AAC in the Community

My AAC – A Reflection of Me

Stephanie Ekis
December 13, 2023

My AAC – A Reflection of Me

Stephanie Ekis
December 13, 2023

Talking about diversity, inclusion, and representation is sometimes uncomfortable. We've been programmed to not talk about it. However, we need to create safe spaces to talk about hard and uncomfortable things. Ask yourself, “How am I embracing the culturally and linguistically diverse students in my classroom? How am I supporting diversity and inclusion for students from marginalized communities? Do my instructional materials truly reflect the students in my classroom? Can my students “see” themselves in my classroom materials?

As you read this blog, you may learn about things that you never even thought of. That's okay. The purpose of this is to increase awareness and give you practical ways to help students create AAC systems that represent who they are as a person. Choosing the most appropriate language strategy is just as important as choosing an AAC system that allows you to change the skin tone on symbols. Choosing the most appropriate access method is just as important as picking a system that allows a student to speak English at school and another language at home.

When supporting culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms, remember REACH (Ekis, 2022).

R is for Representation Matters

The importance of representation cannot be overstated. This helps children know that they matter, that they are important. What children see around them can have either a positive or negative impact. For example, in the media, people with disabilities are rarely depicted with agency, employment, and independence. Children need to see themselves but also see and learn about people who are different from them. So even if you work in very homogeneous communities, where pretty much everyone looks and lives the same, we still have the responsibility to expose our students to all of the wonderful things that come with a diverse world.

First, understand the makeup of your caseload and/or community. Second, review and take a look at the materials, toys, and books that you use during therapy or in the classroom. Do your materials reflect and represent the people on your caseload? If not, then the final step is to buy, create, beg, borrow and steal things to increase diversity in the materials you use. Survey your collection - human or animal, and whether they were clearly depicted as belonging to a particular race or ethnicity. Also, consider LGBTQ+ characters, neurodivergent characters, and characters with disabilities. 

E is for Embrace cultural differences

Due to amplified awareness and the increase of students with cultural, ethnic and minority backgrounds on our caseloads and in our classrooms, it is necessary to get over feelings of discomfort and be prepared to best support these increasingly diverse student populations.  Cultural competence requires us to:  Value diversity, continuously assess ourselves, learn about other cultures, and find ways to embrace the dynamics of difference.

A is for Ask questions and do the work

This means that you’ve got to ask yourself some hard questions. Self-assessment is one of the best ways for you to identify unconscious biases and there are a lot of great resources available online. One tool we’ve found is Promoting Cultural and Linguistic Competency: A Self-Assessment Checklist  available from Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. These are great tools to use with your team as a part of PD.

C is for Consult with the family

Not only do you need to ask yourself hard questions, but you must take the time to consult with and include the family. In a paper by Kulkarni and Parmer, they reviewed empirical studies that addressed family perspectives and use of AAC devices by students. They found some emerging themes: 

  • Device limitations and lack of support
  • Training - families did not know how to use the device, yet they spent enormous efforts in trying to get their child to use it. The result was frustration and eventual abandonment (Stuart & Parette, 2002). 
  • Family and professional dynamics
  • Families had hoped that professionals had shown more sensitivity to their need for more training sessions
  • Cultural perceptions
  • Take the time to understand those things that are important 
  • Language supports
  • Training materials in primary language
  • Home-based communication supports and interventions

H is for Help AAC users create systems that represent them.

Individuals who use AAC should have access to systems that represent their skin tone, culture, and gender expression – all the things that make them who they are.

In closing, promoting diversity in AAC systems is a shared responsibility. This blog delves into the REACH framework: Representation Matters, Ask questions and do the work, Consult with the family, and Help AAC users create systems that represent them. Embracing these principles involves challenging biases, involving families, and ensuring AAC systems authentically reflect diverse identities. By choosing representation in materials and supporting personalized AAC systems, we empower students to communicate authentically. Let's actively ensure that a student’s AAC system accurately reflects who they are!

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