Low-tech communication aids, based on pictures, symbols and imagery, can help improve communication by removing language as a barrier. This alleviate problems in both transmitting and receiving messages.
• Transmitting: people who cannot speak clearly enough to be understood by others, because of a condition like cerebral palsy, or following a stroke or brain injury.
• Receiving: people who have problems understanding what is being said to them, because of cognitive impairments (learning disabilities, autism or dementia, for example). A simple aid like this talking photo album enables pictures to be combined with a spoken message, to produce instructions or reminders that are much more easily understood.
Sometimes, individuals only need to use communication aids for a short period of time – during rehabilitation following a stroke, perhaps. Others need alternative forms of communication throughout their lives.
Although high-tech electronic communication aids are extremely clever, and can provide users with a sophisticated alternative to speech, low-tech aids also have advantages.
Inevitably, devices that rely on a power source let us down from time to time, so it is a good idea to have some form of backup, if you rely on a computer or other electronic aid to communicate.
Low-tech aids are a lot cheaper, of course, and can also be used by people with cognitive impairments that would prevent them using a more complex system.
Various symbol-based systems have been developed, which allow people to communicate a greater range of concepts. Rebus, Blissymbols and PCS (example shown right) are three of the most widely used. Symbol libraries, like dictionaries, grow with their users, to reflect current events, newsworthy developments and high-profile people, enabling people to express themselves on a range of subjects that interest us all.
Symbols, pictures and imagery can be used on both low-tech (paper and board) and high-tech communication aids. Many suppliers can provide both.