We all have a need to be understood. But few among us struggle to stitch a sentence together. Conversational breakdowns are common among people who are but not limited to hard of hearing, battling autism, or suffering from speech delays.

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How can assistive technologies help with communication?

People with disabilities, or people of determination, are estimated to make up 15% of the global population - more than 1 billion people.

Not all disabilities are visible - such as sight or hearing impairments, mental health disorders, autism or learning differences.

An estimated 1% of the world population suffers a degree of speech, language or communication need (SLCN) due to a range of conditions such as hearing loss, autistic spectrum disorder, learning difficulties, cerebral palsy, strokes, motor neurone disease (MND), and multiple sclerosis.

This blog discusses how technology can help overcome barriers for people with conditions which may affect speech, language and communication.

What is disability?
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, disability results from interactions between a non-inclusive society and individuals.

Barriers may affect access to buildings, services, information or communication. Systemic barriers result from discriminatory policies or practices. Attitudinal barriers result from lack of awareness or incorrect assumptions regarding individuals’ abilities.

How can we create an inclusive society?
Medical interventions and therapies (such as speech therapy), environmental changes and the use of assistive technologies can help to overcome the disabling influence of physical or communication barriers. Attitudes and systems which perpetuate discrimination and inequity must also be addressed.

What is assistive technology and how can it help?
Assistive technology is designed to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, enabling people to live healthy, dignified lives and participate fully in society.

Assistive technologies for communication

For hearing loss:

  • Hearing aids and cochlear implants
  • Closed captioning, synchronised text or voice recognition
  • Alerting devices e.g. for doorbell or phone calls

For visual impairment:

  • Screen readers
  • Narrated descriptions for TV or film
  • Facial recognition technology
  • Be My Eyes’ smartphone app uses a phone camera and video calling to enable sighted volunteers to provide visual assistance to users.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
Augmentative and alternative communication devices may help individuals with conditions which may affect communication, such as cerebral palsy, stroke, autism and speech delay.

AAC uses either low- or high-tech methods to augment, complement, or replace speech. Sign language is a form of AAC that does not require technology.

High-tech AAC devices include speech generation, allowing individuals with impaired speech to make their voices heard. Voice output may be activated by clicking on words or pictures, or typing. New technology uses electromyography (EMG) signals from the brain to control AAC devices for those with paralysis and loss of speech.

The first AAC devices were purpose-built. Widespread use of smartphones and iPads has facilitated the development of AAC apps, such as Fabulaa, increasing the portability, availability and affordability of this technology.

Benefits of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)

AAC devices and apps can help:

  • Expand communication
  • Promote self esteem, self-advocacy and independence
  • Benefit learning and language development
  • Enable participation in education and work environments
  • Promote social interaction for people with autism

How to best use AAC devices

  • Discuss with your speech and language therapist how to best incorporate
    assistive technology
  • For children, choose an app with lots of pictures which can be personalised
  • Involve family members and carers in choosing and learning to how use a
    new device

Fabulaa is a FREE to use mobile app, designed for children and adults who face communication struggles. It is customizable with colourful visuals and engaging features. Currently available in five languages.

Download it today https://www.fabulaa.app