Activities and Events Underway for AAC Awareness Month

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by Mary Chapman |

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communication and ALS

October is International Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Awareness Month, set aside annually to inform the public about how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients and others use these devices to communicate.

From educational presentations to personal videos, supporters globally are marking the event organized by the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC). This year’s theme is “Bridging the Silence Through Solidarity.”

Individuals with severe speech or language problems use various AAC methods to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional. Special augmentative aids, such as picture and symbol communication boards and electronic devices, help people express themselves. In the United States alone, more than two million residents communicate using such devices.

The United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC), a national ISAAC chapter, has several ways to support the month, including sharing a fact sheet and an informational handout about people with complex communication needs, wearing an AAC Awareness button, distributing AAC Awareness Cards, and checking out the organization’s Awareness Month blog.

The USSAAC also has created an AAC Awareness Video and is inviting people who use AAC, their caregivers, and USSAAC members to create and submit videos in which they explain why they enjoy the organization.

“As a person who greatly benefits from AAC, I strongly assert that AAC has enabled me to be an active participant in our society,” Yoosun Chung, USSAAC president, said on the organization’s website. “In fact, I am teaching students at the university, and this could not be possible without my device and the strategies I have learned to use. This is not just my case. Many individuals with complex communication needs have benefited from AAC in a variety of ways in their everyday life,” Chung said.

Supporters worldwide are encouraged to find a nearby ISAAC chapter and ask about ways to participate. They also may follow ISAAC on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

A regularly updated listing of global activities is available here. In the United Kingdom, for example, Communication Matters is presenting a series of discussions and events. And, Assistive Technology Australia is hosting a Zoom “open house” Oct. 26, which will include AAC experts.

Elsewhere, U.K.-based SpeakUnique, which creates personalized synthetic voices for use in communication aids by individuals whose speech is affected by disease, is observing the month by highlighting its founder, Euan MacDonald, who has motor neurone disease — an umbrella term that also includes ALS. More information is available here.

AAC is widely used in ALS. As the disease progresses, many patients will have difficulty speaking. Problems can include: slow, slurred speech; difficulty managing voice pitch, tone, or rhythm; soft and faint voice quality; issues with certain consonant pronunciation; and a nasally voice quality.

There are a variety of AAC methods available that may help ALS patients communicate. An occupational therapist or speech and language pathologist often helps determine the best method for each patient. Simple AAC includes non-electronic tools such as pen and paper, writing boards, and communication charts. There also are high-tech devices available.

The USSAAC supports and advocates for adults and children who rely on AAC methods and technologies, their family members, professionals, educators, advocates, and manufacturers.