What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Creative Ways to Use a Switch Communicator

It is important to encourage and expect communication by offering activities and opportunities that are interesting to your students. This is especially important in situations when your students are just getting their first experience in voice output communication. Sequential message devices can be very powerful.

What Are Sequential Message Communication Devices? These are simple devices that let you record messages in segments and then replay them in that same order. The initial activation of the device speaks the first part of the message aloud and then stops. When you activate the device again, it plays the second part. And do on.

Some sequential message communication devices have an added feature that make them even more valuable in busy classroom: different levels. Communicators with this feature allow us to pre-record several sequences and switch to the appropriate level when needed. For example, level 1 might have a greeting routine, level 2 might have parts of the pledge of allegiance, level 3 might have messages for  the daily meeting/sharing time, and level 4 might have lines to a story that the class is reading. The aide or teacher would just switch to the next level at the appropriate time so that the student could say that set of sequenced messages.

To introduce communication, give students one to two messages at a time related to a meaningful activity. Instead of saying, "Hit the switch," try using terminology about the activity, not the switch.

A couple of quick ideas:

  • Doorway Greeter: “Welcome to Grover High.” (To encourage switch use, "There's Mary. Get ready to welcome her.")
  • Lunchroom Monitor: “Hot lunch left line, cold lunch right line.”
  • Flag Monitor: “Please stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance.”
The ideas are as endless as your imagination. It just takes thinking outside the box and listening to what other students are saying. Here are some other ideas:
  • When reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, a switch could activate a munching sound. "Tell us what the caterpillar did to the fruit." When activated, the recording plays, "munch, munch, munch". 
  • During a collaborative game with peers, a switch could be activate an applause sound used after a peer answers a question correctly. "Joe is right. Let's clap for Joe everyone." 
  • It’s circle time. Students are sharing about what they did the night before and talking about the weather and days of the week. Engaging in classroom activities helps students with disabilities get involved and stay focused. Using a communication switch (such as the BIGmack, One Step Communicator or Step-by-Step) programmed with the answers planned out ahead of time, will allow the single switch user to participate in the activity. Example: "What day is it today, John?" “Today is Tuesday.”
  • Use a communication switch to send messages between home and school. Parents or siblings record a message to share during the morning meeting, “Last night we went out to pizza and I got to play video games with my brother!” At the end of the day, teachers, paraprofessionals or peers can record a message for home, “I had fun in art. My friends and I made animals out of clay.”
  • Using the Step-by-Step communicator, record the morning schedule:
    • “Will you please carry my notebooks?’ 
    • “Let’s go to class now!” 
    • “Hi, How’s it going?”
    • “I’m going to Art now. Where are you going?”
  • Using two communication switches: provide opportunities to practice choice making and communicating preferences successfully and easily. Pre-record a message asking for a cracker on one switch, and a message asking for a cookie on the other. Students choose which snack they want by activating the appropriate switch.
  • Using a One-Step or BIGmack makes it easy for your students to ask for what they want, “May I have some more please?” 
  • During an art activity, pair the student with a peer and two switches with two color names recorded on each. The peer asks the switch user, "What color should we use for the ____?" When the student activates a switch, the peer could respond with, "good choice" and use that color. 
  • Invite student’s families to participate in classroom activities. Parents can prerecord a quick recipe into a BIGmack and send ingredients to school. Your student activates the BIGmack to give the recipe while other students follow directions. The whole class records a thank you to send back to home. Using a Step-by-Step, the recipe can be longer and more complex. (As a fun literacy experience, students can collect the snack time recipes they make throughout the year, and make a cookbook to send home at the end of the year. Pass the switch around the class so that everyone has a turn to participate.)
  • Have your switch user be in charge of adding some laughter to the day by being responsible for sharing a joke every day. Jokes that are participatory (such as knock-knock jokes- see jokes site listing on this blog) with the class will be extremely popular. Many can be found on the Internet. Using a Step-by-Step, prerecord the joke in sequence and have the student share their joke as part of your class or outside social routine.
  • Performing a play or a chorus performance? What a great way to have your student participate. They could introduce the songs, introduce the cast, have a few lines in the play...
  • Record greetings for outside recess or passing time. Have students record them for you so that the messages are hip and age appropriate.
  • Participate in class music by singing a song, recording the repeated parts so that they can join in when it comes to that part. (Example: “E-I-E-I-O”)
  • Have the student be in charge of letting the class know when it is time to make a transition by being the official announcer:
    • “It’s time to clean up and get ready for recess.” 
    • “Put your books away and get out your pencil.”
    • “Go to circle time.” 
    • “Put your papers in the basket when you are done.”
  • Record a message appropriate for picking-up attendance on to the BIGmack or One-Step Communicator. Example: "May I have your attendance slip, " or "I'm here for the attendance slip." Go gather those attendance slips from each teacher by activating the communication device and making a request to each of the teachers.
  • Record end of the day messages on to the Step-by-Step; recording one message sequentially on each step of the communication device. Example of Possible Messages:Step 1: "I can't wait to get home and watch Oprah. Yesterday she had a great guest."Step 2: "Are you going to watch TV when you get home?"Step 3: "Do you have a favorite TV show?"Step 4: "I'm sure glad this day is over! Whew - we had so much work!"Step 5: "See you tomorrow."Enjoy talking and hanging-out with friends while waiting for the bus or heading-out the door on the way home.
  • Reading a book: Record a written passage (or portion of passage) on to the Step-by-Step; recording one page sequentially on each step of the communication device. Read the Book. The child using the Step-by-Step can read their pages out loud too!There are many different variations possible with book reading. Record every other page on to a Step-by-Step and two readers can take turns reading every other page. Read a book with a repeating passage (e.g. The Three Little Pigs - "He Hugged and Puffed and Blew the House Down") by recording the passage and each time that passage is read the child using the communication device can read along.

  • Shared reading: Record a simple story onto a Step-by-Step. Team the student with a young child from another class. The young child can be in charge of turning the pages while the switch communicator reads the story. Each time the child has to hit the switch, it is the other child’s clue to turn the page.
  • Record a grocery list on the Step-by-Step with Levels. Each level can be a section of the grocery store.- Level 1 - items from the produce section- Level 2 - items from the dairy section- Level 3 - items from the frozen section- and so on. . . .!While shopping with a friend or peer the person using the communication aid can be responsible for "reading the shopping list by activating the Step-by-Step with Levels"
  • Order food at a restaurant: Record a social greeting and food order onto the BIGmack or One-Step Communicator. Examples of Messages:"Hi, this is one of my favorite restaurants. I would like to order a Veggie Burger, Small French Fries and Small Orange Soda."I would like to have a chicken dinner special, with mashed potatoes, no gravy and milk. Thanks for taking my order.""I think I would like blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, sausages and two eggs over easy. What's it like being a waiter here?"
  • Encourage parents to use to communication switch at home also. An example might be to cheer on a sibling at a sports event. Record Fun messages that are frequently heard.Examples of Messages:"Go Vikings!""Come on you can do it. Make the shot!""YEAH!"clapping sounds. Use the easy recording ability of the BIGmack and One-Step Communicator to change the messages throughout the event.Cheer your team on to victory!
  • Send the VOCA back and forth between home and school with recorded messages about their day, their evening or their week-end. This will keep parents and teachers involved and allow the student to share their day and experiences back and forth.
Other thoughts:
  • Read the daily lunch menu
  • Respond to attendance call
  • List day’s activities or schedule to the class
  • Call on students to answer questions
  • Give a daily school announcement
  • Assign weekly or daily classroom jobs
  • Be the time keeper for a game or test
  • Give the daily journal topic
  • State the rules of a game
  • Call a pet to come to you
  • Cheer teammates during a sporting event
  • Compliment others
  • Comment when reading a book, “Turn the page.” “I can’t see.”
  • Call a family member to come to you
  • Order in a restaurant
  • Say hi to grandma and let her know you love her
See CallScotland's poster for more ideas!! 
We all love the creative approach of teachers, SLPs, and parents who are determined to get a lot of mileage out of these little devices. Not only are they easy to use, but they can make AAC functional and fun.  

A great site showing you all kinds of wonderful opportunities is 101 Ideas for a BIGmack. This site will show you ways to mount it for easier access, communication strategies along with philosophies. It is a very rich site worth taking your time exploring. 

For everything you ever wanted to know, explore Single Message Voice Output Technology “Information and resources for single message AAC use” Curated by Comm Greenhous.This site is full of video how-to, information on various switches available, how to use switches for choice making and oh, so much more. 

Other Resources worth exploring:
Whenever possible, try to provide messages recorded in a voice that would reflect the child’s age and gender with a graphic depicting the message. The easiest way to do this is to have peers record messages on the spot or prerecord messages in a sequential messaging device and store for later use. If that’s not possible, make a master tape of messages recorded by peers (Easy to do on an iPhone!) and re-record onto the communication aid at a later time. If that's not possible, don't worry about it- the main point is to use it! Although the voices of same age peers are preferred, don’t miss a communication opportunity because you don’t have a peer handy. If necessary, you can always try to make your own voice sound younger, deeper, or higher! Make it fun.