What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Core and Fringe Vocabulary in AAC

In the past we taught fringe words the most. Fringe vocabulary is the easiest to teach and we thought they were what AAC users really needed the most.  Now we realize that core words are going to be more flexible to use across environments and with our communication partners. Since we don’t just speak using fringe vocabulary, it is important to focus on teaching the core words even though it can be more challenging. So, what are core and fringe?
Core Vocabulary
  • Core words are high-frequency words that can be used in a variety of situations and with various communication partners.
  • They make-up about 75-80% of the words we use every day.
  • Think about it- you cannot form a sentence without using core words.
  • You can, however, create a sentence using only core words.
  • They are definitely more difficult to visualize and to come up with a picture that represents them.
  • Usually includes pronouns, helping verbs, prepositions, articles, and common verbs.
  • Examples: I, he/she, like, play, have, on, open, help, more, can, do, it (see below.)
  • Sentences using only core vocabulary – “I like to play”, “I need help”, “I can do it”, "Can you help me?"
Example of a core board:

Fringe Vocabulary
  • Are more specific to a particular situation.
  • Fringe words are mostly nouns.
  • They are more specific and cannot be used across a variety of situations.
  • You cannot form a sentence with only fridge words.
  • You can visualize the fringe vocabulary words or easily show a picture of a fringe word.
  • Examples: “dog”, “home”, “Mom”, “drink”, “desk”, and “toys”.
Example of fringe board:

What we have learned over the yeas is that core vocabulary is a crucial part of all AAC systems because it allows for most flexibility across most situations. We should teach it as soon as possible. We should model it every day. We should emphasize core words when we speak. Example: You know they want more time to swing, say, "more?" "You want to swing more." You know the user wants to look out the window, say "look". You want to look out the window." If the device is available, point to the words as you say them.
With an emphasis on core words, we will end up using Fringe Vocabulary 20-25% of the time.  Individualized vocabulary would also be included under fringe vocabulary and would relate to personal words they might need for their needs, desires, interests, work, school, home or community.
AAC users should have access to core and fringe vocabulary so that they have maximum communication power no matter where they are,  who they are with, or what they are doing.
It is important to teach core words because it allows the user to communicate easier which will decrease their frustration. It is easier for the user to touch a message to say “more” to request something then learning or trying to find each related picture or trying to navigate through categories to find that specific desired item. For example, if a user points to “more” or “want” the listener will usually understand the user wants which will reduce communication frustrations.Also, consider that the user would not have to learn a new vocabulary word and/or picture if they did not know it or would not have to navigate through their communication system to find what they want.
Vocabulary needs are always changing but a communication system cannot always be changing or it will become frustrating or impossible to access! Therefore, it is imperative to plan ahead when choosing vocabulary and designing a communication tool. If it is a word that is not going to be a part of their everyday vocabulary, or at least for the long term, maybe you need to consider another method for communicating. Adding words for a lesson into a device may not be the best use of the device especially when core words might provide enough. If we are checking for understanding, consider an eTrans Board, pointing to index cards, having a special Academic Communication Book (for multi-choice type of responses such as A,B,B,D or 1,2,3,4). There are so many options and variety is always good! Think: is this page or these words going to be used for multiple purposes? If not, probably best not to include them but re-evaluate this constantly. What is not needed this year might be completely different next year.