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.


Partner Assisted Communication Strategies

Partner assisted scanning (PAS) is a strategy we often use with individuals who have complex motor and communication challenges.  It is also a great strategy to use when additional challenges such as vision and hearing are in the mix. This is a strategy that has been around for a while but one I find myself moving to when there are multiple challenges in place. This is an approach that can be beneficial to use with individuals that an electronic device just does not seem to fit their needs or even when a device is not readily available. If an individual is not able to communicate independently, don't limit them because PAS may be just what they need. 

It's a simple approach once the process is understood. Basically, the partners provide the scanning by pointing and/or speaking the names of items/pictures visually and/or auditorily. 

  1. When it is visual, the individual relies on visual recognition of the symbols. The partner scans by pointing to items with a finger or light without using any verbalizing.
  2. When it is auditory, the partner reads the labels for each symbol or a group of symbols. The individual listens for their desired label. 
  3. Visual and auditory is when the partner both points to and reads the labels for each symbol. The individual may rely on their understanding of the spoken labels and/or visually recognize the symbols being used.
Let's watch it in action. This is a very quick demonstration of  Kylie using a click for a yes response. See if you can hear it.

She is able to communicate very quickly but guarantees it took a lot of practice to get there. If the individual has severe vision challenges, using a word list without the pictures works also. 

This is a video of Jack and Mary-Louise using this strategy. This is a longer more complex video but can really help you to see the intricacies that the approach can take. As you will see, the individual using this technique needs to be able to provide at least a yes response for the partner. In this video, you will see Jack signal in a few different ways for his partner. See if you can understand his approach to communicate.  
When watching, did you catch Jack provide a yes with vocalization, eyebrow raises, head nods, and eye gaze, and a no with a quiet pause or by turning his head away? Having his partner verbalize his yes responses provided feedback to Jack, saying, "I understood you when you___." As you can see in this video, a no response can be a simple approach and really not needed as much as a way to communicate yes. Isn't she an amazing partner!?! She knows him well. This does not develop overnight. It is a process but look at all he was able to communicate through this approach.

So as you can see, you might use an approach of accepting a choice or an approach of accepting and rejecting. 

I see many people using a 20 question approach with individuals who have complex communication needs. "Do you want water?" "Do you want to go outside?" "Does something hurt?" The problem with this approach is that the individual and the partner really don't have any idea where to start or where to end or where it might all go. There isn't a roadmap to follow. It is random and not predictable. By using PAS, it provides a predictable pattern. Both the partner and the individual with complex communication needs know- we are going to get there and it will come. This will greatly limit frustrations and will also allow for more partners to participate in communicating, not just mom.

Is it easy? Yes and no. It is time consuming but is it worth it? If you were the one with the complex communication needs, what would you say? Here are 10 tips from The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies that I ran across a few years ago, that I hold true. 

This is a great approach that never goes out of style. It is endless. Great to use to support writing assignments too. Get creative, your students will thank you! To learn more and to watch great videos of PAS in action, visit the Bridge School website on the topic: Partner- Assisted Auditory Scanning (PAAS)