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Communication aids glossary

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AAC System

An integrated group of components, including symbols, aids, strategies and techniques used by individuals to enhance communication. The system serves to supplement any gestural, spoken, and/or written communication abilities (Speech Pathology Australia 2004 Position Paper AAC).

Access or Selection Technique

How the user interacts with their communication aid. This can be direct or indirect:

  • Direct access refers to the person independently pointing to a desired item eg. using their finger to activate a cell on a display, using a stylus (pointer) with a hand held device, using a head pointer. When the person points to something, the device or system performs a direct action eg. a letter is typed when key is pressed.
  • Indirect access refers to a system where choices are offered to the person one at a time through visual or auditory scanning and they indicate their choice with a predetermined signal eg. the person may press on a switch to choose an item that is being highlighted by a visual cue. The visual or auditory scanning cues may be offered by the device itself or, in the case of low technology AAC tools, by a person pointing and/or speaking the choices aloud. This low technology strategy is commonly referred to as Partner Assisted Scanning.

Aided AAC

AAC that requires an external item to aid communication such as object symbols, communication boards/books with symbols or photos, speech generating devices, tablet computers (low and high tech).

Aided Language Stimulation

Where a facilitator points out picture symbols on a person’s communication display as they speak their own message, to teach the meaning of symbols and/or demonstrate how to use the symbols to communicate a message

Artificial Larynx

A communication aid for speech, primarily used after laryngectomy (removal of voice box). The battery operated artificial larynx can either be a neck type (eg. Servox) or mouth type (intraoral) device.

Assistive Technology (AT)

‘Any device, system or design that allows an individual to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the ease and safety with which a task can be performed.’ (The South Carolina Assistive Technology Program cited in Assistive Technology, 2006)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC is a set of tools and strategies that an individual uses to solve every day communicative challenges. Communication can take many forms such as: speech, a shared glance, text, gestures, facial expressions, touch, sign language, symbols, pictures, speech generating devices, etc. Everyone uses multiple forms of communication, based upon the context and our communication partner. Effective communication occurs when the intent and meaning of one individual is understood by another person. The form is less important than the successful understanding of the message. ’ (International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication).



The areas on a speech generating device where voice messages are stored.

Communication aid

A physical object or device used to transmit or receive messages (eg. communication book, speech generating device). For MASS purposes, this refers to artificial larynx, speech generating devices (SGD), communication software and voice amplification devices.

Communication competence

The ability to functionally communicate to adequately meet daily communication needs. It involves knowledge, judgement and skills in four areas: linguistic (mastery of the language code required by an AAC system), operational (technical skills required to operate an AAC system or device), social (mastery of the social rules of communication) and strategic competence (effective use of compensatory strategies for communication breakdowns). (Light, J. 1989, 1996).

Communication software

Specialised software that provides on-screen displays and/or keyboards and voice output, that can be run on a laptop or tablet computer.

Complex communication needs

Needs of people who have communication problems associated with a wide range of physical, sensory and environmental causes which restrict/limit their ability to participate independently in society. They and their communication partners may benefit from using Alternative or Augmentative Communication (AAC) methods either temporarily or permanently. (ISAAC Australia, 2002)

Computer access

Equipment or strategies that allow an individual to access a computer eg. accessing the internet via a switch and onscreen keyboard.


Dedicated communication device

A communication device that has been set up to use a specific communication program, and which cannot be used for other computer applications.

Digitised speech

Spoken words recorded directly into a microphone and stored on the device

Dynamic display

Dynamic display electronic communication is usually a portable tablet style, touch screen computer running specially designed software. The software usually provides numerous communication displays that can be set up for the user. Individual cells within each display (or page) may contain words, symbols and/or letters and speech will usually be generated when cells or sequences of cells are selected. The numerous pages can be displayed sequentially or sometimes simultaneously as pop-up windows, by selecting keys or cells which link one page to another. The ‘dynamic’ feature refers to the changing displays. (Bode, T. Zygo Australia)



The use of numbers, letters, symbols or combinations to represent language. An example of the use of encoding is Minspeak, where sequences of multi-meaning symbol icons represents individual words.

Environmental control

Environmental control stems from the term Environmental Control Units (ECUs) which are purpose-designed devices that assist people with limited physical abilities to control their immediate environment using alternative means, eg. to turn a lamp on and off, change the TV channel. Some speech generating devices and communication software have inbuilt environmental control capabilities. (LifeTec Queensland)


Filter keys

A feature on some devices/software that assists with preventing key repeats eg. liiiiiike this.

Functional communication

Any method or communication strategy that successfully allows a message to be conveyed to and understood by the communication partner.


High tech / technology

Electronic communication aids which can have speech output (eg. SGDs, communication software).



See symbols

Integrated system

An integrated system may allow an individual to control multiple pieces of equipment via one system controller and method of access eg. a joystick to control their powered wheelchair, communication device with inbuilt ECU, and computer.


Key guard

An accessory that assists with accurate selection of key/cells by providing physical borders between cells.


Language representation

Language can be represented visually by either letters, words, symbols (see definition of symbols below) or objects. Letter displays and keyboards are typically presented in either an ABC or QWERTY (computer) layout. Symbol displays can be represented by single meaning or multi-meaning pictures/icons. Single meaning icons are commonly used in low tech AAC (eg. Pragmatically Organised Dynamic Displays), simple speech generating devices, and in many high technology devices, where pre-programmed page sets are often available (eg. InterAACt page sets by Dynavox and The Grid 2 page sets by Sensory Software). Multi-meaning icons are only found on speech generating devices made by Prentke Romich Co, and are used to encode language. This system is called Minspeak.


Number of pages/overlays that can be programmed to store voice messages.

Light Tech / Technology

Single message devices that offer some but limitedaccess to communication interaction.

Low Tech / Technology

Non-electronic communication aids (without speech output) and strategies eg. a communication book, topic lists, chat books.


Message retrieval

The way a person retrieves words or messages that are stored in a communication device, but which not immediately visible on a display. There are three types of message retrieval strategies: Levels and Overlays; Dynamic Display and Encoding (University of Washington 2010).

Mobile technologies

Mainstream smart phones, tablet computers and laptops that enable connection to the internet via wireless or cable connection

Moisture guard / raincoat

A transparent accessory that protects the device from accidental spillage.


An arm or bracket that can be attached to a wheelchair, or specific materials/equipment (eg. foam) onto which a device/equipment can be positioned for optimal access.

Multimodal communication

The use of more than one AAC strategy in the communication environment in order to facilitate communication. It provides the person with a choice of using their preferred method in a variety of situations.


Non-dedicated device

A device that allows the user to access a full range of programs (eg. Windows applications and the internet) as well as specific communication software.


Oral adaptor

An accessory used with a neck type artificial larynx (eg. Servox) to convert it to a mouth type (intraoral device)


A display of photos, symbols, letters, words and/or phrases which represent the voice messages stored in each cell of an electronic communication device.



A piece of additional computer hardware that is added to a host computer in order to expand its abilities.


Rate enhancement

Features on a communication device or software that can speed up message production for some users. Some examples are:

  • Word prediction – The device/software guesses the word being typed as letters are selected. The accuracy of the guess increases as more letters are typed. The user is often able to select the word they want before having to type the entire word.
  • Sticky Keys – A feature that allows two keys to be pressed separately instead of simultaneously eg. to produce a capital ‘M’- the shift key can be pressed before the ‘m’ and the software will perform the necessary action.
  • Abbreviation expansion – A feature that allows word, phrases and sentences to be stored via initials or abbreviation eg. when “HS” is typed, the following message might be spoken: “Hi my name is Sarah.”
  • Phrase storage – A device/software’s ability to pre-store entire phrases eliminating the need for the entire message to be typed each time.



An ‘indirect access/selection’ technique in which items are presented sequentially and the individual activates a switch or otherwise signals to accept one of the items when presented.(

Selection technique

See access

Speech Generating Device (SGD)

A device that speaks aloud messages for communication, previously known as Electronic Communication Device or Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA). Speech generating devices may assist individuals whose speech or other means of communication are not meeting their needs.

Static display

An electronic communication device where the display representing the stored messages is a fixed set of pictographs and/or words. These displays are usually called overlays and may be printed on paper or other material. The overlays are physically changed by the user or an assistant when a different display is required. (Bode, T. Zygo Australia)


A symbol stands for or represents something else. A symbol could use visual, auditory, and/or tactile representation of conventional concepts eg. gestures, photos, manual signs, picto-ideographs, printed words, objects, spoken words, Braille. They can assist with receptive language (ie. understanding / comprehension) or used to augment or as an alternative to spoken language.

Symbol sets

Commercially available sets of symbols/pictures/photos/line drawings that represent a variety of vocabulary concepts. Commonly used to produce communication resources such as communication books, charts or displays on Speech Generating Devices, both to assist receptive language and as a means of expression. Some commercially available symbol sets in Australia include: Photos; Line Drawings; Rebus; Picture Communication Symbols (PCS); Compic; Softpics; Techsyms; Dynasyms; SymbolStix.


A piece of equipment that allows an individual to operate a range of technology using a consistent and reliable body movement. Switches come in all shapes, sizes and styles and must be carefully matched to meet the needs of a user. (LifeTec Queensland)

Switch cap / skin

A clear, rigid plastic cover that snaps onto some switches. It allows for the placement of a symbol on the switch surface without the need for adhesive and keeps the symbol protected.

Synthesised speech

Artificial, computer-generated speech selected from a vocabulary that has been created entirely on a computer by specialised software. It can be customised to be gender/age group specific (ie. child/adult voice).


Text to speech

Device or software that speaks aloud words that are typed in by the user.



Unaided AAC

AAC that does not require any sort of external communication sources other than one’s body movements for the production of expressive communication, such as signing, finger spelling, gestures, facial expression, speech and body language.




There are two groups of vocabulary (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association):

  • Core vocabulary – the small number of words that are used for the majority of communication. For most people, about 85% of communication is accomplished using just a few hundred words.
  • Extended vocabulary – the words used for the 15% of communication not covered by core vocabulary.

Voice Amplification Device

A device that increases the volume of the user’s voice via a microphone.

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Last updated: 1 June 2014

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