society folder in Proloquo. In this folder, you can also find the word inequality. Using Proloquo can help you explain the context of discrimination as it's found under inequality. Related words like bias, inequity, oppression, prejudice, unequal, and unfair could contribute to the conversation around these topics.
In the Society folder, you will also find the word protest and the related words for protest (boycott, demonstration, dissent, march, movement, rally, riot, strike). These could also be helpful when using AAC during these conversations.

Where to go from here?

We can say a lot about complex topics with just a small set of core words. The 77 words on just the Crescendo core word board allowed us to say a lot. Now think about the topics that are important to your child or student. What are they seeing on TV? What do they hear the teachers talk about among themselves at school? What do they see happening in the street? What have they experienced in their own lives? Take a close look at our light-tech boards or at the AAC system your child or student is using. Think about all the words you can use and how you can combine them to speak about these topics.

If you come up with more ways to talk about these ideas, please share them with us in our FB community.


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