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What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication ?

June 29, 2021 4 min read

What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication other than using your voice to express how you feel, think and what you need. For people who are unable to speak, AAC provides a way to remain connected with their loved ones. 

Augmentative communication is a way to supplement your speech to help others better understand what you are saying. Such methods may include using signs, signals, pictures or gestures that would promote better understanding. For example, non-verbal communication is a powerful means of communication which we often take for granted. 

Alternative communication is another way of trying to express yourself without using your voice. Various tools and devices are used to help you communicate with the listener. This may include a computer-generated voice, an alphabet communication board, a picture board and other methods that replaces the function of a person’s voice.

Who uses AAC?

Generally, people with disabilities use AAC to help them communicate. These may be people with developmental disorders or disabilities preventing them from using their voice effectively. Keep On Solutions focuses on people suffering from MND/ALS who have lost a high degree of their motor functions. However, these solutions are also applicable to those who have other disabilities that prevent them from using their voice. Unfortunately, it may not be useful to some groups of people.

Those who are unable to spell or read would not be able to effectively use the Keep On Talking Solution but those who are not mentally impaired would find the solution to be useful for alternative communication.

Types of AAC Devices

There are two main types of AAC devices and one of them is used by everyone. Non-verbal communication in the form of facial expressions, body language, gestures etc is an extremely important yet overlooked means of communication.

According to Dr Albert Mehrabian's research, 55% of all communication is in the form of body language. The other 45% is in the form of tone of voice (35%) and spoken words (7%). AAC leverages on this fact that the majority of communication is through body language by maximizing how people can communicate without using the voice. Watching for non-verbal cues and establishing what it means may be a good way for communicating with people who are unable to use their voice. You can create your own "sign language" by determining simple yet important messages including "Yes", "No", "Help", "I will say it again" etc.

Besides using non-verbal cues or body language, tools and devices may aid with the communication, and this is the second type of AAC. Some of the tools may include alphabet boards, cards, picture communication books, speech generating devices, tablets, mobile devices and applications etc. 

Different tools may work to support people with different types of disabilities. The AAC tools and devices can broadly be categorized into two types - high technology AAC solutions or low-technology AAC solutions.

In most cases, AAC low tech devices provide a quick, easy and cheaper alternative to support communication. The Keep On Talking solution is a AAC low tech device that falls into this category -using various tools including a laser pointer pointing to the letters found on the alphabet communication board to spell out the words the speaker intended to convey. Another simple solution is using a pencil to point at the letters on the alphabet board. 

The Keep On Surfing Solution is another AAC low tech device which replaces the use of a keyboard and mouse to navigate a tablet through programmable switches. While it is not low-tech, it provides a simple replacement to the mouse to help people with disabilities operate their Android tablets.

Which AAC device is suitable?

If the solution is for someone who is not literate, like a small child or a person with developmental disabilities, professional help is needed to help provide the tools they need to aid their communication based on their level of understanding.

However, if a person is literate, the goal is to help that person communicate despite not being able to use his/her voice. The Keep On Talking Solution allows for quick communication with slight movements of the head when the voice and hand movements are impaired. 

For those would like to go on the Internet, play Youtube videos or read books, the Keep On Surfing Solution uses soft touch switches to enable them to navigate online if they are able to press buttons with their feet or hands. 

If the person is totally paralyzed with no ability to move any part of the body, high technology solutions may be the only alternative. Eye-tracking solutions may support such individuals to talk and surf the Web through scanning the movements of the eyeballs. However, such solutions often have their drawbacks and may not be pleasant and comfortable to use and are often used as a last resort.

AAC solutions are always evolving with new methods being developed to help people with disabilities to remain connected with their loved ones. Whether it be a low-tech or high-tech solution, providing a suitable solution to help someone communicate is essential to their happiness and mental well-being. 



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