All to often I hear how parents want to improve the world for their children, how they want to make their autistic kids lives better and easier, fretting over their future and independence but, here’s the thing If you want to improve the lives of Autistics everywhere and make the world more accessible for us then you need to start with communication access and building a communication accessible world, also improving sensory accessibility is critical and just as critically vital and important, but for right now I’m going to focus on communication. Right now everything in society is built around accommodating and improving the lives of people who use mouth words to communicate! All the cool high tech things are all based on being voice activated, and society as a whole is built around speech. while the new tech is impressive the vocal speech geared focus needs to change and a shift needs to be made to also encompass features and communication options for non speakers, Even from early childhood the entire focus is on obtaining spoken vocal speech in lu of other communication support, this is not only counter productive, as providing AAC and communication supports has repeatedly proven, in multiple studies to aid in vocal speech development in children who will eventually develop speech, but it is out right cruel harmful and detrimental to the child mental physical psychological health, as well as directly harms their development and well being. This needs to change. AAC needs to start early as possible and needs to be accessible at all times, moreover we need to change the world to help all non speakers flourish and thrive and have equal. We need to build a non speaking accessible world!
So how can we do this? What can you change right now to improve communication access? How can we as a society change our shift to communication access for autistics and everyone? Below are some basic ideas and far from all of them!
We must first start with communication access being seen as a basic right everyone has! And we need to shift how we approach Autism in early childhood, the primary focus for parents in an autistic child’s early childhood should focus on finding, seeking out, providing, teaching and modeling communication supports and options that work for their child! AAC should be started as early as possible, it should be tabo to wait till 3 to start working on finding the right communication and as early as 26 months or earlier should be seen as common sense time to start with AAC for a child. Having backup supports even for people with decent to excellent speech should be considered a default common sense thing to do and failing to seek out AAC or taking away or removing AAC from anyone should be seen as horrifying and repulsive as taping someone’s mouth shut and binding their hands or other horrible graphic things! It is never ok to take away AAC even if all the person says is random sounds with it!
Next let’s address things like apps and businesses
Apps and devices
Phones and and apps have developed a lot of really cool and neat features for the speaking community! Bixby, ok google, and echo are all really really cool but we need businesses to focus on making neat features that are awesome for non speakers as well. We need ways to access these things that don’t rely on mouth words there are many access ways that would be great to do this!
Eyes and head movements , give us access with our eyes! Getting eyegaze or head tracking would be huge! Not only will this make devices accessible for people who flatout need eyegaze or head tracking it would also open up a hands free option who are less likely to those of us, like the autistic community who be considered for it and for non speakers in general! This would open up a world of hands free accessibility to our phones and devices!
Gestures: on the same idea as head tracking and eyegaze It could be more customizable to have a certain movement or wave mean x or y, nd on the theme of gestures...
Asl tech for bixby echo ok google alexia ect! Training these Siri, bixby, eco, ok Google ect.. to read asl would also be huge and would again give yet another method for not only non speakers but also the deaf community to use and enjoy these services and features!
Having the ability to train it to recognizing certain sounds means to activate certain things would also be really useful tool for some of us?
Type to Siri, bixby each ect, while Siri and ok google already seem to have the type to option bixyby and Alexa still seems to need to add it and I don’t know how you’d type to echo, but this is a good and worthwhile feature that should be added, it doesn’t give us the same hands free capabilities as the other options but it should be easy enough to set up and gives accessibility.
Recognizing AAC, finally improvements allowing these products ability to recognize and reply to AAC voices reliably would be huge for many of use!
Schools, schools need to work on normalizing and integrating AAC and communication supports (and reading supports) there needs to be visual schedules, PECs and all students should be given letter boards regardless of their speech and communication styles,
I shouldn’t need to say this but schools also need to provide books materials and all their signs (yes every random ones you hang you word word of the day) in Braille!
Another really big and important thing schools could do to implement and support communication access and help AAC users is to provide in class, in school AAC to all the students! Yes that’s right you heard me, I want schools to provide devices loaded with high tech comprehensive AAC apps like proloquo2go, lamp, speak for yourself , and cough drop to /all/ their students, and for them to teach students early both how to use them, support and validate every students use of them, allow students to switch between speaking and using AAC and to teach both picture sentences and typing to speak! And I want these devices accessible at all times to all the students, yes I realize this is expensive and will be seen as radical, but for once I want to level the communication field I want to normalize AAC, I want to normalize shifting between using AAC and speaking and going back to AAC, i want nonspeaking kids to see their peers use this too, we need to start early building a culture of communication support and acceptance.
Picture menus picture menus would be Huge in not only helping me figure out what the food options are but in quickly selecting what I want. Picture card menus would also be useful esepcailly places such as coffee shops and having things like placeMats and counter Matt’s with a letter board and some images for things like ”yes” “no,” “ something else,”. “Thank you,”. “I have an allergy,”. Ect would be amazingly helpful
Auditory based menus, in addition to picture menus it would be good to have some ability to click on the the menu option or photo and have it read out loud to you, especially to read the ingredients, don’t assume because someone is non speaking and uses AAC or types or uses a letter board to speak that they are good at reading. plenty of us also have other co occurring disabilities, I often struggle in new restaurants due to my reading disabilities and have people I’m with either read to me or I order based on their food choices, so having a way to have the menu be able to read to you would be huge.
On that note I never see Braille menus this needs to change I don’t use Braille but come on! If we are building a communication accessible world you need to offer all your materials with the option of Braille
Menu app idea: Really an app which picture menu that will not only read to you what the items are and what’s in them but all lets you select what you want, and say “ I would like a steak tips rare, “no pepper ,” and also have a section for allergies and having some way to send the info directly to a device with the meal ticket for the waitress would be huge!
Cognitively accessible resources and materials, I shouldn’t have to point this out but it needs to be said,everything, i mean everything all materials should come with cognitively accessible options, from menus, to news papers, to forms, to things like loan and insurance information, I mean let’s be real here for a moment, Loand and insurance information should legally be required to have extra cognitively accessible versions of their information that doesn’t hide facts. And literally everyone would benefit from that, non disabled people with no cognitive or neurological impairments would probably be in shock at how much more understandable things are and way happier and life would be much easier.
Events And meetups ect,
this is where you need to pull it all together you need to consider location, you need to provide cognitively accessible materials, for any sort of event you are planning be it an acceptance, pride day, a march a protest or a seminar, you need to consider AAC users. Sending out materials a week or so ahead of time for “this is what you can expect, “ is really important, in those materials you should also include things like any scripts AAC users may need to program in pro our devices
Location: When it comes to planning a location accessibility can be hard keeping AAC users in mind for these is really important it is really hard for us to be heard in really loud environments so if you are wanting to do a disability based meetup or event choosing a place with good sound insulation that isn’t too loud is really important, places like bars and pubs are not generally easy to be heard in, not to mention generally sensory unfriendly in general. Also consider lighting, things like will the sun glare out AAC device screens? Is there shade? Is there a place for people with high tech devices to plug in or place their devices for typing?
Teleconferencing And telecommuting and online meetings: all to often there Re events that’s are either far away or multiply in cessions and often both, telecommuting needs to be made standard for events and meeting, I know it can be hard to have a sit down meeting and have one AAC user compute in via video but there are ways to make this work, from having the video up and having a chat screen that people actually pay attention to, or even just having one person reliably read the chat screen, to having a text to speech program read the screen, even basic things like having a loud enough speaker so their AAC voice can be clearly heard over it and giving them space and time to participate even while telecommuting panelists also needs to have the ability to telecommute to events as well.There are a lot of events which should be easy enough to set up with a projector system. This would make many more meetings more accessible to not only non speakers but people with multiple disabilities and in lower income bracket who can not easily travel or attend event or who have a lot of barriers to accessibility and want to attend but don’t have the spoons to manage the crowds, travel, money, overload barriers ect. ( this should used as an option you make available so you don't have to put all the effort into making your event as accessible as you possibly can, it should only be added as an additional option in addition to all the other things you need to do to make your event as accessible as possible, You do not get to offer telecommuting and skimp kn accessibility)
Basic AAC training, all staff working or volunteering at events, seminars ect (also you know teachers, doctors social workers therapist, people in the psychiatric field, emergency responder, specialists ect) should have some basic 101 of AAC training, it doesn't have to be complicated it can be simple like wait for the person to respond, don’t ask a million questions at once, make sure the person is in a state they can answer you before asking things, simple things like that. also some training on the challenges AAC users face would be useful
Equipment when having an AAC panelist it is really important to consider their needs in planning equipment, for example a mic doesn’t usually work well with a speaker but having a cord or some way to connect to the sound system would make a huge difference, charging stations are also critical to have in plenty of AAC users its a good idea to have several extension cords out and plugged in for AAC users to make use it throughout your events.
Yes this is actually a communication thing food at events and everywhere needs clear labeling, we need a clear way to communicate about food choices and ask questions, it is also critical that all food at events and otherwise clearly list ingredient and possible allergies , ideally with pictures along side staff in charge of food need to be trained in AAC, asl and also know what is in the food and what allergics are in the food.
Hospitals and medical staff and doctors appointments
This is another area where communication supports need to be integrated, we need more than on a scale of 1 to 10 charts. Every doctors office and hospital should have communication boards and letter boards as well as picture cards to aid in communication, another thing doctors and medical staff need to have available is coloring pages for showing where and how pain is for both the whole body and every part of the body. Doctors also need to learn to ask direct questions, provide printed material (or email it) of summaries instructions ect (agin cognitively accessible are we sensing a theme yet?) Doctors need to have a way to communicate with patients outside of appointments like email or text and not phones. Also when scheduling doctors need to schedule twice the time for AAC users, non speakers and people with communication disorders. Clear examples are also important, and to explain what sort of things are important for them to know with examples. Also having non speech based info of these and visuals is also important as options.
Finally You should have staff who are multilingual someone working who is bilingual on each shift (different employees don't over work your interpetert and one or two multilingual employees) and at least one person fluent in ASL and again all materials should be cognitively accessible, multilingual, in braille
These are the very bare minimum, this is just the start of what we need to do to start building a Non Speak accessible world, there's a lot that needs changing some will be easy and you can do right now! Others will require larger cultural shifts but we need to start changing these thing now! If you want to improve the lives of Autistics and make this world more accessible to us you need to make accessible fi
For non speaker, you need to normalize communication supports and you need to prioritize providing us with those supports and teaching them to us in ways that work for us so we can have out voices heard!