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Augmentative and Alternative Communication

People who are unable to speak or write can still express their ideas, wants and needs through what is called Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Sign language systems, for example, have been used for centuries while more high-tech options have become available in recent years. Craig Hospital’s specially trained speech and occupational therapists work with patients in the Tech Lab to find the communication options that work best to meet their individual needs and capabilities.

These include:

  1. No-Tech Options: tools that don’t involve technology, such as alphabet boards, eye-gaze boards, needs lists, icon boards and partner-assisted scanning.
  2. Low-Tech Options: tools that provide some verbal feedback, but are limited to a small number of pre-programmed responses. Most are basic record-and-playback devices.
  3. High-Tech Options: tools that provide the user with the ability to create novel words and phrases in addition to a wide variety of pre-programmed choices.


  • Go-Talk: offers different size keys and up to 34 messages. Some units have visual prompts and auditory cues to any message.
  • Step-by-Step Communicator: records up to two minutes and as many messages as you need. Button sizes vary from 2½ to 5 inches.
  • BIGmack Communicator: designed for those with visual impairments or physical disabilities, the activation buttons are five inches. Records only a single message up to two minutes long.
  • iTalk 2 Communicator: users answer questions or make choices by pressing one of two large, red and yellow buttons.
  • Talking Brix: light-weight, magnetic buttons can be placed anywhere in the room. Each pack contains three devices which can be arranged sequentially to promote learning or to help meet a person’s unique individual needs. Each button can hold one message.


High tech augmentative communication devices give users the ability to create novel sounds or utterances in addition to selecting from a wide variety of pre-programmed choices. Users can access these devices three ways:

  1. Direct Selection: touching their device with their finger, knuckle or stylus.
  2. Switch Scanning: allowing their device to scan across rows of options so the user may choose the one he or she desires.
  3. Eye Gaze: using eye movements to select choices listed on a computer screen. These devices have cameras and a mouse cursor or other icon that appears where the client looks. The user makes his or her choice by staring at the item on the screen for a set amount of time.


TEXT TO SPEECH: type a message and the computer speaks or texts it to your partner.

  • Lightwriter SL40 Connect: use this unit for face-to-face communication, texting or making mobile phone calls. Back-up and restore all settings, words and phrases, and transfer all notes to a PC by using a memory stick. restore all settings, words and phrases and transfer notes to and from the device to a PC using a memory stick.

FULL COMMUNICATION COMPUTERS: can provide full, complex vocabulary for communicating via pictures, words or both. Computers also enable email, texting and environmental control capabilities.

  • Tobii T Series: using symbols or text, write your messages on the screen and the unit will speak them out loud. These devices come with seven-, 10- or 15-inch touch screens.
  • Tobii I Series: designed for those with cerebral palsy, Rett, ALS or stroke/aphasia. They are able to use their eyes to generate speech through these devices. Available with 12- or 15-inch monitor.


  • Tobii M-8: same software options as the Tobii T-10 and T-15 models, but in a portable, tablet form. Comes with vibrant 8-inch screen, batteries last up to 10 hours.
  • Tobii EyeMobile: allows hands-free access to Windows 8 Pro tablets. This unit consists of the Tobii PCEye Go eye tracker, the versatile EyeMobile mounting bracket and a standard, off-the-shelf Windows 8 Pro tablet of choice. Those who have physical and communication impairments are able to navigate, control and access apps, Internet, music, e-books, social media, games and more by moving their eyes.

iPad and Android tablets: The Apple and Android operating systems also offer full communication applications that can provide speech output. Those considering a standard tablet must also be sure that they can easily access the device either by consistent, controlled touch (tapping and swiping) or by switch access (see access methods above)


TEXT-TO-SPEECH: When you type a message, the app “speaks” for you. The following are some examples:

  • Speak it!: select the copy you want your device to read and simply listen to it. In addition to typing messages in real time for the app to speak, the user can copy and paste emails, documents, web pages, PDF files and more. Available on Apple.
  • Verbally: assisted speech solution for the iPad/iPhone. Offers word and phrase prediction that significantly reduce the number of taps required to speed conversation.
  • Answers: YesNo free: comes with two, large, color-coordinated buttons, one for yes and one for no. Buttons can also be adapted to offer any 2 choices. Available on Apple.
  • Grid Player: offers more than 24,000 Widget and SymbolStix symbols, word prediction and both male and female voices.
  • Let Me Talk: provides images so you may read them as a sentence in a meaningful way. Comes with 9,000 images.
  • Locabulary: chooses words and phrases based on your GPS location.
  • Phrase Board: primarily for medical use in that some of the functions involve reporting symptoms, levels of pain, and a diagram to help with diagnosis.
  • Sounding Board: creates custom boards using AbleNet symbols.
  • Proloquo2go: full communication software. Speak by tapping buttons with words or phrases, choose a vocabulary that fits your needs, expand your vocabulary by changing grid size, and edit and customize with ease. Proloquo2go is available in English and Spanish.
  • Tobii-Dynavox Compass: full communication software that is available on dedicated Augmentative Communication devices (see above). features thousands of symbols, pictures, words and phrases that support everyday conversations and personal needs.

* The Tech Lab offers these resources for educational purposes and does not endorse any products, including those mentioned on this site. Many others are available. Please check online for additional products, manufacturers and user reviews.