Assistive & Alternative Communication Programmes and Devices

Communication is all about participation, social interaction and most of all being able to say what you want when you want to say it.

Your first phase of this journey must be when your communicator is introduced to their first set of words. First words may be represented for young children as visual, auditory or spoken symbols. Symbols available in digital format are Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) and Bliss Symbols. These symbols can be printed out individually, placed in a sequence to form a sentence or activity or text in a book can be written in symbol format. Communication boards in symbol or text mode can be printed easily to provide quick communication. Programmes best suited for this exercise are BoardMaker, Writing with Symbols, The Grid and Clicker.

BoardMaker has 4000 imbedded PCS symbols and Writing with Symbols has a PCS and Bliss Symbol library. PCS library can be bought separately for Clicker and The Grid. Together with symbols these programmes sell at approximately R2 400 each. American Sign Language libraries are also available for BoardMaker.

Talk a Low Tech Communication solutions

Low Tech Solutions using symbols with Velcro coins, carpets or magnetic boards and magnets can be a wonderful asset in a classroom or therapy room. The picture above is Flip and Talk from Mayer Johnson using PCS symbols.

These same symbols or Communication Boards can then be used with AAC Devices.

A introductory communication device which speaks just 1 – 3 messages are Ablenet’s LITTLEmack or BIGMack Communicator, Step by Step Communicator with levels or AMDI’s Partner one or Stepper.

Small Step by Step with levels

Many times one uses these devices to stimulate the process of communication. In a classroom setting and you have set the stage for an activity, a phrase or two would be programmed into the device and a child who is non-verbal would have the opportunity to participate in a verbal way, which in normal circumstances, they would not be able to do. These vary in price but range from R900 – R1 499.


A wearable communication aid like the Talktrac is also a wonderful starter device. However, if this is unaffordable at R833 then a necklace or bracelet with 8-10 printed laminated symbols would also suffice.

Partner Two, Base Trainer, Supertalker

The next level would be your 2-32 message communicators with or without levels. Examples of these are: Amdi’s Partner Two, Partner Four, Base Trainer, Tech talk, Techspeak, Ablenet’s SuperTalker or Go Talk 20.

These devices range from R1 500 – R12 000. All are used with overlays made with ready made templates in BoardMaker or programmes already mentioned previously. These are limited in that the boards have to be prepared in advance and the devices programmed. These are essential for classroom and therapy settings. Some of these devices can be used with toys or to any electrical appliance adapted for switch use.

Scan4 scanning device

Scanning is an option worth taking a look at. These devices are normally 10- 20% more expensive because of the scanning option, but are fundamental for cognitively impaired individuals who are severely motorically impaired, who have little chance of being heard. A device like this would greatly enhance their communication and participation skills. Perhaps after some progress has been made they would be able to go onto a more advanced system of communication.

Some devices that scan are the Traxsys Scan4 or Techtalk with scanning. These can be accessed via any switch connected to the device.

What is scanning: Scanning is when the access area is highlighted, at a determined speed, and either moves automatically (autoscan) or scanned via switch selection i.e. one switch would move the selection area and another switch would select the symbol, word or phrase chosen.

Vanguard from Prente Romich

At this level another choice would be Prente Romich’s Springboard or Vanguard or Vantage. All Prente Romich’s devices use a Semantic Compaction program called Unity. This is unique to PRC and requires the therapist and communicator to learn Unity. This very powerful language uses a small set of easy to recognise pictures called icons in short sequences to produce words. This is a very powerful system where your core vocabulary is on one screen and always available. Disadvantages are that one needs to be trained in using Unity. Prices range from R15 000 for the Springboard to approx R60 000 for Vanguard.

The top end of the range of AAC Devices available in South Africa are Prente Romich’s Pathfinder approximately R80 000.

The FuturePad

The FuturePAD (R30 000) (portable) or wheelchair mounted. The Powerbox (R45 000) (wheelchair mounted only) and TechTouch. (R32 000 – R34 000) are all PC based technology and any of the programmes mentioned or others can be used.

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