What is AAC?
An estimated 2.5 million Americans experience speech disability to the extent that they have significant difficulty being understood by others. Many of these people have no speech at all and also have other physical disability that precludes expressive communication using hand signs, writing, or typing.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a field of endeavor addressing the communication and other related needs of individuals who experience significant impairment in this area. The goal of AAC is generally to achieve the most effective communication possible for the individual. Aspects of this field include clinical service delivery, education, and research.
Common causes for severe speech disability include cerebral palsy and a number of other congenital (from birth) conditions. Also, many people acquire conditions that result in loss of speech. Well known examples include Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's Disease, head injuries and returning veterans. The need for AAC spans the full age range and knows no economic, ethnic, gender, or other boundaries.
In addition to individuals who require AAC, other stakeholders include family members, friends, caregivers, teachers, employers, and other members of the community. Other professionals and stakeholders in the field of AAC who actively work to improve communication for these people include speech-language pathologists, occupation therapists, physical therapists, engineers, researchers, manufacturers, and agencies that provide funding for systems and services.
"Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC): 1) The supplementation or replacement of natural speech and/or writing using aided and/or unaided symbols...The use of aided symbols requires a transmission device. 2) The field or area of clinical/educational practice to improve the communication skills of individuals with little or no functional speech."
(Lloyd, L.L., Fuller, D.R., & Arvidson, H.H. (1997) Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A handbook of principles and practices. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. pg 524)
AAC Institute offers a free Self-Study Program course, Introduction to AAC.