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Suffolk Center for Speech

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The differences between no/low tech and high tech AAC devices

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) refers to using a form of communication to supplement or replace spoken and/or written words. Varied types of devices are used to help speakers get their messages across. These are usually divided into the categories of “no/low-tech” devices and “high-tech” devices. A no/low-tech device requires something external to the person using it that is either non-electronic or a very simple electronic device. A high-tech device is a complex electronic device that permits the storage and retrieval of messages, many of which allow the use of speech output. These can also be called Speech Generating Devices (SGDs) or Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs).

Examples of no/low-tech communication strategies include PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), communication boards, communication books/notebooks, and communication wallets.

Benefits of no/low tech devices:

  • Can help facilitate early implementation of AAC
  • Low cost
  • Portability

(Note: it is ALWAYS good to have a low-tech AAC device to act as a backup to a person’s high-tech device!)

Disadvantages of a no/low tech device:

  • Vocabulary is limited to the display in front of the user
  • Communicating complex ideas is difficult
  • Heavy reliance on communication partners due to a lack of voice or print output.
  • Due to the lack of symbols or vocabulary, a low-tech system could lead to an underestimation of the AAC user’s abilities.

Examples of high-tech communication strategies include Ipads (with appropriate apps such as Proloquo2go), other tablets, eye gaze devices (such as Tobii Dynavox), or other electronic devices.

Advantages of high-tech devices:

  • Limitless options of vocabulary
  • Most have word prediction features at the phrase/sentence level
  • Auditory and visual feedback provided to user
  • Allows communication to occur at a distance
    • Allows the user to send messages without first obtaining the partners’ attention through another mode
  • Additional options available (email, internet, phone, environmental controls)

Disadvantages of a high-tech device:

  • Most of these devices can cost thousands because they come with specialized software.
  • Technology breaks down and gets outdated (which is why it’s always necessary to have a backup low-tech device!)
  • Lack of portability (in some cases)

Choosing a specific device for a loved one can be a challenging task. Various factors must be taken into consideration during the process, such as the person’s physical abilities and limitations, their cognitive abilities and limitations, financial limitations, and what the device is needed for.

Resources:

Lecture: Dr. Cindy Arroyo, @ Adelphi University, 2017

https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/assets/files/resources/aacasd.pdf

https://ussaac.org/aac-info/aac-devices/

-Jessica Eberhart M.S., CF-SLP, TSSLD

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