by Amy G. Dell, Anne M. Disdier, Amy Goldman, and Patricia L. Mervine
Winter 1998, Vol. 9 No. 1
Being able to communicate is directly related to increased independence, success in the workplace, greater self-determination and control over ones life, increased opportunities for participation in ones community, and improved access to and quality of children's educational experiences. Therefore, the many children in special education who lack an effective means of communication are in serious need of augmentative communication systems. Teachers have a major role to play in designing and securing appropriate augcomm systems for their students and in providing the ongoing training which is needed to integrate augcomm systems into students' daily lives.
As the TASH Resolution on the Right to Communicate states, "The right to communicate is both a basic human right and the means by which all other rights are realized. . .We must ensure that all people have a means of communication which allows their fullest participation in the wider world" (TASH, 1994).
This training module can be infused in any course that focuses on teaching students who cannot speak, such as those with physical or multiple disabilities, severe mental retardation, and/or autism; any course that focuses on language/communication disorders; or any course on assistive technology. The entire module requires 10-12 hours of class time to complete.
Upon completion of this training module students (professionals) will be able to:
Enhance the communication abilities of individuals who have disabilities which interfere with effective communication through the appropriate use of augmentative communication systems.
- what communication is and its importance in people's lives
- "low tech" and "high tech" augcomm systems and how they can be used, their strengths and limitations.
- factors which must be considered when helping an individual choose an appropriate augcomm system
- the roles of related services personnel in selecting an appropriate augcomm system
- the perspectives of parents and consumers in selecting an appropriate augcomm system
Creating Customized Communication Board Overlays:
Using either Boardmaker or Speaking Dynamically (both from Mayer-Johnson), students must design a communication board overlay which addresses a particular communication need of a particular person. Students must follow the decision-making process described on the assignment guidelines. After designing and printing their board, students write a paper which explains the purpose of the board, the way vocabulary and symbols were selected, design considerations, and technical details. Students then present their communicatin board to the class.
Interview/Observation Report of an Augmentative Communication User:
The guidelines for this assignment emphasize the actual use of a person's augcomm system, rather than a technical description. Students must describe the system's vocabulary, the kinds of communicative interactions and functions it facilitates, its effectiveness, and the appropriateness of the system for the individual. Lastly, students need to examine how the augcomm system has/has not benefited the user.
Simulation Activity (optional): Students role-play having a disability which includes not being able to speak intelligibly. Students pick a card which describes a condition, and they must assume the role for two half-days. A reflective essay asks them to discuss how others responded to them and their feelings regarding not being able to communicate.
Video segment from People in Motion, Part 2 (1995): profile of Bob Williams working as Assistant Commisioner for Developmental Disabilities and using his Liberator (Prentke-Romich).
Benefits and Limitations of Unaided and Aided AugComm Systems
Small Group Activity on Unaided Communication: Students are placed in groups of 3 and are asked to communicate with each other without speech. In each group they take turns being the "sender" of a message, the "receiver" of the message, and the observer. A list of written messages is provided to each group so that no 2 students in a group have the same list. Students can use gestures, point to real objects, pantomime, try sign language, anything; the only restrictions are on the sender: no speech, no writing, and no use of "charade" conventions (like the "sounds like" gesture). In the triads, the observer can time how long it takes for a message to be conveyed. Following the activity, a large group discussion addresses key issues regarding unaided augcomm systems.
Small Group Activity Using Alphabet Boards: Again in groups of 3, taking turns being the sender, receiver and observer, students are each given an alphabet board (3 different arrangements of letters: alphabetical, QWERTY, and frequency of use arrangements) and are asked to carry on a 3-4 minute conversation using their board. A large group discussion follows the activity.
Lecture/demo of AugComm Devices
This activity varies depending on which augcomm devices one can obtain/borrow. It is important to include a relatively "low-tech" device like a Wolf as well as "high-tech" devices like an AlphaTalker or Liberator. Also, it is important to contrast synthesized speech and digitized speech. A discussion of symbol systems goes hand-in-hand with the devices, so a lecture on Picture Communication Symbols, for example, goes well with a Message Mate (Words +), as does an explanation of Minspeak with any Prentke-Romich system. The Minspeak Training Kit from Prentke-Romich contains several good activities for helping students understand the concept of semantic compaction.
Topics to be presented include input method considerations, output method considerations, language processing considerations, and practical considerations such as portability, cost, etc.
Issues in Message Selection
The topic is so important - so related to the success/failure of augcomm - that in cases of time limitations, it should take priority over the lecture/demo on augcomm devices. The devices will continue to change (in 3 years there will probably be a whole new set to learn) but the issue of vocabulary selection will remain paramount. Topics to be presented include functions of communication interactions, functions of messages, features of successful messages, and selecting messages for a particular activity or situation.
Small Group Activity: Assign one of the following scenarios to each small group and instruct the students to brainstorm vocabulary which would be both functional and age-appropriate for an activity-based communication board.
Designing Communication Boards (manual or electronic)
Symbol Systems: The symbolic representation should be determined by the user's cognitive/ linguistic abilities and visual/perceptual skills. Options include:
Overlay Layout Considerations: The layout should be determined by the user's cognitive/linguistic abilities, visual/perceptual skills, range of motion, and access method, as well as by the communication situation itself. Considerations include:
Tips on Constructing Overlays:
Arnold, A. R. (1997, Fall). Living a full life with the aid of Minspeak. TECH-NJ : Technology, Educators, and CHildren with disabilities-New Jersey, Vol. 8, No. 1.
Blackstone, S. (1993, March). Low-tech communication displays. Augmentative Communication News, Vol. 6, No. 1.
Bryan, D. N.; Slesaransky, G. & Baker, D. B. (1995, June). Augmentative communication and empowerment supports: A look at outcomes. AAC Augmentative and Alternative Communication,Vol. 11, pp. 79-88.
Calculator, S. N. & Jorgensen, C. M. (1991). Integrating AAC instruction into regular education settings: Expounding on best practices. AAC Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 7, pp. 204-214.
Locke, P. A. & Mirenda, P. (1992, September). Roles and responsibilities of special education teachers serving on teams delivering AAC services. AAC Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 8, pp. 200-210.
Sienkiewicz-Mercer, R. & Kaplan, S. B. (1996). I raise my eyes to say yes. West Hartford, CT: Whole Health Books.
The Association for Persons with Severe Disabilities (TASH) (1994). The right to communicate. Resolution adopted and published in the TASH Newsletter.
Amy G. Dell and Anne M. Disdier are editors of TECH-NJ. Amy Goldman is an augmentative communication specialist and the director of the Pennsylvania Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT). Patricia L. Mervine is an augmentative communication specialist for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22, Pennsylvania and is an alumna of The College of New Jersey.
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