Mobile Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) – New Tools for the SLP

iOS tablets in various sizes

Photo by Kevin Marks

The iPad, iPod, and the competitors of these products that will continue to emerge in the next months provide SLPs with unique and flexible additions to their “toolbox”. In particular, the applications for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) have been widely embraced by SLPs as a low-cost alternative to expensive, purpose-built “dedicated” speech generating devices (SGD). Third party payers from schools to private insurers are jumping on the “least expensive alternative” bandwagon (although it is unlikely that Medicare or Medicaid will ever consider an iPad as “durable medical equipment”). These tools are generally affordable solutions to individuals with disabilities and their families (even if it takes a little saving up for…). The available “apps” range from automated flash cards to well-developed, evidence-based software conducive to the development or re-acquisition of language.

Here we have a classic good news – bad news situation! The good news – we have another tool that will be effective for some individuals as their primary AAC device, or as a scaffold to more complex systems, or for some, for use as a back up device or part of a multi-modal system that includes a dedicated SGD, signs/gestures, vocal approximations, etc. The bad news – practitioners may be pressured to abandon what they know about appropriate practices in matching technology to the individual’s needs in favor of the inexpensive (and perhaps, more readily obtainable) option. So – the bottom line is to remember all we know about appropriate practices in assessment, advocate for those practices, and remember that AAC includes both devices and, importantly, the services to SUPPORT the use the of device in order to obtain effective and efficient communication.

SLPs and others interested in this topic should also review the “White Paper” recently issued by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement. The White Paper is based on interviews with more than 25 AAC “thought leaders” between January and March, 2011, representing multiple stakeholder groups. In addition, I encourage you to join SIG 12, to be part of ongoing discussions on these technologies on the SIG 12 listserv!

Amy S. Goldman is an associate director of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University where she directs Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology. Amy has specialized in AAC throughout her long career as an SLP and is chair of the steering committee of ASHA’s Special Interest Group on AAC (Special Interest Group 12).