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Assisted Technology Designed for Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Graduate Project TED 718
by

Jana Zinn

on 15 February 2011

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Transcript of Assisted Technology Designed for Augmentative and Alternative Communication

A View of Assisted Technology
Designed for
Augmentative and Alternative Communication What is Augmentative and
Alternative Communication? Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a term used to identify types of communication that exclude verbal/oral speech. These would include gestures, sign language, facial expressions, symbols, and even computer systems that synthesize speech. All of these still communicate thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas without verbal speech. Today AAC is often integrated in the classroom or everyday life for people with severe speech impairments.
Is AAC affordable? The costs to use some forms of AAC systems can range from extremely costly to free. There have been several legislative laws passed to provide federal funding for people who qualify for AAC systems especially in the school setting. Simple visual enhancements can be a relatively low cost tool to use in aiding those who have difficulty with interpreting words and using graphics or pictures can take texts place. Text-to-speech synthesizer can at times come standard on computer software systems or have a low cost to upgrade such as VoiceOver on Macintosh computers. In contrast, TTY/TDD conversion modems that allow communication over the phone via input to a computer can cost a few hundred to over one thousand dollars. How do AAC systems address student needs? Assistive technologies that fall under the realm of augmentative communication address student needs in a number of ways. Individuals that have challenges with reading or interpreting words can use software that can highlight text and then transform it into understandable content like a picture or auditory noise that would be familiar to the individual, thus forming meaningful connections. Another tool that can address these needs is known as a voice output communication aid (VOCA) that will take a picture on a electronic device (like a computer) then when the picture is selected a pre-recorded word is heard for the student to draw a connection to. Students who have difficulty conveying thoughts to paper or those who are restricted with hand movement drastically benefit from speech recognition software, which can take their spoken words and convert them directly to text. Can ACC technologies be safely and effectively used in the laboratory classroom? The use of augmentative communications in the classroom can be safely and effectively implemented as long as the student, teacher, and any aids/caregivers have been properly trained to use the more complex software. The use of simple tools such as graphics, pictures, and word cards can easily be used and highly effective. Students over time should be able to work more independently as they build their knowledge of the assistive technology as well as their confidence in using the tool and mastering the content. Can ACC technologies be beneficial to more than one student in the laboratory classroom? When the use of any assisted technology is introduced to a classroom of students the benefits of the technology can be seen throughout the student population, not just with the students it is specifically designed for. Using communicative aids such as word cards, writing guides, and touch screen boards/computers can create an interactive and exciting classroom environment that engages learners in hands on activities and different learning styles. Are the assistive technologies appropriate for a wide variety of students at various grade levels? Do the assistive technologies allow students to overcome special challenges? Do the assistive technologies need special support staff in order to be utilized or serviced? Do the assistive technologies allow students to be more engaged in lab activities and encourage higher-order thinking? Are the assistive technologies easy-to-use with special populations? Are there multiple types of assistive technologies of these three types available? What are their similarities and differences? Is the assistive technology usage realistic in terms of time, budgets, typical technology facilities, and teacher training? Does the assistive technology provide adequate support for the student and teacher to be able to use it effectively? Can the assistive technology be seamlessly integrated into your current (or future) teaching situation based on the goals of the school and district? Strengths of the alternative communication technologies Weaknesses of the alternative communication technologies Jana M. Zinn
TED 718 Spring 2011 Augmentative and alternative communication devices can be used by individuals of all ages. The younger the individual the more guidance and assistance may be required, however the more specific the software requirements for certain technologies, the more training and guidance will be required regardless the age or grade level. The majority of the augmentative and alternative assistive communication technologies are similar with the same sort of basic applications in the software, but there can be differences in the types as well. For example, the text-to-speech software can be basic with a voice that is standard for several hundred words. Other software can come with a programmable voice that actually picks up on common words used and stores them to make processing faster. Similar differences are found in VOCA devices. Some come very basic with blocks and pictures, other are more advanced and have multiple pages that can change information and store more, much like what is seen on the Book Store application of the iPad, but adapted for the specific assistive technology feature. There is some initial training and instruction involved with the use of all assistive technologies, but once this stage is completed the software and devices are very easy to use. Of course there are some situations where students will still require guidance or assistance with the assistive technologies, however over time users will be able to work more independently. The support provided by the augmentative and alternative communication technologies gives both the student and teacher support in classroom settings. All the technologies require device and software training or tutorials, but once these are given and maintained, the effectiveness of these assistive technologies is unmatched. These technologies can be easily implemented into a classroom, however the cost associated with the TTS’s and VOCA’s may be a high cost upfront and scare districts away from investing in the systems. The usage of the technologies for reading tools and software may be an easier starting point for teachers to use in the classroom, to build interest and show administrators the benefits of using assistive technologies in the classroom for not only at risk students but the entire classroom. Some of the augmentative communication tools such as the VOCA’s and reading guide tools could easily be integrated into my current curriculum. There would of course need to be revisions made and budgetary concerns to handle first, but the overall benefits of using the assistive technologies discussed would meet the district goal of equitable and integrated curriculum which meets the needs of all learners. The use of the reading guide software, the VOCA’s, and the text-to-speech software allows active engagement through all course work and most lab activities. Depending on what is being asked of the student, there may be some times when even the assistive technologies cannot be used (ex: using the band saw), but the description of the activity can still lend itself for students to understand the basic concepts presented in the instruction. Some augmentative and alternative communication software and electronic device do require an initial support staff member and/or technical guide, however once the student or teacher is properly trained, support staff may not be needed. The more basic assistive technologies of reading tools that don’t involve software may not require support staff at all. The greatest strength of augmentative and alternative communication technologies is their ability to have students overcome limitation in verbal communication. The software availability and the way it has advanced over the past ten years has given more people access to top of the line assistive technology that can enhance text-to-speech or VOCA’s effectiveness for all individuals. The greatest weakness of these augmentative and alternative communication technologies is the cost that it associated with the majority of them. The price of the software, electronic device, and the associated training for teachers and aids/caregivers can be a high cost. Most districts at this time are encountering budget cuts, therefore the ability for these technologies to be purchased may be at a minimum. The assistive technologies of TTS and VOCA’s definitely allow students to create a verbal simulation via an electronic device, where otherwise no communication would be applicable. Reading guides and tools can also assist students in working to minimize the restraints that they often encounter. Resources Brune, Patrick & Pyburn, Laurie (n.d.). Augmentative Communication:
Unheard Voices and the Right to Communicate. Retrieved February
10, 2011 from PBS Parents.com, Inclusive Communities Web site:
http://www.pbs.org/parents/inclusivecommunities/augmentative.html


DeCoste, Denise C. & Glennen, Sharon (1996). The Handbook of
Augmentative and Alternative Communication. San Diego, London:
Singular Publishing Group.

Dutoit, Thierry (1999). High-Quality Text-to-Speech Synthesis: an
Overview". Journal of Electrical & Electronics Engineering,
Australia : Special Issue on Speech Recognition and Synthesis,
17, 25-37.

Freedom Scientific: Learning Systems Group
Products & Services: Software Pricing
http://www.freedomscientific.com/lsg/products/pricing.asp

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (n.d.). Assistive
Technology to Meet K-12 Student Needs. Retrieved February 7,
2011 from Pathways, Learning Point Associates Web site: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/technlgy/te7assist.htm__

Mirenda , Pat (Fall 2001). Autism, Augmentative Communication, and
Assistive Technology What Do We Really Know?. Focus on Autism
and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16(3), 141-151. doi:10.11
77/108835760101600302
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