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.


AAC and Literacy

Talksense believes that "it is NOT individuals who fail to develop communication skills but, rather, (significant) others who fail to teach the individual to communicate. Too often are practices observed in schools (and beyond) that would stifle the best of us had we been in such a situation. It is a similar problem with literacy, individuals do not fail to acquire at least some of the basic literacy skills simply because they are somehow incapable but, rather, because of the attitudes, expectations, behaviors and practices of Significant Others (Parents, Teachers, Therapists, Classroom Assistants, etc); even those who are well-intentioned. There are also the physical, social, and environmental barriers in an environment which may have a direct impact on a Learner's ability to interact independently with print and may affect the way others behave because of these 'expected' difficulties."

In other words, in order to be good at doing something, you have to start to do it! They will not learn through osmosis. If a child never interacts with print then s/he will never become literate, it's as simple as that. We shouldn't be afraid to engage all children in the world of print. Too often we assume they will not be literate instead of assuming they will learn to be literate. Just knowing, each child will benefit from the experience in their own way will make it all worthwhile. If they learn more than what they thought possible, well isn't that the cherry on top! 

Just because it's difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Just because it is a slow process... we have time for a student to learn, don't we?

Learners  need to interact repeatedly with print from as early an age as possible.

Typically developing children hear their favorite storybooks 200-400 times. Do we allow our children with complex communication needs to ask for and hear their favorite storybook over and over? Good kindergarten teachers read from at least 12 texts a day. How many times are you reading to your students throughout the day? 

Repeated readings of the same text is an effective method for improving a variety of reading skills. Find those stories that interest them.

General Story Reading Goals: 
  • Demonstrate appropriate listening and responding behaviors.
  • Help students connect text with life knowledge.
  • Help students discover how a book can connect to their own lives.
  • Help students make connections with other books. 
Develop motivation to read by creating an enjoyable, interactive reading experience! 

The best way to prepare a child for learning to read and write is to present literacy-related activities as early as possible. These include looking at books and reading stories together, as well as providing the child with pens, pencils, crayons and markers. This is often not an easy task but is an important one.   

Literate adults, who use AAC, credit the support of family and teachers in giving them many and varied early literacy activities with helping them to learn to read and write. 

It is important to provide the child with as many such opportunities as possible, and to maintain the expectation that the child will learn to read and write. Remember that a child who uses AAC benefits from the same types of literacy-related experiences as all children! 

Below are resources, from our most respected in the field, to help you through the process of teaching literacy to AAC users: 

  • Adapting Books by Pam Harris: Instructions with photo illustrations for adapting books for use by a person who uses AAC.
  • Advancing Literacy for AAC Users by Rose Marie Gallagher: "'How can I know how a child is reading when I can't hear what's going on inside his or her head?' Unfortunately, the lack of an answer may contribute to the alarming statistic that fewer than ten percent of AAC users read beyond the second grade level (Erickson, 2003). I’ve been searching for answers to this question in hope of improving the literacy outcomes for children using AAC. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve found with you here."
  • Balanced Word Instruction slideshow - Supporting Students with CCN to Crack the Alphabetic Code by Jane Farrall and Sally Clendon 2013. Center for Literacy and Disabilities Studies provides resources for learning about teaching literacy to individuals of all ages with any disability.
  • Connect2Literacy: Communication Supports for Guided Reading slideshow by Jane Farrall with Helen Tainsh 2013. Her blog: Literacy, AAC, and Assistive Technology is all about literacy resources specific to AAC and assistive technology.
  • Literacy Lessons for Beginning AAC Learners, often met with skepticism when we encourage teams to work on literacy skills with individuals who are still learning the very basics of communication? Must read! PrAACtical AAC offers many articles on teaching Literacy to AAC users. This is a blog worth connecting to regularly.
  • Nonverbal Readers Pinterest Site provides some great resources for teaching literacy and reading to nonverbal students who use low tech AAC or speech generating devices.(Sorry but I cannot tell who to attribute this site to!)
  • Penn State Literacy Instruction by Janice Light and David McNaughton: “This website provides guidelines for teaching literacy skills to learners with special needs, especially learners with complex communication needs (CCN)."
  • Reading Comprehension in AAC by Karen Erickson states that "Reading instruction for persons who use AAC must have a dual emphasis on automatic word identification and phonics or decoding skills." 
  • A Special Kind of Class: Assessing Non-Verbal Children: blog by Amanda Myers, has some nice posts regarding developing literacy skills.  She states, "For the past five years or so, I have been trying to come up with a way to formally test the reading level of my non-verbal students.  How do you get a reading level for a child who can't speak?  How do you prove they can read?  How do you know if they know they sounds the letters make when they can't say the sounds themselves.  With the help of a grant from the Ontario Government's TLLP (Teacher Learning and Leadership Program) we (my EA's and myself) were able to conduct some research in the topic." Visit this site to learn more about their findings and recommended strategies.
  • TalkSense has a great posting entitled, "101 Ideas for Literacy and AAC".   
  • Using the Nonverbal Reading Approach to Promote Literacy by  Paula Gumpman and Mari Beth Coleman is a slideshow about an approach called NRA. The slideshow really provides a nice step-by-step guide.