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Role of Assistive Communication Devices to Individuals with Disabilities

Updated on October 30, 2021
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Nyamweya is a global researcher with many years of experience on practical research on a diversity of topics

Argumentative /Assistive communication is a term used to describe various communication methods which assist individuals with communication disabilities. They also refer to items, systems and equipments which have been customized in keeping or improving the communication of individuals with communication disabilities. The methods consist of Unaided and Aided systems. Unaided systems are those using signs, gestures and which do not require special material or Equipment. Aided systems on the other hand, employ such items such as special computers, picture charts, books, and other communication materials. These devices which are of various ranges are personalized to meet the individual needs of each person. The components of assistive communication technology range from High to low-tech devices. Despite the existence of alternative communication devices, discussions and studies pertaining to their efficacy have largely remained limited to a particular use. In addition, the general medical community has not yet had a consensus on the same.

Background in the Use of Assistive Communication Devices

Argumentative Communication Devices first began to be developed in 1950s. The major aim for this innovation was to help individuals who were unable to speak after undergoing surgical procedures. In the period of 1960s and 1970s, the communication needs of disabled individuals rose and there was a need to tailor the devices as per the specific need. This led to design and incorporation of manual signs as well as the use of graphic symbols as part of assistive communication devices. By 1980s, assistive communication devices eventually became a field on its own (Beukelman and Mirenda, 2005).


The Efficacy of Assistive Communication Devices

Unaided AAC systems

Assistive Communication Devices extends to use of facial expressions, use of vocalizations, gestures and also the sign languages. These aspects are considered as unaided AAC. The use of informal vocalizations, gestures, facial expressions, as well as body language expressions is part of natural communication. In addition, gestures and pantomimes are communication elements that are readily available to the disabled user and that the one listening will find it easy to understand them. Apparently, individuals with disabilities will find it easy to utilize these signals in their communication. These aspects when used well are very effectively in communication between disabled individuals and those who are well (Sigafoos et al, 2005).

Low Tech Communication Aid

Low tech communication aids are those that do not need batteries, electricity, electronics or software. They include books and other simple communication boards. For the simple communication board, the user may select a specific symbol or phrase, picture or even a letter which represents a word. The user may as well utilize their body part to communicate a specific aspect. They can also use a light pointer, with an eye gaze as well the head of a mouth stick by physical abilities and limitations (Brownlee and Palovcak, 2006). Disabled individuals could also use notepads in writing and recording information. What is more, such students may appreciate having the information color-coded based on the topic, purpose, or function of the information.

High Tech Communication Aid

The high tech communication devices are special gadgets that store and enable individuals to retrieve messages which are electronic in nature. The devices also allow the user to communicate using generative devices or voice output. Among these devices is speech generating devices, voice output communication aids among others. An output device speech can either be digitized or synthesized. Digital output device are used to play a record of phrases or speeches. The synthesized device speech on the other hand, is software which translates text into speech. Though this is more complex to understand and use, it allows the user to speak and spell words correctly (Beukelman, and Mirenda, 2005).

The static communications devices are also high tech communication tools that have various fixed positions. The devices consist of symbols with capability of changing manually the paper overlays. Further, the static devices contain a large quantity of vocabularies appearing on different levels. A user can change the symbols that are available by using page links which points out pages with specific vocabulary as well as messages. Moreover, some of these devices have sound output, thus making the user to communicate more effectively. Further, the device includes the power to raise a conversation by communicating with partners who are some distance away (Van der Meer, and Rispoli, 2010).

Computer assisted instruction refer to software and application that have been designed to provide instructions and practice opportunities on a wide range of devices (such as laptop iPad and computer). These instructions provide immediate and dynamic feedback and students with learning disabilities may benefit from this nonjudgmental computerized drill and practices. What is more, the instructions have been shown to be helpful for students with learning disabilities in spelling and expressive writing (Mechling and Cronin, 2006).

Assistive Communication Technology and Child Development

Argumentative Assistive Communication are specifically used for two major purposes. The first is to argument or aid the communication of individuals with speech problems. The other is to provide an alternative mode of communication for individuals lacking speech or who are ineffective in their communication. Assistive communication devices have enabled individuals who are challenged to take part in life aspects and accelerate their social interactions while unearthing their potential for meaningful life patterns. Further, it has provided stability for managing the life and communication of those who are physically and mentally challenged. For example, a study by Galvao (2009) wanted to know the efficacy of assistive communication devices. The sample was 1,342 and included toddlers, infants and pre-scholars who were mentally and physically challenged. The study went on to note that indeed, assistive technology played a critical role in supporting the development of children with disabilities. These included improvements in "cognitive, social, communication, literacy, motor, adaptive, and increases in engagement in learning activities.

Understanding Speech

As earlier explained, AAC is mostly used by individuals who cannot rely on their speech to communicate. An individual who is unable to communicate may wish to consider a speech output device to assist him or her in producing words. Further, assistive technology can help such students to bypass the mechanical aspect of writing since it can do this for them. Consequently, using spell check and grammar features can help student focus on communicating ideas and student can write with confidence knowing that they can make changes where necessary. In addition, being able to submit final assignment that is neater and better organized supports positive self esteem (Brownlee and Palovcak, 2012).

Interpersonal Sustainability

The AAC devices have been found to enhance the sustainability of interpersonal communication. This has subsequently helped disabled individuals to improve their potential in education, employment and also become independent. Therefore, it is important that the goal of AAC use should be centered towards creating effective communication, while ensuring that the communication is as interactive as much as possible. Anything less interferes with the potential of these individuals.


Individuals should be able to express all aspects of their personality in a way that is independent. Whenever the language and communication improve through the use of AAC, the life of non-speaking individuals will improve as well. In addition, they will have access to curriculum, have social interaction access and also get to manage their behaviors accordingly. Social interaction is the major purpose of communication. Consequently, AAC will facilitate access to social interactions by engaging nonspeaking individuals in socially appropriate and expected exchange, telling jokes, stories, gaining information from others, telling many others. Getting access to language creates opportunities to replace unwanted behaviors with functional communication (Sigafoos et al, 2005).

Use Symbols

Some of the ACC devices also use symbols in presenting objects. The symbols may include but not limited to graphic, auditory, textual and gestural symbols. These symbols represent objects, actions, and concepts that can be used to relay information. Several large graphic symbols have also been developed. An example of these is the use of bliss symbols. These symbols show linguistic characteristics and features such as grammar. Still, some symbols have the ability to show textured objects, real objects or even parts of real objects used as a communication element. This is mostly for individuals with visual impairments and significant intellectual impairments (Dolic et al, 2012).

Expression of Needs and Wants

AAC allows an individual to express their needs and wants, and more fully participate in decisions that affect their lives. It as well benefits family members and other significant people. This is by providing a way for them to keep in touch and converse with their loved ones. This is beneficial as students are more likely to understand text when unfamiliar words are read to them by another person. Text-to-speech can have a positive effect on decoding and word recognition as well as reading fluency and reading comprehension.

Digital programs including Kurzweil 3000 have also been found to reduce the emotional aspects of students with disabilities. The programs also enable the students to comprehend the contents of a text. Consequently, the use of such a program has been recommended for use along with research-supported reading intervention practices. The program allows low-level transcription (such as handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and grammar), as well as high-level composition skills (such as planning, generating content, and revising). Speech-to-text software transcribes spoken word into computer text, subsequently facilitating avoidance of having to correct mechanical and topological error in handwriting or typing. Students are also freed the efforts of editing and therefore, become encouraged to write (Dolic et al, 2012).

Apparently, the accuracy of speech recognition improves with the use of AAC. However, there is a possibility for new users to become bored with the training process while lacking the capability of efficiently editing the text output in the program. However, this can be solved by using titles such as XpressLab which are authorized by the government utilize the voice recognition software in improving the spelling, word recognition and reading comprehension among students with communication disabilities.

A study conducted by Wilkins (2009) established that essays drafted by students with learning disabilities dictated by Dragon software were better off than essays that were handwritten by students who were naturally speaking. The author went on to find a differential impact on students with and without disabilities, providing evidence that this technology removes a barrier based on disability.


There is the use of word and speech prediction in some of the AAC devices. This strategy enhances the rate at which AAC devices attempts to predict words, letter or any phrase that has to be written by the user. The user afterward can type a word, and it predicted without having to type the entire word. The software used to predict words can also determine the words predicted based on their frequency in language, frequency in association with other words, based on the user's past choices and also based on the grammatical suitability (Brownlee and Palovcak, 2012).

Demerits of AAC


Despite its advantages, the use of AAC has also its disadvantages as well. For instance, it is much slower to use AAC devices compared to normal speech. Particularly, the users of AAC roughly use 8-10 words in a minute over time. Further, the ability to use AAC devices may change. Although AAC is at times very slowly, it does not mean that the AAC system chosen today may be the best system for tomorrow.


There have also been arguments that many disabled individuals still cannot afford to use these devices owing to the fact that they are a bit costly. Consequently, these people have to incur extra expenses to afford these devices. Parents who wish that their children have AAC must be ready to spend much in ensuring that their children gain access to communication. It is not a wish of a parent to give birth to a disabled child. However, it happens that if a parents finds himself or herself with a disabled child, he or she will have no choice but to help such a child in accessing proper communication. They want to give their children the best, therefore, they will go an extra mile to purchase these devices and spend more of their money on them (Baxter, 2012).

Difficult to Learn

Generally, learning to use AAC devices could be a difficult endeavor. A lot of time is spent on learning how to use the symbols and to construct sentences among other aspects which consists of verbs and nouns. Most people do not understand the usage of AAC, thus becoming difficult for people using AAC to communicate with those who are not conversant with them. For those who can communicate effectively, the highest percentage does not learn how to use and communicate with those who are not conversant in use of the AAC. Therefore, there is creation of barrier to communication among such people. This will consequently discourage those who find themselves unable to communicate since their content gets fixed. What is more, the contents cannot be tailored to specific user’s needs (Dolic et al, 2012).

Delay in Language Development

Children whose disability requires AAC experience a delay in their development of language skills. These include a delay in knowing the vocabulary, in determining the length of sentences, and impaired pragmatic skills. These delays are highly contributed by the fact that expressive language is limited. Unlike speaking children, children who use AAC system, do not have the freedom to select what is contained on the device.

High Tech Devices Critical

Most of the high-tech devices typically require programming. This is complex to understand and requires skills of which most people lack. It, therefore, becomes unreliable in situations where there are no experts to do so. Consequently, the low-tech systems are often recommended in times of device failure as the backup. Nonetheless, AAC has a potential of benefitting a broad range of individuals, from a beginning communicator to a more sophisticated communicator who generates his messages.

Time consuming

Teaching a user in effective utilization of the AAC device would take quite some time. It should also be considered that parents and teachers who interact with the user would also need to be trained accordingly in order to understand and interpret it. The length at which a user will take in understanding a device also depends on the complexity of the gadget. It also implies that in case something happens to the device, a user will be left with nothing to communicate with. When the device begins to malfunction, it may need technical support or know-how.


In recent days, there is use of portable gadgets such as the mobile phones, iPod, and iPad among others. There has been evolution of AAC devices with a conscious of cost effectiveness and easy transportation. This has dramatically influenced how individuals talk and in their occupations. Systems no longer cost thousands of dollars and are not unattainable by customers. Further, devices are no longer bulky and difficult to transport. Some of these devices can easily fit into pockets. In addition, there has been an increase in technology where new forms of ACC are hitting the market. These devices are software based and applications that bring pictures and symbols together.

Training Disabled

Training can help individuals with disabilities in understanding and using the AAC systems. Specifically, training can help individuals on how to communicate with others more effectively. Apparently, through training, individuals will be able to control their environment, in making decisions as well as proper decisions when interacting with others. There are major interrelated areas which include use of operational, linguistic, social and strategic. Linguistic competence is the language skills in the person’s native languages (Brownlee and Palovcak, 2006).

Operational competence is the skills in which there are maintaining and using communication devices. The communication breakdowns occur to the users that are not familiar with AAC. An effective AAC user may require a very specific device that is useful in programming and also useful in training to achieve competency in these specific areas.

Training Communication Partners

Communication partners in AAC also require training. It is to enable them identify and often having an understanding of signals use in the communications of the disabled individual. This is because it shows a problem that the helpless and learned can be as a result of the failure that repeatedly occurs to lack of have a good communication system. Individuals using AAC may need assistance to avoid the directive. This is because it makes the children using these devices not to have a full variety of communication skills such as initiating or having the courage to govern a conversation effectively while utilizing a complex syntax. They further lack the courage to asking questions and in making information.


Due to the advancement of Technology, there have been major increases in AAC devices for individuals with problems in communication. There are different types of selections. Indirect to selection, it done by showing a symbol that desired. The desired symbol is pointed out by the using an alternative pointer or a finger. This pointer can be an eye gaze, using a head stick, using a head or using an eye controlled mouse. This is important in assessing and monitoring the difficulties of each individual learner, hence works on developing alternative activation strategies (Dolic et al, 2012).


It is clear that the AAC is of greater significance to people with disabilities. Their importance bypasses their negative effects. Therefore, it is highly recommendable to get AAC devices to individuals with communication disabilities to enhance their communication process. This will enable them to go on with their education endeavors while at the same time being socially active. When these people are effectively trained on the use of these devices, they will be equally competitive in society as they find it easy to communicate and interact with others. Further, these individuals if effectively taken care of in terms of providing them with AAC will just lead normal lives as those with no communication disabilities. Though the cost of such devices could be higher, their value to a disabled individual cannot be overemphasized. With these initiatives, the society will be able to make positive progress as they will contribute to issues pertaining to the growth of society. It is also important as they will be capable of expressing what they feel while finding it easier to be understood. Therefore, the use of AAC devices is highly recommended to all people with disabilities to improve their communication aspects.


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