Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology includes Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Just what does it mean? What is the difference?

Augmentative Communication

Augmentative Communication systems aids you with your current communication of thoughts and needs, improve speech and language development, improve educational and vocational opportunities, while increasing independence at home, school and in your community. It “adds to” speech by using gestures, eye pointing and body language.

Alternative Communication

Alternative Communication means that you need a choice or substitute such as pointing to symbols, spelling or signing.


Communication is the ability to send and receive messages with at least one other person.

Both methods, of course require training and practice to improve the necessary skills to become effective at conveying your needs.

Under The Umbrella

Augmentative and Alternative Communication is an umbrella term to cover communication methods used to supplement or replace speech or writing for those with impairments of spoken or written language.

AAC is used by people with impairments from birth such as cerebral palsy, intellectual impairments and acquired conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Parkinson disease.

Development Of Devices

Assistive technology devices can be permanent or temporary, low tech or high tech. Modern use began in the 1950’s for those who had lost the ability to speak following surgery.

Some forms that developed in the 1970’s were sign language and graphic symbol communication.

In the 1980’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication began to emerge as a field of its own right. Speech synthesis and micro-computers came with the rapid advancement of technology.

Forms Of Communication

A form of unaided communication is the use of body language.

Aided approaches more commonly known include pictures, communication boards, speech generating devices, gestures, photographs, line drawings, letters and words. All of these techniques can be used alone or in several combinations most meaningful to the user. Pointers, adapted mice, eye tracking, switch access and scanning are more device driven approaches.

Assistive technology also includes walkers and wheelchairs, as well as software and hardware such as large keyed keyboards, screen readers, and computer generated voice devices. The TTY (text telephone) or keyboards that speak with the press of a key or series of keys can be use by people who have speech impairments.

Assistive technology is used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. It can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies.

For example, people with limited hand function may use a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse to operate a computer.

People who are blind may use software that reads text on the screen in a computer-generated voice, people with low vision may use software that enlarges screen content, people who are deaf may use a TTY (text telephone).

People with speech impairments may use a device that speaks out loud as they enter text via a keyboard.

Dynavox is a good resource to start looking for equipment needs based upon diagnosis. Zygo is another communications company.

Text to speech devices use typed messages by the user that are read out loud; digital recording is the recorded human voice with an overlay of pictures, symbols, words or objects that represent the message.

Another device is a dynamic display, which is a portable tablet with voice commands and “turning pages” capability.

Communication and literacy development software can be used on a tablet or a PC.


Assistive Technology can be used in many forms with simple objects and pictures to speech generated communication systems. Odds are, if you have a problem speaking or communicating whether in spoken or written form, there is a system that will work for you. You may need a simple communication board to a device that records voice commands or reads the written word on a computer screen.

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