Thursday, October 26, 2017

Accessible Communication Bill of Rights

People who know me know that I talk about the AAC or Communication Bill of Rights all the time.  All. The. Time. 

I talk about it when training teachers, parents/caregivers, therapists and paraprofessionals. I teach directly about the AAC Bill of a Rights with my AAC using students.  I program specific messages about the AAC Bill of Rights onto my clients’ AAC Systems so they can self-advocate quickly when needed. I talk about it when I teach about AAC and behavior because often times “challenging behavior” is an indicator that the AAC Bill of a Rights is not being respected.  Years ago, I revised the AAC Bill of Rights into various common symbol sets used in the USA and colleagues followed suits in their own countries. 

There are currently two versions of the full text of the Communication Bill of Rights available, the 1992 version and the 2016 version.  Both have the basic and vital information.  I adore them both. They frame all I do in my work with individuals with complex communication needs. I honor and respect those that created both versions. Their work was and is visionary and incredibly impactful.  However, the truth is, both versions of the Communication Bill of Rights are largely inaccessible to lower level readers and some individuals with intellectual or cognitive disabilities. 

That is because the 1992 version of the Communication Bill of Rights measures at about a grade 9 Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level; the 2016 version, despite being designed to be clearer, measures at an 11th grade Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level. (Those measures are only reflective of the enumerated text of each document and were calculated on the Readability Formulas website.)

To some degree, both Bill of Rights, though especially the 2016 version, are inaccessible to the average American, and since it is reported that the average American reads at a grade 8-9 Level.  In fact, 1 in 5 Americans is reported to read at a fifth grade level and below.  This means that some caregivers, some direct care workers, some friends and family and some AAC users are not able to access the incredibly important ideas in the Communication Bill of Rights. Those who use AAC need all of those people to be able to read and understand their rights. 

The Communication Bill of Rights are also (both versions) inaccessible to same age peers in our elementary and middle school classrooms, peers who could can play a dramatic role in the lives of their friends who use AAC.  

Finally, there is the population of AAC users themselves.  It is well known that AAC users have in the past, and are still today, often educationally neglected.  They are often, if not nearly always, excluded from literacy instruction. If they do receive literacy instruction it is frequently sight word based or “functional/survival reading”. This means a large portion of AAC users cannot read the Communication Bill of Rights, which is written in the first person, because it is speaking from the view of the AAC user; the AAC user who probably can’t read it. (Which is our fault as a field and NOT a reflection of the AAC user’s ability to learn to read.) To bring the irony to its pinnacle the final right in the 2016 version is, “The right to have clear, meaningful, and culturally and linguistically appropriate communications.” (Emphasis mine.) 

To be fair, the Communication Bill of Rights wasn’t created for caregivers or direct care workers or children or AAC users. The updated version included information on how practitioners, specifically practitioners, could use the document to advocate for communication supports and services, promote inclusion and encourage broader community acceptance. Clearly the intended audience was practitioners. I can’t think of a better way for this practitioner to advocate for communication supports and services, promote inclusion and encourage broader community acceptance than to work towards a more accessible version of the Communication Bill of Rights.  

So let’s do it. Let’s make a clear and meaningful Communication Bill of Rights, an Accessible Communication Bill of Rights.  One that can be read by the average American, by the 1 in 5 Americans that read at or below a fifth grade level, by students from grade three and up.  Let’s add symbols to support understanding for those who need them. After all, it is October, AAC Awareness Month! What better way to create awareness than to make the Communication Bill of Rights more understandable to more people?

The following Accessible Communication Bill of Rights measures at a 3rd Grade Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level. 

I am a person with a communication disability. I communicate using a communication system or device. This is can be called my book, my talker or my AAC.  These are my rights:

1.  I have the right to my own friends and social life.
2. I have the right to ask for what I want, who I want or where I want to go. 

3. I ALWAYS have the right to say, “no”!

4. I have the right to say what I feel. 

5. I have the right to make my own, real, choices. 

6. I have the right to say what I think, how I want to say it. 

7. I have the right to ask for, get and give information about myself, my life, my schedule or anything that changes. 

8. I have the right to know about the people in my life and everything happening to me. 

9. I have the right to have EVERYTHING I need to be able to communicate and to be taught how to communicate.

10. I have the right to be heard and answered, even if I can’t have what I want. 

11. I have the right to have my communication system (and other tools), to have them working and to be with people who know how to set up, use and fix my communication system.

12. I have the right to be part of my community, in the way that works best for me, and for my communication to be as important as everyone else’s. 

13. I have the right to be treated with respect. 

14. I have the right to be talked with and not about.  

Note: I reworded each of the 15 points myself, attempting to use clear, simple and understandable language. I revised the sentence lengths numerous times as they impact readability, but many of the rights have multiple important points. I used the website Rewordify to check for difficult to understand words and phrases and remove them from the text. If you wish to test the original text of the Communication Bill of Rights Rewordify is a way to locate the difficult words and phrases, make vocabulary lists to pre-teach and make other modifications. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Switch Skills Resources

The world of assistive technology has come a long way since this blog started!  More and more often our students have the option for direct selection, the fastest way, on a communication system.  For many users options such as integrated conductive touch screens, head trackers, adapted joysticks and trackballs, and especially eye gaze tracking, have made switches less necessary in our field.

Still, switches have a place in our assistive technology tool kit.  For learners with access needs that preclude direct selection through any possible means our next option is usually switch access.  We tend to start with a single switch for cause and effect, yet few of our learners really need to learn cause and effect.  If the child drops something, catches her head under her headrest, or does anything else for the entertainment of it or to seek attention the she already understands cause and effect.  A few runs using a switch to turn on preferred music or a fun toy and you are ready to move on to other switch purposes.

At this point it is vital to begin with the end in mind.  What will the child ultimately use switches for?  If it is for communication, the most important thing we teach, then forego any extraneous steps when you look at a switch progression or heirarchy of skills.  Your student doesn't need to learn to press and hold or turn on and turn off if ultimately you are seeking the student pressing and releasing a switch as part of a switch scan.  Don't let these extra skills slow down communication access!  You can develop them later, or program the communication system to eliminate their need.

It will be important to decide if your student will be using a one or two switch scan, also called an automatic scan or a step scan.  In general an automatic or single switch scan requires to student to look and/or listen for the item needed and activate the switch with accurate timing for that item.  A step scan or two switch scan requires the learner to use one switch as a mover and one as a chooser.  With the mover switch the child progresses the scan and with the chooser he chooses the item he wants.  In essence this decision is about is the child or will the child be more accurate if asked to time an activation of a single switch or if asked to coordinate the movements of two switches without worries about timing.  It is important to work with your team on switch placement, type of switch and how switch use will be taught - with attention to keeping the end in mind.  Here are some resources that can be used:

Articles about Switch Use
Switch Use On Various Platforms
Paid Software, Subscriptions and Apps for Teaching Switch Use
Free Switch Activities Online or Download (Cause and Effect unless otherwise noted)
Create Your Own Switch Scanning Activities and use Sharing Sites
Switch and Switch Interface Vendors

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