5f. Adding access technology to an AAC device

Updated by Global Symbols with UNICEF ECARO

There are many ways in which children might use an AAC device, so it is important to think about...

  • The more access methods that can be supported, the greater the number of children benefit from the initiative.
  • When choosing a device, selecting those which support as many of the access methods listed below as possible will be helpful.
  • Also consider access methods available that an app provides to ensure that it can be linked to the range of external devices or ways offered by the operating system such as scanning with switch access. More guidance can be found on the Global Symbols Training AAC Pathways Level 1 Basic Access & 2 High Tech Access

input devices (Image of input devices thanks to Ablenet)

Direct Touch

  • A screen that responds to touch and gestures to select symbols is often called a dynamic display
  • Head Pointing/Eye Gaze or Pointing
  • This technology may be built into some very modern devices or require a third party specialist camera. In addition, the technology is used by those with complex physical needs to guide and select from symbols through head or eye movements.

Switch Scanning (1 or 2)

  • Simple switches are used extensively by those with physical disabilities. They usually connect through an interface box and use whatever consistent movements a child has to activate one or more switches. Many types of switches are available, but they are nearly all compatible with an interface and app.

Mouse / Joystick

  • Some children find a mouse or joystick or other physical pointing devices very easy to use, and it may feel familiar to older users. In many android devices, these can be connected by USB or Bluetooth, whilst on iOS devices, there may be a need for an additional interface or simply to connect by Bluetooth.

Sound activation

  • Some software may use sounds or specific sounds to replicate a switch press. In these cases, a good quality onboard microphone or Bluetooth microphone that can be “pinned” close to a child’s mouth may work well

Multiple Access Methods

  • Many children may need more than one access method. This might be because of context or health or wellbeing where tiredness can be an issue. Therefore, flexibility and ease of switching from one to the other are helpful. Wireless (Bluetooth) connectivity is especially helpful in these cases as it avoids the tangle of wires and clutter that makes technology uncomfortable or complex to use

There are many factors to consider in determining a device or group of devices to provide or recommend. While this may require structured research and technical review, much information can be gleaned through the project and organisational networks to gather feedback from other AAC users on which devices and specifications have worked well for them. Careful investment in the choice of a device can make a significant difference to successful implementation and reduced abandonment.