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Home > AAC Features > Other Features

Other Features

We've looked at the features of aided AAC devices that strictly relate to how a user can communicate with others. However, that's not the whole story. In this section, we'll talk about other features that impact the usefulness of AAC devices: You'll find that this section is full of questions you should ask about equipment you consider.

1. Physical and Electrical Features
2. Specialized or "Dedicated" AAC devices

1. Physical and Electrical Features

Perhaps the simplest features to discuss are the physical characteristics of any device or technique. These can range from the size and shape of a device to the durability of the equipment for normal use. It's important that you're familiar with all the different options among all the many AAC devices on the market. Most of these features are self-explanatory, so I'll just list the questions that you should ask about equipment you're considering:

Weight: How much does the device weigh? With extra battery and speakers, as appropriate?

Portability: Is there a carrying bag, neck strap, shoulder strap, belt attachment, or carrying handle for the device?

Dimensions of the device: What are its dimensions? With extra speakers or battery, if appropriate?

Mountability: Is there a wheelchair or walker mounting kit or a table-top mount for the device?

Control accessibility: How does the user turn the device on/off and is there an accessible control for volume?

Backup capability: Can customized vocabulary/messages be stored on a floppy disk or tape or on a computer hard drive in case the memory on the device is destroyed?

Memory: How much vocabulary and/or how many images (at what size and image quality) can be stored with the current memory? Can memory be expanded?

Durability: Is the case shock-resistant? Are the internal components shock-mounted? Is the screen waterproof or splashproof? Are the plugs, jacks, and ports mounted solidly for repeated use?

Power: Does the device take both wall power and battery power? Are the batteries rechargeable, and if so, how long do they take to charge fully? How long can the device be operated for normal use on one charge? Are extra batteries included with the device? Does the adapter or power supply work around the world? Is there a power-saver mode to reduce the drain on the battery when it's not in use? How much do the batteries cost and where can they be purchased? What happens when the power is low or unavailable? Is there a warning light or alarm when power is low or automatic switching to a backup source?

Speakers: Is there an extra speaker? If so, what type of battery does it use? How long does it last on a charge? Is the on/off switch accessible to the user?

Software Compatibility: Some AAC devices work with other computer software programs. Find out if this is possible and what software will work with the device, as well as memory requirements.

2. "Dedicated" Communication Devices

For many years, we had the term "dedicated" to refer to any device that was designed and manufactured specifically for AAC users. Some of these devices could also run connect to computers and/or perform other functions (e.g. writing or printing) but they were still "dedicated" to AAC users. This was in contrast to computers that could also be used for AAC.

However, 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 cannot also be used for writing or printing. This has resulted in some confusion in our field regarding this term. More importantly, it has resulted in 3rd party payers restricting their coverage to devices with speech output only (e.g. "dedicated systems") and refusing to fund any devices that can perform multiple functions, such as printing, computer access or telephone access.

Here is an explanation of the terminology.

a) "Dedicated" AAC Devices

Most of the equipment you have seen so far in this lesson is "dedicated" for AAC purposes. Here are just a couple of examples:

Vantage has 5 rows of color symbols with 9 items per row
(click to enlarge)
Vantage Communication Device
Prentke Romich Company

The device has 15 color symbols behind a plastic cover.
(click picture to enlarge)
Attainment 15
Attainment Company, Inc.

(click picture to enlarge)
DynaVox 3100
DynaVox Systems, Inc.

LightWriter is a small device with a keyboard and dual displays
(click to enlarge)
Zygo Industries, Inc.

b) "Non-dedicated" systems

Computer-based system, in contrast, can also run other computer software, allowing the user to switch back and forth between communication and word processing, for example. Almost any computer can function this way with the right software. Here is one example of such software:

Gemini™ software works on Macintosh computers   
Gemini™ software works on Macintosh computers
Assistive Technology, Inc.

EZ keys software shown as a CD
EZ Keys Software works on Windows systems
Words Plus, Inc.

c) Computer-based systems that are "Dedicated" to AAC

Now some of these manufacturers are taking these computer-based systems and disconnecting some features so that they can only be used for AAC. (This is being done to meet new Medicare requirements and this is how the word "dedicated" is now being used.) Here are examples of such systems that are now "dedicated" to AAC.

Gemini™ Special Edition is a dedicated device
Assistive Technology, Inc.

The Enkidu Tablet XL is a flat screen showing symbols in rows.
Tablet XL
Enkidu Research, Inc.


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