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A World of Opportunities: Promoting Augmentative and Alternative Communication

March 14, 2024
Source: Administration for Community Living (ACL) Blog

Written by Jennifer Johnson, Deputy Commissioner, Administration on Disabilities

As we continue to celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), we are highlighting some of the many ways that ACL is working to break down barriers to create more inclusive communities so that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) can do well and succeed. We at ACL believe that “all means all,” and that’s why we are putting our resources into projects that address the needs of those most often overlooked in our society — such as people with communication disabilities.

An estimated five million people in the United States have disabilities that impact their ability to rely on speech alone to communicate. Too often, individuals with communication disabilities face bias and discrimination based on incorrect assumptions that they either cannot understand what is being communicated to them or aren’t able to communicate at all. As a result, they face significant barriers that get in the way of pursuing their life goals. This leaves many people with communication disabilities sidelined or, in some cases, completely left out of both the community and conversations about their lives. This is unacceptable.

There is great diversity in the ways people communicate with one another. Many people with communication disabilities successfully use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to interact and connect with the world. AAC can be an app on a device for generating speech, gestures, or body language — or someone who repeats what a person is saying, typing, and spelling — to name just a few of the forms it can take. Too many people who could benefit from AAC do not have access to it. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of information and awareness about AAC tools and strategies and a lack of training and support in how to use AAC. There is enormous potential for more people to gain access to AAC; that’s why ACL is investing in a collaborative, multiphase initiative to increase both awareness of and access to AAC.

The new project, which is led by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), will focus on improving and maximizing peer learning to increase awareness and use of AAC. In collaboration with CommunicationFirst and the University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), AUCD will explore how peer to peer (P2P) models can be used to promote access to and increase the use of AAC.

P2P models are proven methods where people with firsthand experience in a specific area — in this case AAC — help others learn more and become better experienced in that area. By using a P2P model to advance AAC, individuals with communication disabilities will get increased exposure to AAC and be able to learn from people they relate to about how to use AAC. This ultimately will help them gain access to more effective communication supports and broaden their opportunities to participate fully in the world.

In launching this project, it is vital that we elevate and engage people with communication disabilities in the development and design of the P2P model. That is why people with communication disabilities are key members of the partnership and will be guiding the work and the recommendations for how P2P can promote use of AAC.

If we are truly going to build a world of opportunities that include communities committed to everyone doing well and succeeding, we must make sure that the work ACL does is creating a future that will help ensure that individuals with communication disabilities have equitable access to available tools and not remain on the sidelines in discussions about their lives. Greater support for AAC will result in more opportunities for people with communication disabilities to interact with others and participate in their communities. We are excited to focus on this important work and look forward to seeing how it can create more opportunities for people with communication disabilities to interact fully with the world around them.

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