16 SES 06 B, Technology, Inclusion and Social Aspects
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a broad term used to address both methods and techniques that help people with language impairments so that they can supplement or replace natural speech or writing and understand or produce spoken or written language.
AAC is currently adopted to treat several congenital and acquired conditions such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, autism, verbal dyspraxia, locked-in syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, aphasia and traumatic brain injuries.
In recent years the development of the information and communication technologies has led to a key development in the application of computers to the AAC: the information technology evolution, through the progressive miniaturization of both the size and cost of devices and the advent of mobile computing, is providing us with low-cost easy-to-use computers, which can be exploited even by people with severe disabilities.
AAC can especially benefit from tablets, which outperform dedicated first generation AAC devices in terms of screen resolution, pixel density, battery life, weight and price.
We have started an experimentation aimed at exploring the potential of AAC on tablets for improving communication skills of persons with severe disabilities.
In the first stage of the project we have selected hardware and software to build some prototypes, which were co-constructed with four adults with severe language (and motor) impairments being treated at a day care center for people with disabilities.
This was done through a participation action research performed over a time span of six months. The four subjects were supported by an assistant, who progressively trained them in the use of a tablet and built appropriate personalized symbol tables to help them in basic communicative interactions, such as choosing the activities to be undertaken at the center or their favorite dish from the lunch menu.
The main goal of our exploratory action research was to verify whether the tablet devices with their apps were appropriate to facilitate the communication of people with severe disabilities, such as those treated at the center where the trial took place.
Our conceptual framework is that of the inclusive education, inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provides that "States Parties undertake […] to [...] promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies [...] suitable for persons with disabilities", and that the States Parties "shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate […] their [of the persons with disabilities] full inclusion and participation in the community"; and that they "shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others".
Alliano, A., Herriger, K., Koutsoftas, A.D., and Bartolotta, T.E. A review of 21 iPad applications for augmentative and alternative communication purposes. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 21, 2 (2012), 60-71. Commission of the European Communities. European i2010 initiative on e-Inclusion. 2007. http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/einclusion/docs/i2010_initiative/comm_native_com_2007_0694_f_en_acte.pdf Cook, A. It's not about the technology, or is it? Realizing AAC through hard and soft technologies. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 2 (2011), 64-68. Dolic, J., Pibernik, J., and Bota, J. Evaluation of main-stream tablet devices for symbol based AAC communication. In Proc. KES-AMSTA 2012, Springer, Berlin, Germany, 2012. Fernández-López, Á., Rodríguez-Fórtiz, M.J., Rodríguez-Almendros, M.L., and Martínez-Segura, M.J. Mobile learning technology based on iOS devices to support students with special education needs. Computers & Education, 61 (2013), 77-90. Grigis, D., and Lazzari, M. Augmentative and alternative communication on tablet to help persons with severe disabilities. Proc. CHItaly '13, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2013. Higginbotham, J. The future of the Android operating system for augmentative and alternative communication. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 2 (2011), 52-56. Kagoara, D.M. et al. Using iPods© and iPads© in teaching programs for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 2 (2013), 147-156. Romski, M.A., and Sevcik, R. (2005). Augmentative communication and early intervention: Myths and realities. Infants & Young Children, 18, 3, 174-185. United Nations. Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. UN, New York, NY, USA, 2006.
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