Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

“Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas” (American Speech-language and Hearing Association, asha.org/public/speech/disorders/AAC). AAC can be separated into two functions: receptive language and expressive language.

Receptive language AAC devices and services help individuals understand language that is communicated to them. It is not limited to devices or services targeted at improved hearing; rather, it is directed at language understanding as whole.

Expressive language AAC devices target language output. These devices and services help individuals express themselves to others in augmentative (e.g., increase current functioning level) or alternative (e.g., different, substitute) ways.

Like all AT functions, AAC has low, medium and high tech options.


Low tech includes unaided communication systems-such as sign language and body gestures-and aided communication systems-such as a Picture Communication System (e.g., PECS, Gus Communication Symbols). Sign language should be taught using ASL and proper grammar. According to the National Association of the Deaf, sign language needs “to happen [with] the inclusion of Deaf professionals in ASL instruction (for example, using ASLTA certified professionals to teach both special education professionals and students- www.aslta.org) and ensure that the ASL being used is linguistically appropriate, e.g. no made-up signs, or restricting the use to only a few signs” (personal correspondence, September 16, 2016).


Medium-tech options include communication boards that use electronics to assist with voice output, but do not have high-end computer interfaces or processing chips. Examples of medium-tech AAC devices include GoTalk and ProxTalker. Older generation cell phones could also fit into this category.


High-tech options for AAC include iPads, tablets, and personal computers. These are labeled “high-tech” due to the complex computer chips and computer interfaces that enable the software programs to function. Voice output and picture exchange are more advanced in high-tech options with the increase computing power and software. However, more advanced does not always mean better.

Devices and Apps

  • ProxTalker
  • GoTalk
  • DynaVox
  • Verbal Victor
  • Proloquo2Go
  • PECS
  • Gus Communication Symbols
  • Symbolstix
  • Imagine Symbols
  • Widget Symbols
  • Pictograms
  • Blissymbols

Additional Resources

For more samples of devices, visit cte.jhu.edu/matchup and click on Communication.



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