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Using Devices & Systems

Using AAC Devices

There are numerous commercially available augmentative/alternative communication devices. These range from single message systems to complex computer-based devices capable of generating an almost infinite amount of messages.

While these devices can be very powerful tools, they should never be viewed as the end goal or sole solution to communication challenges. Rather, they must be viewed as one part of the communication continuum which ranges from partner assisted to independent.

Devices Breakdown

Any piece of equipment is subject to breaking down, running out of battery power or otherwise malfunctioning. Ideally, a plan should be in place for how the student will communicate while their AAC system is being recharged and/or repaired.

Device Selection

The process of choosing an appropriate device ideally involves a team approach including:

  • A team assessment which includes the individual who will be using the device, their family and/or support staff as well as professionals who are familiar with the student and those experienced in the selection and implementation of AAC devices.
  • A trial period in which a recommended system(s) is used and efficacy data are collected and analyzed

Feature Match: No Tech to High Tech

There are differing opinions and definitions as to what constitutes a no tech, low tech, mid tech or high tech communication system. For the purposes of this resource, AAC devices will be defined as:

  • No tech systems: Any communication system that does not require a power source.
  • Low tech systems: Any communication system that requires a source of power and is very easy to program.
  • Mid tech systems: Any communication system that requires a power source and requires some level of training to adequately program and maintain the device.
  • High tech systems: Any communication system that requires a power source and extensive training to competently program and maintain the device.

A sampling of systems contained in each category include:

No Tech communication systems

Choice boards: Objects, pictures, and/or symbols can be used on a choice board to offer students opportunities to communicate the language of snack/leisure activities, learning activities, transitioning, literacy activities, daily living activities, and more.

Choice boards can be used alone or in combination. In this example, the student can select an answer from one choice board to complete a sentence started on another choice board.

Boards can be cut to various sizes from foam core board. This material is commonly used to mat pictures or make posters. It can be found in the school supply section of discount stores, at craft stores or at framing places.

Communication boards: These can be computer generated and/or hand-made. They can range from a single symbol to a single page to multiple pages either stored together or in the actual environments where they will be used.

Examples include:

  • Picture or symbol overlays that provide opportunities for students to communicate about specific activities in which they are engaged,
  • A general or core overlay to communicate general language across activities and environments,
  • A communication overlay to communicate about literacy activity, and more
    • Picture exchange systems provide students opportunities to physically give communication picture or symbol during activity or through self-initiation.
    • Signing
    • Gestures
    • Communication books, wallets

Low Tech systems

Mid Tech systems

High Tech systems

Companies Offering Augmentative/Alternative Communication and/or Assistive Technology Products:
Adaptivation, Inc.
Assistive Technology, Inc.
Attainment Company, Inc.
Creative Communicating
DDA Home Page, home of Feature Match, Assessm...
Don Johnston Incorporated
Frame Technologies
The Great Talking Box Company, Inc.
Mayer-Johnson Company
Prentke Romich Company Home Page
RJ Cooper
Saltillo Corporation
Semantic Compaction Systems
Sentient Systems Technology, Inc.
TASH International INC., Ontario Canada
Zygo Industries

Other Vendor Resources




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