Talking With Tech AAC Podcast

Join speech-language pathologists Rachel and Chris as they discuss supporting complex communication needs with alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) and assistive technology!

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Takeaways from ATIA 2023

Wednesday Mar 15, 2023

Wednesday Mar 15, 2023

This week on Talking with Tech, Chris and Rachel discuss some of their takeaways from the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference 2023. For those not familiar, ATIA holds a conference in Florida each year that focuses on assistive technology. Chris has attended and presented at ATIA for years, and Rachel has presented each of the last two years. Chris and Rachel touch on many of the topics they talked about with AAC users, including compensation for AAC Ambassadors, the need for more AAC users in AAC companies, ways that artificial intelligence can impact AAC, and more!
Key ideas this week:
🔑  We wouldn’t have a women’s rights group run by men, but most, if not all, AAC companies do not have an AAC user in an executive-type position in the company. The position that AAC users often fill is an “Ambassador” at conferences, which often pays very little. Chris and Rachel wonder if we can’t do a better job of compensating AAC users equitably for their involvement.
🔑 An AAC user at ATIA brought up that there aren’t always voice options for men, women, teens, children, and people who speak different dialects (e.g. African-American). Chris will start weighting voice options more when considering which AAC app to recommend.
🔑  When we are sharing or presenting, it is important to attribute ideas and images to the person who created them. Attribution allows people to find out about other content creators within the community. If you aren't sure who created something you want to share or use, try to a bit of research into who created it.
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Links from this Episode: - Contains a large database of AI tools that is updated daily
SLPs as AAC Gatekeepers by Jordyn Zimmerman

Wednesday Mar 08, 2023

This week, Rachel interviews Marcella, the mother of an autistic boy, about the journey Marcella went through to give her son access to high-tech AAC. Marcella previously reached out to Rachel for a coaching call because she was not getting a positive response about AAC when meeting with local SLPs. Marcella decided to take Rachel’s AAC Ally course and started supporting her son’s language development on her own! Marcella shares about some of the benefits of high-tech AAC for her son, including his increased vocalizations and more spontaneous communication about things like feelings.
Before the interview, Chris and Rachel chat about making their own GIF using They go over how to make a GIF, how you can make a library of GIFs, and ways that GIFs can be used to support AAC users.
Key ideas this week:
🔑 When a child says a word on their device that we think wasn’t what they meant (e.g. “I want pasta” for breakfast), we don’t want to say “no, try again”. Hearing “no” constantly can be frustrating and demotivating. Instead, you can recognize the communication attempt and respond to it with something like “Oh, OK, you can have pasta later for dinner, but what should we eat for breakfast?”. 
🔑 We need to presume potential for everyone, not just complex communicators! We should presume that we can all become better communication partners for AAC users with enough practice and effort.
🔑 Marcella’s son says a lot more words now to communicate than he did before using AAC, including saying “up” when he wants to be picked up. This is just another example that AAC helps, rather than hurts, language production.
You can find out more about Marcella and her son on Instagram at
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Wednesday Mar 08, 2023

This week, Rachel interviews Dr. Theresa Bartolotta, an SLP who is a parent to Lisa, a young girl with Rett syndrome. Dr. Bartolotta  is co-author of the recently published Rett Syndrome Communication Guidelines and serves as consultant on communication to the International Rett Syndrome Foundation (ISRF). Dr. Bartolotta shares about putting together the Rett Syndrome Communication Guidelines, her journey as a parent of a child with Rett, and the IRSF’s mission to spread the word about Rett to more SLPs, teachers, and families.
Before the interview, Rachel and Chris chat about Chris’s channel, using GIFs to do a deep dive into a client’s specific interests, putting together your own collection of GIFs to use in therapy, and more!
Key ideas this week:
🔑 Rett Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an X-linked genetic mutation that affects multiple systems. Communication is usually affected, and people with Rett are typically nonspeaking.
🔑 People with Rhett syndrome often have difficulty regulating their bodies, and go in and out of being overstimulated and understimulated. The Rett Syndrome Communication Guide includes information on how to recognize when someone with Rett is overstimulated (or understimulated), and how to get them back to a regulated state.
🔑 It was important for Dr. Bartolotta to put together the Rett Communication Guidelines, because Rett is such a low-incidence disorder. An SLP working in the schools, for example, might only come across Rett once or twice in an entire career. By providing more information in one place, it can help bridge the knowledge gap for people new to treating Rett. 
Links this week:
Chris’s GIF channel on GIPHY: 
Rett Syndrome Communication Guidelines
International Rett Syndrome Foundation
Free professional development webinar series about Rett by the IRSF: 
Safe Harbor: A Podcast for Parents of Children with Disabilities: 
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Wednesday Feb 22, 2023

This week, Rachel has a coaching call with Sarah Lockhart, an SLP and host of the SLP Happy Hour podcast! They discuss a case study of a 5 year old nonspeaking boy who uses an AAC device to communicate. Sarah and Rachel discuss concerns that he is “stuck at requesting”, since he typically only makes requests during therapy. Rachel shares how we can lean into those requests and elicit communication using those high-interest topics. 
Before the interview, Chris shares with Rachel about his recent trip to Disneyland and some of the thoughts he had during the trip, including: the fact that he didn’t see any people using AAC in 5 days at a busy park; seeing a knit cap someone wore that said “I have autism, please be patient”; and the need to program phrases an AAC user might want to say in public, like “Go Bills”, into their devices.
Key ideas this week:
🔑 If you are trying to introduce commenting, you can set up a carrier phrase like “Its a train!” “Its a train!” “Its a _______” to help set up the expectation rather than just showing a picture of a train. The emphasis and routine can help students become more spontaneous and independent.
🔑 Some people with autism can get really anxious and want to know what is coming next. It can create peaks and valleys in their emotional experience - a visual schedule can help with that. To follow their lead during therapy and not be too rigid, you can include more general things on the schedule, like “read a book or new game”, to allow for adjustments during the session.
🔑 There is a lot of work to be done with coaching communication partners, and it can feel overwhelming. Instead of thinking about everything that needs to be try, try and focus teaching a communication partner to do one thing, and do it well. That can sometimes feel more doable for the both the clinician and the communication partner.
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Thursday Feb 16, 2023

This week, Chris and Rachel forgo the normal interview format to discuss some of the many thoughts that Chris put together during his recent trip to Disney World, including the need for training Disney Castmembers about ablest language, the need for sensory safe experiences on loud rides, using google images to translate foreign languages, and more! 
🔑 Chris discusses the “spoon theory” from a blog post by Christine Miserandino, including the idea that some people don’t have unlimited energy for medical reasons and have to make choices about what they do next. For some of our students, timing matters when it comes to therapy; Rachel wishes that she didn’t have to wait until after school when students are tired to do her therapy.
🔑 When Chris got a tour of Disney World, he asked the tour guide if she had training about language to use related to people with disabilities. The tour guide said they were trained about gender and cultural differences, but they were not trained in how to speak about people with disabilities. 
🔑 Chris noticed that there were not always closed captions on videos when standing in line at Disney, and he wonders if it would be helpful for Disney to put together an accessibility team to evaluate how to make the park more fully inclusive. 
Links from this Episode
Dan Pink’s book, When -
Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory blog -
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Friday Feb 03, 2023

This week, Rachel interviews the artist behind the Instagram account @drawntoaac, Jennifer Hyles! Along with being an amazing artist, Jennifer is also an SLP who specializes in supporting AAC users! Jennifer and Rachel talk all about Jennifer’s journey getting started creating Drawn to AAC, why Jennifer was motivated to create clip art that depicts diverse AAC users in a variety of settings, and more!
Before the interview, Chris and Rachel discuss using our client/student’s highly specific interests to create more motivating activities and materials. Rachel shares about one of her clients who is very interested in ceiling fans, and all the ways that she has effectively incorporated ceiling fans into that client’s therapy! They also talk about moving clients beyond those restrictive interests by exposing them gradually to new things that may be of interest (e.g. clips of a new show they haven’t seen before).
Key ideas this week:
🔑 Drawn to AAC’s art is a great way to incorporate images of AAC users from different cultures and backgrounds into our own therapy. Being able to depict a diverse array of AAC users allows therapists and practitioners to better reflect the users themselves when we create materials.
🔑 Based on feedback that Jennifer has received from SLPs and others, she has created art that was designed to be less cartoonish and more age-respectful for middle and high school students.
🔑 One benefit of working with Jennifer’s art is she is an SLP who understands AAC assessment and implementation. Her free resources are based on better AAC practices, and, if you ever decide that you want to commission some art from her related to AAC, she doesn’t need a lot of extra information to understand exactly what you need.
Links from this week’s episode:
Drawn to AAC on Instagram
Drawn to AAC on TPT and Ko-Fi
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Wednesday Jan 25, 2023

This week, Rachel interviews Dr. Laura Clarke, a special educator, teacher, and parent of a person with complex communication needs. Dr. Clarke who has created her own free website, Reading & Writing 4 All, that provides a variety of free resources to support literacy for emerging readers. Dr. Clarke shares about her journey as the parent of Dan, an emerging reader, and why she was motivated to provide  literacy resources to special education teachers and parents of emerging readers.
Before the interview, Chris and Rachel discuss ChatGPT (, a free chat artificial intelligence that can create some of the most human-like responses to questions ever. They ask the ChatGPT some AAC related questions, and Chris notes some of the national discussion about students using ChatGPT to do their homework for them. Chris points out that we should probably be figuring out how to help students use AI rather than trying to ban it, since these kinds of AI resources are probably not going away.
Key ideas this week:
🔑 Relationships and connection are essential to supporting emerging readers. Before we start coming up with content, we should have a knowledge of who the emerging reader is as a person and where their interests lie.  This can lead to creating higher-interest content that is more engaging!
🔑 It is common to want emerging readers to show us they understand what we are showing them and that they are paying attention by asking them lots of "wh-" questions, etc. This can unknowingly put a lot of demands on our students and take away from our connection with them. 
🔑 For emerging readers that may not want to look at text, find something they really love and put a picture of that thing on one side of a screen (e.g. a picture of Mario) and on the other side, you can put the text you want them to look at. Then, over time, you can make the picture of the preferred item smaller and smaller.
Links from this weeks episode:
Dr. Laura Clarke’s free website Reading & Writing 4 All: 
Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Resources has over 100 free online professional learning modules at 
You can reach Dr. Clarke by email at 
Visit to access previous episodes, resources, and CEU credits that you can earn for listening to TWT episodes!
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Wednesday Jan 18, 2023

This week, Rachel interviews Chloe Rothschild, an autistic advocate, author, teacher, and speaker who uses AAC to communicate part-time. Chloe currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Arc, a disability advocacy group, as well as working with the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence. Chloe joins the podcast to share her amazing insights into using different communication modalities depending upon the demands of the situation, as well as a discussion of using her Apple Watch for AAC, working with nonspeaking children in an autistic classroom, why she like to use symbols to communicate even though she is a fast typer, and more! 
Key ideas this week:
🔑 There are many reasons why someone may not speak in some situations, such as their anxiety level or the demands of the situation. We should not assume that every person who uses verbal speech can use it all the time.
🔑 Chloe uses pre-programmed “quick fire” messages via Proloquo4Text on her Apple Watch to communicate in some situations, such as when she needs a break out in the community. 
🔑 Chloe prefers to use her symbol-based AAC system, Proloquo2Go, instead of her text-based AAC system, Proloquo4Text. Chloe says she “thinks in pictures”, so when she looks at her grid of symbols, she instantly knows what the symbols mean. When there are no symbols, she has to read every word every time, which her takes longer.
Chloe’s website: 
My Interception Workbook: A Guide for Teens, Adolescents, and Adults by Kelly Mahler, Chloe Rothschild, and Jarvis Alma. 
Chloe is a Board Member of The Arc for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities:  
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TWT Live: Colorado’s SWAAAC

Wednesday Jan 11, 2023

Wednesday Jan 11, 2023

This week, Chris and Rachel host a lively session of Talking with Tech Live with members of Colorado’s State Wide Assistive Technology, Augmentative &  Alternative Communication (SWAAAC) group! SWAAAC teams are interdisciplinary groups (e.g. SLPs, OTs, PTs) that provide Assistive Technology services in Colorado schools. As with previous episodes of Talking with Tech Live, Chris and Rachel facilitated a collaborative discussion with the audience based on questions submitted by the audience. 
Key questions this week include:
❓How do we keep up with AAC software and the features that are coming out?
❓What should we do if the AAC Specialist in our district is using the candidacy model and doesn’t believe that a student is “ready” for a robust language system?
❓What is the best way to help educators embrace a functional communication system in a classroom? 
 ❓How can we convince SLPs and Behavior Interventionists we work with that a student needs a robust vocabulary and not just a few nouns for requesting?
❓What is the best way to support English Language Learners who use AAC when we don’t speak their primary language? 
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Wednesday Jan 04, 2023

This week, we present Chris’s interview with Brian Schobel, a District Resource Teacher for Transition in Albuquerque, NM. Brian has worked for years supporting transition and employment for people with special needs. Brian reached out to interview Chris about inclusion and how technology can help students of different abilities gain meaningful employment. During the interview, Brian and Chris discuss assistive technology tools that can be used to support students as they transition to employment, as well as areas where we can improve in our support. Brian also shares about using Read & Write by TextHelp himself at work, and why being an assistive technology user inspires Brian to support others who use assistive technology. 
Before the interview, Rachel and Chris have an actual in-person banter session at an airport in Minnesota! Rachel and Chris were recently presenting at the PATINS Access to Education conference in Indiana, and they jumped at the opportunity to record a podcast banter while waiting for their next flight. Rachel had two presentations at the PATINS conference. The first presentation was with Elisa Wern and covered using screen recording tools to support students. Elisa compared the tools Screencastify, Screencast-o-matic , and Loom, while Rachel discussed how she uses screen recording for asynchronous learning and coaching. Rachel’s second presentation was about on taking a team-based approach to AAC assessment through an abbreviated version of her AAC Ally course ( Chris presented four time at PATINS, including presentations on inclusive coding for robots, ways to enhance AAC implementation, and combining core words with morphemes (e.g. “corephemes”). Chris also did a Wonderfully Inclusive Scavenger Hunt and ran a session where they played Cards against Exclusivity at the conference.
Key ideas this week: 
🔑 Locking students into a particular browser for testing that doesn’t allow extensions related to assistive technology can be a significant issue. Even if we include voice to text and text to voice software on the test, if it isn’t the same buttons and voices that the student is used to, which can put them at a disadvantage.
🔑 You can provide both a traditional and more accessible option when assigning work in the classroom. For example, you can give a traditional paper-and-pencil worksheet to some students while also providing a digital copy to students who need it for text-to-speech. Even better, you can avoid giving a worksheet at all and provide something more interesting and meaningful while also being inclusive.
🔑 Saying “laptops closed and phones away” in a classroom can be ableist, because not everyone who is using technology is using it as a distraction. Everyone loses attention at times, even if you are looking at someone, your mind can wander. We want to give students the chance to make mistakes and to deal with distractions appropriately rather than taking all technology away from them.
🔑 How can we help places of employment adopt the same inclusive tools we are encouraging in the classroom? Companies are becoming more flexible with working remotely - we should help companies see the benefits of also being flexible supporting technological accommodations. 
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Join AAC experts Rachel Madel and Chris Bugaj as they dive into a weekly discussion about all things AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). Every episode they deliver practical resources, clinical guidelines and relevant research to help clinicians better utilize technology for individuals with complex communication needs.

Episodes include interviews with industry thought-leaders, clinicians, parents, researchers and app developers to keep you on the pulse of the educational technology scene and better support communication through the use of technology. 

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