Friday, November 8, 2013

Universal Design & Augmentative & Alternative Communication – New Trends

Over the past year there have been a number of innovations in the area of augmentative & alternative communication (AAC) which contribute the ideals of universal design.  We continue to see strong inclusion of multiple accessibility features across all platforms. One could say that the line between assistive technology, instructional technology and technology for personal use has never been more blurred.  The blurring of these lines leads us towards true inclusive practice, design, and full access (link to article on AAC technology to Access the World) to the privileges exercised by those who are able to use spoken language efficiently.

The current trend appears to be directed at tablet usage for AAC. The accessibility features which are present across platforms have set a new standard in how we look at AAC access and universal design. We still have a mix of products on the market which include typical tablets and those repurposed for dedicated AAC usage.  Historically the iTechnology and the androids tablets adapted by Saltillo were the primary options available. This has since changed in more recent history.  We have now seen the first adaptation to a typical store bought Windows 8 tablet for eye-gaze. (Tobii  EyeMobile). DynaVox has released a new tablet based system as well: DynaVox T-10.  This includes the new Compass software program.  PRC offers the Accent 800 series which is the smallest device they offer with their expansive software programs.  Cost remains a challenge. We have to make a strong commitment to reducing costs for both the hardware and software. Although insurance may pay for some of this, not everyone has access to such coverage.

Another challenge is the availability of high quality communication apps across platforms. To have universal access and to support universal design across products, we have to expand upon the quality and availability of AAC applications. One should not have to choose a device based on the application available. Proper selection of an AAC device must include many things which combine a variety of hardware options, platforms and high quality software/applications.

AAC Connect offers a variety of tools which are helpful in choosing communication applications. These tools are both free and for purchase. With so many different applications on the market, it is important to develop more consistent evaluative techniques. Many do not have lite versions or the ability to trial prior to purchase. This then requires a systematic needs and review to assist in the selection process. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC) wrote a white paper on communication apps and mobile devices which provide an overview of some of the current issues and progress.  This site also offers many other sources of information which are relevant to the current trends in AAC.

Universal design is emerging in many aspects of our lives. It is imperative that we recognize this, educate ourselves on these options and include them in our daily practice. We must give feedback to manufacturers and software developers as a part of our professional practice and engagement in the field.

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