Ethics & AAC – 5 Ways to Ensure your Learner has access to Communication

One of the most challenging aspects of implementing use of the iPad to communicate is consistency. If your learner is using an iPad to communicate, then being without the iPad effectively takes their voice away. If your learner has access to words on a device at school, but not on a device at home, then the home device effectively reduces their ability to communicate.

The goal with AAC is to provide as many opportunities for communication throughout the day as possible. While there may be obstacles to providing such opportunities, our role as practitioners is to work to ensure our learners have those opportunities. In fact, failing to provide such opportunities is considered to be unethical. The ability to communicate is essential in expressing wants and needs, providing an alternative to inappropriate and/or dangerous behaviors (Carr and Durand, 1985), and building relationships with people in your environment.

While the advent of smartphones and tablets has offered exciting opportunities for AAC, much more research needs to be completed. One study (Flores, Musgrove, Renner, Hinton, Strozier, Franlin, & Hil, 2012) demonstrated that the number of communication behaviors increased for some students when they had access to the iPad as a communication device.

So how can we be more consistent. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Keep the device charged. This is the most basic way to help with consistency. It can be helpful to set a reminder in your phone to charge the communication device or build it into a routine you already have. For instance, you can teach your learner to brush his teeth, then charge the iPad, then pick a book to have read at bedtime. You may also want to consider purchasing a case such as a mophie, which can charge the iPad if the battery runs down.
  2. Share your profile across devices. One of my favorite features of SuperSpeak is the ability to share the learner’s profile to other devices. This allows communication ability to remain constant in different environments.
  3. Meet regularly to discuss communication goals. Parents and practitioners should have regular meetings that focus solely on communication needs, adjusting communication goals, and addressing any problem behaviors related to communication.
  4. Protect the device. If your learner is rough with the iPad, buy an Otterbox or similar case that will protect it from being cracked or broken.
  5. Communicate to other caregivers the importance of AAC. Because the iPad is so often associated with games and leisure time, other caregivers may not recognize the ethical implications of removing the child’s communication device. Teach others about the necessity of allowing for communication opportunities and provide with them with alternative strategies for addressing any problematic behaviors.

Are there any suggestions you would add to this list to ensure that our learners always have the ability to communicate?


  • Carr, E. G., & Durand, V. M. (1985). Reducing behavior problems through functional communication training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18(2), 111-126.
  • Flores, M., Musgrove, K., Renner, S., Hinton, V., Strozier, S., Franklin, S., & Hil, D. (2012). A comparison of communication using the Apple iPad and a picture-based system. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 28(2), 74-84.