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AAC Path Pages

Clipart of a map with a dotted path and an x at the end

AAC Glossary


Aug Com, augmentative and alternative communication, augmentative communication

any means of communication other than speaking used to support individuals with limited or no verbal communication.

Abstract symbols


Symbols that do not resemble what they represent. For example, using a box with a question mark to represent the word "what".

Access method

selection technique, selection method, access method

The way in which the user interacts with an AAC tool to control it for communication; the method an individual uses to select items for communication, e.g. pointing, single-switch scanning, etc. There are two broad categories of access methods: 1) Direct selection and 2) Indirect Selection (Dowden & Cook, 2002).

Activation feedback


Some devices have settings that determine what the user hears, sees , or feels when interacting with the system. This feedback is not intended for the communication partner; it serves as a way for the user to check for errors during message composition.

Active matrix screen


A computer screen that provides a more responsive image at a wide range of viewing angles (

Aided communication

Aided AAC, aided techniques

Communication that requires something external to the body to represent meaning, for example pointing to a symbol in a communication notebook (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Aided input


A technique used by the partner to enhance auditory comprehension by the AAC user. The speaking partner uses writing and drawing to supplement the words he or she is speaking, so that the AAC user can better understand. This technique is typically used with adults with receptive language impairments due to aphasia.

Aided techniques

Methods of communication that require something external to the body to represent meaning; for example a book, board or device (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Alphanumeric or numeric encoding


Messages can be stored under combinations of letters and numbers (alphanumeric) or by numbers alone (numeric) (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998). See "Encoding" below.

American Sign Language

ASL, manual sign

A manually (by hands) coded language used primarily by deaf individuals in North America (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992)

Auditory fishing


A setting that allows users to browse the items on the display through direct selection by listening to the output at a reduced volume before making a selection (Dowden & Cook, 2002).

Auditory symbols


Selection-set items that are presented in an audible manner, for example through Partner Assisted Auditory Scanning (see below) or Auditory Fishing (above).

British Sign Language


A manually (by hands) coded language used by the deaf community of Great Britain (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992)

Coded access


An access method in which the individual uses a sequence of body movements to retrieve items from the selection set. For example, Morse code is a method of coded access that requires a different sequence of finger-tapping movements for each letter of the alphabet. It is possible to use coded access along with other types of encoding. In Morse code, the letters "S" "O" "S" stand for an entire phrase (Save Our Ship); this is an example of encoding. Many people confuse these two uses of the term "code" in our field (Dowden and Cook, 2002)

Communication notebook/board

communication book, communication board

Two low-tech AAC tools that an individual uses to express personally relevant concepts by pointing to line drawings, words, pictures, numbers, and/or the alphabet. The communication board contains the set of symbols on a flat surface; a communication book or notebook has several pages of symbols.

Context-dependent communication

situational communication

Communication that is limited to some topics in some contexts or with some partners; the individual is not able to communication with anyone about any topic. Context-dependent communication is more effective than Emerging communication (see below) because it is not limited to the "here and now" or shared knowledge by the partner.

Core vocabulary

core words

Messages and words that are frequently used by many individuals across many contexts. This vocabulary typically consists of "functor" words such as "is, was, he, she" and common nouns and primary verbs (e.g. person, like, want). (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992)

Dedicated devices


Originally, this term was used to refer to any device that was designed and manufactured for AAC users. Some devices could run other software (e.g. word processors) or perform other functions (e.g. writing or printing) but they were still "dedicated" to AAC users. In recent years, funding agencies (most notably Medicare and Medicaid) have begun to use the term to mean devices that can only be used for face-to-face communication (such as "Speech Generating Devices") and not for writing or printing. This has resulted in confusion in our field regarding this term. In this course, we use the term "dedicated" to differentiate it from "computer-based systems" that will accept and run Windows or MacIntosh software in addition to the AAC software.

Dependent communicators


Individuals who are unable to communicate about all topics with any listener. They rely on familiar partners to understand their utterances/messages or depend on others to provide them with the necessary vocabulary (Dowden, 1999)

Digitized speech

recorded speech

The computer reproduces messages that have been recorded and stored in digital format (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Direct selection

direct select

A method of communication in which the individual specifically indicates the desired item in the selection set without any intermediary steps. There are four types of direction selection methods used for AAC devices/strategies: a) pointing with physical contact and force; b) pointing without physical contact; c) pointing with contact and no force; and d) picking up and exchanging. (Dowden & Cook, 2001)�(Note: message retrieval methods are not considered "intermediary steps" here.)

Directed scanning


An access technique that combines elements of direct selection and single-switch scanning. The individual uses a multi-switch array, for example, a joystick or arrow keys, to move the cursor in the desired direction and to make a selection.

Dynamic Displays


A feature of some communication devices that allows the user to change the vocabulary options that he can see. Navigating these displays is a bit like browsing the World Wide Web in that you can move back and forth between the displays with buttons.

Emerging communicator

beginning communicator, pre-linguistic communicator

An individual who does not yet have any reliable means of symbolic communication, although he/she typically has non-symbolic communication (Dowden, 1999). This communication, for example using gestures and facial expressions, can be very useful with highly familiar partners, but it tends to be limited to the "here and now" or rely heavily on the partner's shared knowledge.



A rate enhancement technique in which the user selects a predetermined sequence of items to retrieve a complete word, phrase or sentence. Codes can be based on icons (symbols), alphabet letters, letters and numbers combined ("alphanumeric codes") or numbers alone. A sequence of symbols from the selection set calls up the desired word or phrase (Dowden & Cook, 2002)

Enhancement process


Strategies for speeding up communication or making it easier for the AAC user (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Expressive communication


refers to how an individual uses symbolic language, whether through speech, sign, writing, or any other modality.

Facilitated Communication (FC)


A technique that was popular a few years ago, in which an individual spelled messages via an alphabet board while a facilitator held the individual's arm. While the technique has been largely discredited due to the potential for partner influence, that does not mean that the individual is not capable of more communication through other alternative techniques.



A prominent characteristic of a communication device or a communication strategy. For example, voice output is a feature of many AAC devices.

Finger spelling/Manual alphabet


A method of communication via spelling that uses hand configurations to represent letters of the alphabet.



tems in a selection set that are not intended to be selected, for example, blank items, objects that are disliked, or items that are not appropriate in a given context. These are used to determine reliability or consistency with the communication technique.

Fringe vocabulary


A vocabulary specific or unique to a AAC user or to one activity or topic (Beukelman &Mirenda, 1998)

Functor words


Usually small words such as of, by, with, etc.

Generative vocabularies

robust vocabularies

Vocabulary that allows the user to create novel messages (Dowden & Cook, 2002)

Gestural codes


A communication system that is based on movements, like gestures, but the meaning is not obvious from the movement and must be learned. AmerInd, which is based on American Indian sign language, is one such system.



An unaided method of communication that includes facial expressions, eye gazing, hand movements and body postures (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998) The meaning does not typically have to be learned, but is clear from the movement itself.


head pointer

A stick held closely to the head (typically mounted on a cap) and used by individuals with poor hand control to perform some tasks otherwise done by hand, such as reaching and pointing. Some AAC users use headwands to select items on a communication display or device.

Icon encoding

semantic compaction, Minspeak

visual symbols are combined to store words, phrases or sentences. The icons are usually abstract so that there can be multiple meanings associated with them. Encoding is a speed-enhancement technique.



Symbols that are abstract representations

Independent communication


The ability to communicate with both familiar and unfamiliar partners about any topic in any context (Dowden 1999). "Independent communication" does not mean that the individual does not rely on technology or assistance from people in the environment.

Indirect selection

indirect select

A method of communication that involves intermediary steps by the device or the partner, usually to compensate for motor limitations of the user. Examples include single-and dual-switch scanning, directed scanning and coded access (Dowden and Cook, 2002).

Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Individual Education Program

A document detailing the educational goals of an individual with disabilities and the special services the individual will receive in order to work toward those goals.

International symbols


Symbols that are understood in many cultures. For example, the picture symbols of men's and ladies' rooms are widely understood.

Key word signing


Signing only the key words in an utterance, sometimes done while speaking (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Less costly alternative


A phrase used by insurance companies and 3rd party payers to refer to equipment or services that are less expensive but may still meet the patient's needs

Letter of justification


The letter by a physician and a clinician to a 3rd party payer (e.g. insurance company) to request funding for an AAC device. See details onUW Augcommon what such a document should include and how it should be written.

Linguistic prediction

logical linking

A method of predicting the next words, based on the grammatical rules of the words that have preceded it (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)


light tech

A popular name for devices, such as books, boards and pictures, that use little or no electronic technology to promote communication. They are in contrast to high technology or computerized devices.

Manual sign language


A formal language in which communicators use visual symbols rather than oral sounds to convey meaning. An example is American Sign Language, which is used by deaf or hearing-impaired individuals.

Medical necessity


A phrase used by insurance companies and 3rd party payers to describe the equipment and services a patient requires for health and safety needs. Insurance companies and 3rd party payers usually only provide equipment and services that meet medical needs, as opposed to educational or social needs.

Message retrieval strategy

message preparation

Only the smallest devices show all the available vocabulary at once. Devices with a larger capacity only show some vocabulary and require the user to "retrieve" words that are not readily visible at first. An individual who is not able to use a retrieval method, or does not use it proficiently, will be unable to use that additional vocabulary during communication. There are three types of message retrieval strategies: a) Levels and Overlays, b) Dynamic Displays and c) Encoding.(Note: Encoding also funcitons as a rate enhancement method.)


semantic compaction

A type of icon encoding (see above) used in devices by one manufacturer: Prentke Romich Company.



A wand that is held in the mouth and used by individuals with poor hand control to perform some tasks otherwise done by hand, such as reaching & pointing. Some AAC users use mouthsticks to select items on a communication display or device.

Non-symbolic communication

pre-linguistic communication

Gestures, pointing, vocalizations, intonation, body language and facial expression are examples of non-symbolic communication. It is limited to the "here and now," responding to what one sees, hears or feels in the immediate environment.

Novel utterances


Unique messages that an individual produces to say exactly what is intended at a given moment. They are the opposite of "preprogrammed" messages that must be composed and programmed ahead of time. True independence in AAC necessitates the ability to create and deliver novel utterances.

Occupational Therapist (OT)

motor therapist

A professional who provides services related to activities of daily living, work, and play to individuals who want to enhance their independence and their quality of life

Opportunity Barriers


The obstacles imposed by other people, preventing AAC users from full participation. For example, a teacher or SLP may believe that non-speakers cannot learn to spell, so literacy instruction is not provided. Or a school may have a policy that prevents a child from taking a communication device home. (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)



The output is primarily thought of as the method by which information is conveyed to the partner; e.g. visual output or auditory output. Some devices also connect to computers, cell phones and the internet, a type of "electronic" output that is used to control the environment.


picture exchange communication system

see Picture Exchange Communication System


see Physical therapist

Partner assisted AUDITORY scanning


A method of partner assisted scanning (see below) in which the items are named or read aloud to the user.

Partner assisted VISUAL scanning


A method of partner assisted scanning (see above) in which the communication partner points sequentially to the items on the display. Typically, people learn to point to each row first. Once the individual signals the correct row, then they point to each item in the row until the individual signals a selection.

Partner assisted scanning (PAS) �


A method of communication involving no technology in which the partner identifies (by naming or pointing) the items in the selection set and waits for the user to signal (via a sound or a movement) the item he/she wishes to communicate. This can be done with one-by-one with items in a linear array (e.g. A,B,C,D....) or via a group-item strategy (e.g. A - G, H - L, etc.) gradually narrowing down the selection. It can also be done with words and phrases rather than letters of the alphabet. For more information on this useful technique, visit the Auditory Scanning and AAC Website or read about "Auditory Scanning" on the Augmentative Communication News Website.

Partner influence


When one or more communication partners can affect the selection of messages by a user either consciously or unconsciously. Examples include Facilitated Communication (FC) through a touch of the hand or single-switch scanning through extensive cueing or partner assisted scanning (PAS) through intonation patterns.



A physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, focusing on the ability to perform functional activities.

Physical characteristics

Device features, hardware, platform

The tangible qualities of a device, such as dimensions, weight, and construction materials. These qualities affect the usefulness of a device to a user. For example, a device that is large and bulky may not be portable.

Physical therapist (PT)

motor therapist

A professional who helps to restore or improve motor functions in individuals with muscular problems



Symbols that resemble their referents (what they represent). For example, a pictograph of a horse has a body, a head, four legs and a tail.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)


A method of communication developed by Pyramid Educational Corporation, in which the communicator picks up one or more symbols and hands them to a partner (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)



A rate enhancement technique in which the device or the communication partner guesses the end of a word or phrase, based on previous selections. There are many types of prediction used in devices, some more sophisticated than others.

Preprogrammed utterances


Messages that are composed and stored ahead of time so they can be delivered in a timely manner. Some are urgent messages (e.g. I need help!) and others are social messages (e.g. "You are exactly right!"). They are the opposite of novel utterances created by the user at the time of communication. An individual cannot obtain true independence in AAC with only access to preprogrammed utterances.

Rate enhancement


A technique or strategy used to speed up AAC output because it is so much slower than speech. Most rate enhancements can be grouped into two types: encoding and prediction.

Receptive communication


refers to how well an individual understands communication, whether it is speech, sign or writing. It contrasts with expressive communication.

Reliable communication


means that the individual is able to communicate what he/she intends to communicate, not accidentally push another key or convey a message that was not intended. Reliability is crucial to independence.

Retrieval strategies


In aids with a large vocabulary, there has to be a way to select vocabulary that is not immediately visible to the user. There are three common strategies: levels, dynamic displays, and encoding.


speech-language pathologist, speech therapist, speech teacher

Abbreviation for Speech-Language Pathologist, a professional who provides assessment and treatment for people with communication, feeding, and/or swallowing challenges.



An "indirect selection" technique in which items are presented sequentially one at a time and the individual activates a switch or otherwise signals to accept one of the items when presented. Scanning, like other indirect selection techniques, is only intended for individuals who do not have sufficient motor control for direct selection techniques.

Selection set

Page set, vocabulary, array

The items (vocabulary/symbols) available to a specific AAC user for communication. They may be presented in a visual, auditory, or tactile form, depending on the user's needs. (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Selection technique

access method, selection method, access technique

The way in which the user interacts with a device to control it for communication, e.g. pointing, single-switch scanning, etc. (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Signed Exact English


A complex system of signing English that uses the grammatical features of prefixes, suffixes and tenses (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992)

Speech Generating Device


A device that provides voice output/speech output.

Speech Supplementation Strategies


These are approaches for making the speech more understandable (or "comprehensible") to the partner even if the actual intelligibility of the speech itself does not change. These techniques include first letter cueing with fingerspelling or an alphabet board, setting the context with a context board, etc. For further information, see Dowden (1997).

Symbolic Communication


Communication that uses something (e.g. a word, sign, picture, etc.) to represent a concept or meaning. For example, sounds symbolize meaning in our speech while letters and words represent meaning in our writing, and in AAC we use symbols you can hear, see or feel. Symbolic language permits us to talk beyond the "here and now" about things in another time or place. In contrast, non-symbolic communication is limited to the "here and now," for example, using pointing and gestures to respond to what one sees, hears or feels in the immediate environment.

Tactile finger spelling


The use of touch while finger spelling; it is often used with individuals who have visual impairments in addition to hearing impairments

Tangible or tactile symbols


Symbols that can be discriminated based on the use of touch such as shape, texture, consistency (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Text-to-speech output

Synthesized speech

Speech produced when a computer translates the letter of the text into sounds, using a complex set of pronunciation rules (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Three-dimensional representations �

Tangible symbols

Symbols that can be discriminated based on shape, texture, consistency (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Tonic Neck Reflex


"The arm toward which the infant is facing extends straight away from the body with the hand partially open, while the arm on the side away from the face is flexed and the fist is clenched tightly. Reversing the direction in which the face is turned reverses the position."[Source and more information at:]

Two-dimensional representations


Flat symbols (e.g. photographs, line drawings, etc.)

Unaided techniques

Unaided communication , Unaided AAC

Methods of communication that require nothing external to the body to represent meaning e.g. signing, gestures, vocalizations, etc. (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Visual output


Output for the communication partner that is seen rather than heard; e.g. visual display or printout

Vocabulary capacity

Vocabulary size

Many devices come with a large vocabulary or symbol dictionary. This total capacity should not be confused with the size of the vocabulary that can be available to the user during communication. For example, the DynaVox with Gateway vocabulary has thousands of words in its dictionary, but few users can utilize more than several hundred of them during conversation.

Vocabulary or messages

selection set, page set, array, vocabulary

The concepts that are available for the AAC user to communicate. This is different from the "vocabulary capacity" of a device, see above.



Sounds made with the voice that are not speech sounds. The can be involuntary (yawning, laughing, sneezing) or voluntary (cry, moan, yell). (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

Voice output

Speech output

Many communication devices convey information to the partner with audible sound. There are two types of voice/speech output: digitized and text-to-speech (or synthesized).

Voice Output Communication Aid �


The original term used to describe communication devices with speech output. These are now more commonly called "Speech Generating Devices (SGD).

Voice activated switch


An electronic switch that is turned on by sound. Able-bodied consumers see this type of switch in the lights that turn on when you clap hands. These switches can be modified to activate with particular frequencies of sounds, for example humming, and screen out other sounds, for example coughing.

Volitional movements

voluntary movements

Actions of the body that are intentional and under control. This is in contrast to non-volitional movements such as spasms, twitches, etc.

Word-pattern prediction

Logical linking

This speed enhancement method predicts words as the text is being produced, based on the grammatical rules of the words that have preceded it (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998)

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