The History of AAC

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When considering the trajectory and history of augmentative and alternative communication, there are several thoughts that come to mind of the progression over the past three plus decades. Before the technology side of augmentative communication, there was language. The origin of augmentative communication came out of a desire to provide people who were unable to communicate verbally with a way to express themselves. The goal was to develop language, as language was needed to be able to learn and grow and develop. How would they communicate? How would they make their thoughts, ideas, and feelings known? 


There was a need for tools that would give a person a way to create their own message. Those tools included drawings of symbols affixed to plexiglass, symbols assembled and taped together onto a lap tray, dowel sticks with erasers on the ends attached to head bands for the person to use their head to point to the symbols. Innovation was not only apparent but also rampant as we searched for ways to give a person access to language to be able to communicate for themselves. 


From there, the progression included the ancestors to our current technological advances. Much of the technology that we now enjoy had its roots in accessibility for special needs. The touch screen was initially applied through a 16 pin connection to an Apple computer, like an Apple C or an Apple GS. And this is now commonplace on tablets, touch screen laptops, and smartphones. Speech recognition had its start as being a tool to help understand dysarthric speech. A person with sound errors related to a neurological insult spoke into a microphone connected to a computer, and the computer analyzed the speech to determine what was said. We now know this as speech-to-text translation. 


The conversation about providing people with a way to communicate is not a new conversation. However, there are new advances adding to the discussion. Symbol-It is one such advancement. While all of the previously discussed progress was for the symbol speaker to be able to express himself/herself, Symbol-It is for the communication partner, for the communication partner to use to speak to the developing symbol speaker in symbols. Symbol-It has added another dimension to the augmentative communication conversation. It has added the dimension of translation, translating speech into picture symbols in the same way that a sign language translator translates spoken language into sign language. 


Why have we not addressed this before? Why did it take us so long to realize that just as spoken language needs to be translated into sign language in order for the signer to develop language, spoken language needs to be translated into picture symbols for the symbol speaker to develop language?

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