Publish at February 15 2023 Updated February 15 2023

Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) tools

When you can't use your voice

Communicating with a person with a speech impairment

Speech is heard but if one cannot respond with speech themselves, are there other ways? These alternative means of communication are called Augmentative Alternative Communication or AAC tools.

Improved possibilities

As technology advances, these means are becoming more and more powerful and effective.

Initially, simple means without electronic technology were developed such as:

  • sign language for the mute;
  • Assisted language pictograph charts for the brain disabled - Example(.pdf).

Then low-tech, accessible tools were released such as:

  • recorders and talking boxes;
  • control interfaces.

Finally, with computing, assistive tools are once again making oral communication possible for those who cannot speak:

  • keyboarding and text-to-speech; now accessible on most operating systems and devices, macOS, Windows, phones.
  • logic boards and text-to-speech; many specialized tablets and apps are available.
  • eye tracking or pointing tools.

This video gives a reality check of the liberating potential of these kinds of tools for people who cannot speak.

Computing and semantics allow the classification of symbols and signs according to several logics - semantic categories, pragmatic classification (request, opinions, suggestion..), thematic organization, alphabetical, context, etc. and allow communication to become increasingly fluid.

As Mathilde Suc-Mella of

"there is NO pre-requisite (cognitive, behavioral, linguistic or sensory-motor) to AAC: communication is a fundamental human need, yet how can we demonstrate that we can communicate without access to communication? We need to start by integrating AAC into the environment, to allow the person to grasp it."

In her synthesis paper (.pdf) , she gives 7 tips on how to do this:

  1. Get started now: there is no age or prerequisite for learning to communicate.

  2. Lead by example: practice "modeling" by using the AAC tool yourself that the person is learning to use. Use AAC to express a variety of messages (commenting, giving feedback, asking, questioning, joking...) with a rich vocabulary balanced between frequent and specific words.

  3. Give access to tools: because we communicate everywhere, all the time.

  4. Be consistent and constant: stay the course, be patient and persistent with the tool: a baby has been bathed in language since birth and takes 12 to 18 months before saying his or her first words.

  5. Give them time: learning to communicate is not easy. Agree to give the person time to (learn to) use their AAC tools. Don't talk too fast: give the person a chance to take their turn in AAC.

  6. Stay natural: be authentic, communicate for real reasons, not to teach language. Communication is learned by communicating.

  7. Believe in it and believe in them: our attitudes and expectations influence how the user will perceive their tool. Believe in its potential!

Illustration: depositPhotos - Mjowra



Caapables Resources -

Miranda Beukelman: Alternative and Augmentative Communication, DeBoeck

Ataix-Negre E: - Communicating differently. Accompanying people with speech or language disorders: alternative communications -

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