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AAC, the tools to get your message across

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

October is AAC Awareness Month. What does that mean to you?

You may not realize it, but you probably use AAC everyday to communicate your feelings, wants and needs. Understanding why people use different forms of communication, and the different types of devices and aids you might see in your community, is what AAC Awareness Month is all about.

What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes all of the tools we use to communicate in addition to, or instead of, verbal speech. Chances are that most people use AAC every day!

The goal of AAC awareness is to inform the public about the many different ways in which people communicate using communication devices.

There are two main types of AAC:

1. Unaided-Communication techniques that do not require the use of an external aid, which means the person uses whatever is available to them (generally their own body) to get their message across and understood by the listener.

Examples include: gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, body language, sign.

children use unaided communication to express happy, sad and look at that.
Unaided-communication includes gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, body language, and sign.

2. Aided-Communication techniques use an external aid to get the message across for others to understand.

Examples include: high technology systems (iPad, table, speech generating device, switch), and low technology systems (real objects, communication books, pen & paper, pictures).

Why might someone need AAC?

Some people need AAC if they are unable to speak, or have limited words. Others find AAC options helpful to help them understand what is being communicated by the visual information it provides.

Imagine you visit a foreign land, and when you get there you can't understand the language they speak and they have no understanding of your language. How would you communicate your need for food? or shelter? or to use a washroom?

Some users benefit from a combination of aided (both low tech and high-tech options) and unaided strategies, depending on their communication needs. For example, you might use a translation app on your phone to express your words in a language understood by your listener, but then also act out (like charades!) the action of what you're trying to express to help get your message across.

A low-tech example would be the pictures of food that restaurants put on their menus. Have you ever pointed to a photo when communicating your order?

What's next?

Thank you for taking a moment to educate yourself on augmentative and alternative communication!

Please share your understanding and help teach others about the many forms of communication, so that we might all be more patient and receptive to non-verbal communication.

Learning a few signs in ASL would be a great next step to having more resources to help you communicate without words.

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