Let’s be honest…. There’s a month to celebrate EVERYTHING these days. In October alone, I found at least 23 different things that you should be particularly aware of this month, including “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and “National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.” However, none of these celebrations are as little-mentioned as AAC Awareness Month.
So, welcome! If you’re like me, you already have a million reasons to love October (Halloween, Fall leaves, football, campfires, pumpkin spiced lattes and candles…), so I’m merely making this month even better!
AAC Awareness month is lead by ISAAC (International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication), which is an integral part of the AAC community all over the world. It is designed to “improve the lives of children and adults who use AAC,” and its mission is “to promote the best possible communication for people with complex communication needs.” Pretty cool, right?
This year, ISAAC has chosen a theme for AAC Awareness Month 2017: Access All Areas.
Which brings us to our second question…
Why does AAC Awareness Month matter??
Well, it’s about spreading acceptance and understanding. It’s about every single person being able to have a “voice.” It’s about making AAC part of the mainstream environment. It’s about willingness to use AAC as a communication option rather than waiting for verbal speech. It’s about true and meaningful inclusion for users of AAC. It’s about getting rid of #FOUA (fear of using AAC).
It’s about advocacy.
I remember in my first graduate course, I was sitting in the front row listening to Dr. Janice Light (AKA one of the research gods of AAC) talking about advocacy and what that looks like in the real world. For some people, it’s about joining a charity walk. Not for her! You see, in Downtown State College, PA (where she teaches at Penn State University), there is a bank that is on one of the main roads. Unfortunately, it is an older building that has a step at the entrance and there is no handicap entrance. The bank’s explanation is that the bank branch that is a five-minute drive away is handicap accessible. As this was my professor’s bank, she would advocate every single time that she went to the bank that this was absolutely unacceptable! Why should someone be forced to find a ride or drive to the bank when one is within walking distance, simply because he or she cannot get into the building? We need to advocate that this is not acceptable.
I remember last year watching the first episode of “Speechless,” and a similar argument was made. When Maya (the mother character) took her son, J.J., to school on the first day, he had no real way into the building! The “handicap accessible” ramp was in the back of the school… and it was really the ramp they used to take out the trash to the dumpsters! Maya had a classic “crash course in human rights” for the principal of the school, where she played her personal favorite game of “Trash or Person.” This is important! When you’re expecting a person to use the garbage ramp, it sends the message that they are garbage. Again, this is where advocacy is incredibly important and necessary.
How does this relate to AAC?
Yes, AAC has made its way closer to mainstream media with the introduction of “Speechless” on TV and the movie “The Theory of Everything”. However, anytime I tell people that, “I work with students who use AAC,” I get a glassed-over look of confusion. “Am I supposed to know what AAC is?”
This is why I advocate.
I want people to know what AAC means and looks like. The more AAC is mainstreamed, the more people will be understanding of it. This makes more people willing to use it. If more people are willing to use AAC, we have higher chances of funding and more people to advocate for it! All because we advocate for it ourselves.
So I encourage you to make AAC Awareness Month a part of your life. Speak up. Be an advocate!