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This is more of a chance to review and exploration topics such as:
Further access and emerging technologies
Identifying unmet needs
Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI)
Emerging technology and innovation for access
So before you read on...
We have discussed a wide range of ways it is possible to access AAC systems, environmental aids and games by direct or indirect methods. Think about the ones you remember? You can make a note of these in your reflective journal. Looking at the list you have created think about the following questions
What skills and ability does a child need to use each of your input methods ?
Can you think of a child you have worked with where none of these options would be easy to use?
Why would they be difficult?
How many of these options do you recognize? Which ones have you used and why? Move the slider at the bottom of the picture to the right.
Challenges to AAC access
It is reasonable to ask, why we need further innovation in access to AAC when so many options already exist. As we have discussed earlier in the course each form of AAC access requires or demands that the user has certain skills. These might include:-
Gross motor, large physical movements such as with an arm
Fine Motor, including use of hands or fingers
Production of sounds, often before the formation of words.
Intellectual or cognitive skills which might include cause and effect, choice making or sequencing.
Access to AAC systems is based on identifying the ability of the child to make reliable, consistent movements or actions. These might involve any part of the body, in the past we have found switches that have used hands, feet, eyebrows or tongue to provide
access. But despite this there are some cases where such consistency of movement may not be possible, and innovation is finding ways to address this.
Advances in Technology
Gradually, new technologies are emerging that help overcome some of the barriers experienced by children where other options have not been successful. We would stress that these are not always available or affordable, but think it is important that as
professionals we are aware of future options in providing a solution where all other options have been exhausted.
These new technologies may yet become readily available in the future as we found with multi-touch devices such as tablets. Here are some new technologies to think about.
Did you know that it is possible to control a tablet such as an iPad or Android device using a Bluetooth pointing device such as a mouse, joystick or trackball? Some of these connect to the device using a Bluetooth whilst others require a special interface
box that allow different USB devices to work. Don't forget there may be others accessing devices using Wifi and Bluetooth - always check your AAC user can use their access method - USB and cable may be the most robust method!
Watch the following video and then think of situations or children that you have worked with where this might have been helpful?
There have always been some children who find it is extremely difficult to achieve a reliable and consistent movement that can be used to activate a switch in order to access and control a device or application. Eye pointing at symbols has been
one approach to address this challenge. Solutions such as an e-Tran frame have been used as a low-tech solution based on eye movement and gaze.
We have learnt that these same eye movements
can also be used to control an AAC device electronically. But there are challenges to think about :
Glasses: Sometimes the eye gaze camera has difficulty locating the user’s eye.
Other visual issues: Some children have strabismus, nystagmus etc. Calibration can take too long or be hard for the child when the set up does not work immediately calibrate.
Cognitive impairments: There can be a significant learning curve without optimal support and positioning etc.
Language impairments: Layout and ease of access to symbols etc remains vital to speed access
Environmental supports: Resources, time and expert knowledgeable human support are crucial for success as with all AAC systems
One of the most fascinating areas of research in recent years involves making a connection between brain impulses and controlling technology. These interfaces are not likely to be suitable for young children currently but may become an
option in the future
BCI technology is based upon a series of sensors being attached to the skull of the person with a disability. In most cases these are “non-invasive” resting on the scalp of the user with a signal being strengthened through a conducting
gel similar to that used for ultrasound scans during a pregnancy. The sensors detect and identify patterns of brain impulses that are consistent when the person thinks about something specific, something with strong emotional connotations
is often used.
These patterns become the basis of making selections on an AAC grid as each pattern in effect becomes the equivalent of a switch press. For instance one pattern might be used to scan through rows and columns, whilst a second pattern is
used to make a choice as discussed in Brain–Computer Interfaces for Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A Tutorial.
To learn more about potential uses of BCI, the TechPlanet video provides some explanations, as well as some points for discussion regarding the dangers of losing control of signals that might be sent or even received.
As an introduction to the subject it may be helpful discover how research with 12 AAC users helped to uncover some pros and cons of AI language models. The following YouTube video is 8.46mins long and titled “The less I type, the better”: How AI Language Models can Enhance or Impede Communication for AAC...
Now AAC apps are making use of AI to enhance the speed symbol based AAC output. One of the first was Livox. Machine learning using data gathered to adapt to the child’s situation and skills. Through artificial intelligence Livox learns a user’s routine and creates grid options that are consistent with use based on time and location. The algorithms adapt content to the
tasks and environment of child. This reduces the number of choices of boards that a child has to navigate and then helps speed up AACcommunication.
AAC and Wearable Technology
Wearable technology has been one of the most rapidly growing areas of technology in recent years with fitness trackers become very widely used. At the same time smart watches have also become widespread and offer new opportunities to provide access to
communication through innovation. Watch the next video showing an AAC solution on a smartwatch, what do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of this as a solution. At the very least it might be that wearable technology is one way in which we
can make sure that a child never forgets their device!
Using Alexa with Sign Language
Further developments and research are now exploring how someone whose first language is signing could interact with an Echo device using Alexa. Watch the next video and think about the opportunities for communication and control offered for people who
By providing an AAC and communication solution you may be enabling far more than just functional communication, the tools can allow children to have
control over the environment,
access to entertainment and
search the internet as well as
engage with their peers
These activities may be highly motivating to the child learning AAC. Innovations and new ways of engaging with technology, mean that increasingly communication need not be denied to anyone. This research and development is very exciting and many of the ideas discussed could become real options for you to recommend in the near future.
PrAACticalAAC blog - This AAC newsletter is run by Carole Zangari and colleagues. It is free to subscribe and covers many of the latest subjects being discussed by AAC experts in USA and abroad.
Plug and Pray - A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies. (Download