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Wheelchair News, Issue #008 --Assistive Technology
October 15, 2011

Assistive Technology

I recently attended a seminar about wheelchair seating and positioning. This topic was briefly discussed at the end and has sparked an interest for me to learn more about it.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

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, improves speech and language development, improves 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.

Umbrella Term

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's disease.

Development of Devices

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 in 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 used by people who have speech impairments.

Dynavox is a good resource to start looking for equipment needs based upon diagnosis. Zygo-USA is another communications company with equipment available for sale.


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 or a device that records voice commands or reads the written word on a computer screen.

Your friend,


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