Low and High Tech Devices Broaden Horizons for Those with Disabilities

There's no doubt that technology has changed our world — making it easier to stay connected. But for many people with disabilities, technology provides something much more valuable than convenience, it provides independence.

Assistive technology (AT) is a very broad term that is used across disciplines to describe any device or system that allows one with disabilities to increase their ability to function and maintain independence.

In the world of Speech-Language Pathology, there is a specific term we use to reference devices or systems that are used to help a patient communicate – Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Over the years, the vocabulary referring to this area has changed, but the idea behind it remains the same – oral verbalization is not the only way to communicate.

So who can benefit from using AAC? Many people with a disability can benefit. In fact, in the Pediatrics Department at Good Shepherd, our Speech-Language Pathologists use many forms of AAC to treat patients who have diagnoses of autism, cerebral palsy, apraxia, Rett’s Syndrome, traumatic brain injury and more.

One of the most common questions regarding ACC is whether it always requires the use of sophisticated technology with computer generated voices. The answer is “absolutely not!” Systems as simple as gestures and sign language are considered AAC. These systems, as well as the use of simple switches, touch screen computers and pictures are a form of AAC we call “low tech.” Low-tech devices and systems are the type of AAC that many users start out with but can also be the type of AAC that is most functional for a person’s cognitive level.

For more information on assistive technology and augmentive and alternative communication visit the  American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website and the Pennsylvania Initiative on Assistive Technology website. Learn more about  the Good Shepherd  Harry C. Trexler Center for Assistive Technology here.

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