This section deals with Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC as it is known

What is AAC ?

The following information contains edited extracts from the website of Communication Matters, a UK national ccharity concerned with the augmentative and alternative communication needs of people with complex communication needs.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is the term used to describe methods of communication which can be used to add to the more usual methods of speech and writing when these are impaired. AAC includes unaided communication such as signing and gesture, as well as aided communication techniques ranging from picture charts to the most sophisticated computer technology currently available. AAC can be a way to help someone understand, as well as a means of expression.

AAC includes the use of eye pointing (read more about eye tracking) gesture, signing, symbols, word boards, or a speech output device. Augmenting communication involves speech and writing. In some cases, it also involves technology relating to teaching and learning, mobility, environmental control and employment.

About AAC

Unaided Communication

This describes methods of communication that do not involve a piece of additional equipment. Body language, gestures, pointing, eye pointing, facial expressions, vocalisations, British Sign Language, and Makaton are examples of unaided methods of augmentative communication.

Aided Communication

This describes methods of communication which involve additional equipment, such as a picture chart, a computer or a special communication aid. Aided methods of augmentative communication may be ‘low-tech’ or 'high-tech’. Both low and high-tech systems can be used by people who are unable to spell or read, as well as by people who are highly literate.

  • Low-tech communication systems may take many forms and are anything you can use which does not need a battery to function. Low-tech communication systems include a pen and paper to write messages, alphabet charts, charts and books with picture symbols or photos, and tangible symbols.
  • High-tech communication systems are devices requiring at least a battery to operate. High-tech communication systems range from simple high-tech (e.g. single message devices, pointer boards, toys or books which speak when touched) to very sophisticated systems (e.g. specialised computers and programs, electronic aids which speak and/or print - a VOCA).

Discovering Communication

Using AAC to discuss a life problem

More AAC videos . . . .

AAC Hardware > . . .

AAC Software > . . .

Sources of Information for AAC

  • Capability Scotland

    According to a BBC News article 4 June 2009:

    Scientists claim to have developed the first technology of its kind to allow children with communication problems to converse better. 'How was school today?' is software to help children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy communicate faster. The system is the result of a project between computing scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee, and Capability Scotland. Pupils from Corseford School in Renfrewshire were first to trial it.
    Capability Scotland is a renowned independent provider of specialist school education for children and young people with special and complex needs. They offer an alternative to mainstream placements, providing expertise in education, care, therapy and technology.
    Software gives children a voice

    Phot of a child with a communication aid

    Image source: BBC News article

  • CENMAC. Centre for Micro Assisted Communication.

  • ACE Centres

    Can you imagine being unable to speak? This is the challenge faced every day by children whose disabilities mean that they struggle to communicate. What the ACE Centre do is introduce them to technology that can literally speak for them. Ace Centres . . .

  • iCandle - Communication and Learning Enterprise.

    They are a not-for-profit company and their aim is to support people who have communication and movement difficulty. This includes, amongst others, people who have been labelled with cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, rett syndrome, learning difficulty and developmental delay.

    Image of a young boy using a communication aid

  • FindaVoice. An charity based in Ashford who give information throughout the country and individual help to residents of Kent and Medway. They support parents, carers and people with severe communication difficulties. They welcome the involvement of schools, residential homes, community groups and health/social services professionals. Theyoffer advice and help about communication aids and have a free Resource Library with switch toys, communication aids, training videos and useful books. They also have experience of applying for funding of equipment.

    Good advice for when considering which AAC device to buy (Source:

  • EmpTech. A good source of information on types of AAC equipment, as well as a whole range of other assistive products.

  • Communication Matters. A UK national charitable organisation, of members concerned with the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) needs of people with complex communication needs. They produce a useful list of centres around the UK who assess, advise and have loan bank AAC devices available.

  • RNID - Communicating with finger spelling.