Basic Answers About Augmentative Communication Devices

What They Are

Augmentative communication devices are varied, but they all allow people to communicate by a means other than speech or writing. Some of these devices could include any of the following:

  • An envelope full of picture cards. The user might choose one of the cards with the picture of a toilet on it and bring it to a caregiver in order to communicate a need to use the bathroom.
  • A piece of paper with various words, symbols, or pictures on it. The user points to the word, symbol, or picture that represents the need that she has.
  • An electronic device with several static buttons or with screen after screen of categories, each of which contains multiple buttons. When the user pushes one of the buttons, a voice comes from the device, verbalizing the need. These are called VOCAs (Voice Output Communication Devices).

Who They Are For

According to the American Speech-Language/Hearing Association (ASHA), over two million people use augmentative devices or alternative methods of communication. People who use these devices include those with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities, stroke, and head or spinal cord injury, as well as many others with disabilities, illnesses, and injuries.


The advantages of augmentative communication devices are many, and many special educators and therapists encourage those with disabilities to use them. These devices have been shown to improve users’ self esteem and reduce their frustration (especially when due to their inability to communicate effectively). They can also allow users to increase their participation in daily life and make their learning more interactive rather than passive. In addition, augmentative communication devices can motivate users to learn how to communicate in other ways and change other people’s attitudes toward them and interactions with them.


Even with all of these advantages, however, these devices do come with some disadvantages as well. It takes time to teach the user to utilize the device correctly, as well as to train teachers, parents, and other people who might interact with the user in how to interpret it. It also depends on an electronic device, which means that the user can be left without any communication tools at all if the device gets lost or broken. When the device begins to malfunction, it may need technical support or know-how. It can also be bulky, heavy, or expensive, and in some instances it can take a long time for the user to communicate one short thought.

NewWorking With an AAC

If a person uses an augmentative communication device, it is important to have a team of people who understand how the device functions and can easily understand the messages it communicates. Therefore, it is important to train all family members and close friends in how to use the device, as well as speech/language therapists, occupational therapists, teachers and aids, and anyone else who will be interacting on a regular basis with the user.


This post is part of the series: All About Augmentative Communication Devices

Augmentative communication devices can be extremely for many nonverbal or minimally verbal children. This series will include information about these devices (also called augmentative and alternative communication or AAC devices), as well as how to choose one effectively.
  1. Augmentative Communication Devices for Nonverbal Children
  2. Augmentative Communication Devices: Advantages and Disadvantages