Make AAC always available

Make every environment set up for instant access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (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 Augmentative and Alternative Communication (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!

Young boy using AAC system on iPad with Proloquo2Go
Matthew using his AAC system to tell Mum about his school day

Everyone needs access to the AAC system!

But it is not enough to just let the AAC user access the AAC system.  All of the team need fast and instant access as well! How else will we model? How can we do that modelling if the AAC system is in the cupboard or out of charge? So strap on the AAC system and be ready to pick it up and model at any time. Think of how many teachable moments there are in our day. In Matthew’s case, his team keeps the AAC system out all the time so they can model words and sentences. They do this whether Matthew is choosing to use the AAC system or not.

Turned on and charged

Put systems in place to ensure that the AAC system is always turned on and charged. Sometimes the AAC system may need to sit in an easy to access location while it is plugged in to charge.  

It is good to work with the AAC user so they can become more independent in this area over time. Teach them how to turn the device on and off, including how to enter a password to unlock the iPad if necessary. Show the AAC user how to tell if their battery is low and how they can charge it, or ask for help charging it.

Paper-based AAC options

Another great way to have consistent access to an AAC system is to use light-tech, paper-based options. We can take screenshots of key pages and then print and laminate them. This can be a great way to have access to the AAC system all the time, especially if something happens to the iPad.

You may even wish to create a book based on the AAC system. For more information, see this blog post on how to create a paper-based book from Proloquo2Go, step-by-step. 

You can print Proloquo2Go Crescendo 7x11 core word boards and posters from the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom. Posters can be attached to walls, outdoor surfaces or anywhere that is easily accessible. Posters are very visible and make AAC constantly available for all to use throughout the day.

If you are working in an environment with only one iPad, it can be very useful to make some paper-based boards or posters. Some people can model on the iPad while others use the boards. 

Core words boards available at a playground and in a classroom

Whiteboards/TV screens

If the environment has whiteboards or TV screens, we can also use these for AAC. We can mirror an iPad screen onto these larger screens. This is just one more way to make AAC a highly visible part of the environment.

Accessories can help to keep the AAC system accessible

We should not restrict or limit access to AAC to keep devices “safe”.  There are ways to protect devices, so they can be left available to an AAC user. There are also options to help active users keep their AAC devices within reach.

• Cases: Seeing a video of an iOS device being dropped down the stairs or bounced off cement without breaking can reduce anyone's fears. There are so many cases available these days, it is impossible to keep up with all of them. And that’s a good thing. AAC users have a variety of choices. They can select a case based on their unique needs and even favorite color! Cases range from soft and squishy to military-grade hardshells. One of the best places to view a wide variety of cases is Lauren Enders’ Pinterest board.

• Straps: For users without mobility limitations, carrying their own device so their voice is with them wherever they go provides ideal access. Some users wear their device with a strap or harness to keep both hands free when not communicating. Other users find using a protective case and a camera strap provides a workable option. 

• Harnesses: Younger users might benefit from wearing a harness that holds the device. Harnesses can be more comfortable and distribute the weight of a larger device more evenly.

• Belt-clips: AAC users who use smaller devices can consider a case that fits into a holster that attaches to a belt or a case with a belt-clip.

• Mounts: AAC devices can be mounted on a desk, the counter,  or a wheelchair. 

The next step

We communicate all day, so we need to ensure that we make AAC always available.  Setting up the environment for this is essential for success in the AAC journey. Next, we need to look at how to get the team on board and plan for AAC throughout the day.

This article is just one in the Learn AAC series about “Setting up for AAC”.

Links & References