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Strategies that can be used to develop personalized AAC supports (Gormley & Koch Fager, 2021)

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

According to the United Nations (2006), regardless of an individual’s age or disability status, they have the right to an accessible environment and healthcare, which includes their ability to expressively communicate utilizing the communication mode of their choice (Gormley & Koch Fager, 2021). There are several strategies that health care providers can use to develop and implement personalized communication supports for both children and adults who present with communication impairment during their health care interactions as proposed by Gormley & Koch Fager (2021). Today’s blog post will discuss some of the strategies identified in their article.

Customization and design of communication supports:

  • Low-tech AAC supports can be quick and efficient for use in the health care setting, however they may not be able to fully meet the communication needs of individuals as they don't have specific content related to an individual's medical condition and may not include messages related to an individual's daily routines (Gormley & Koch Fager, 2021). The authors of this article recommend personalizing messages, personalizing access and layout, and personalizing message representation.

  • When personalizing messages, providers should consider what is the most specific, urgent needs an AAC user may need to express related to their specific medical condition. For example, if an individual requires the use of glasses, it's important the AAC system they are using has that vocabulary (e.g., glasses) available.

  • It's crucial that providers personalize access and layout for individuals who have accessibility issues due to fine and/or gross motor deficits. Having alternate access options available in a health care setting such as inpatient rehabilitation is important for individuals who have a newly acquired motor impairment.

Ensure that communication tools are available:

  • Health care providers can make various AAC tools that meet the variable needs of their patients. Having low-tech AAC systems created and available can be as easy as printing out a communication board! Gormley & Koch Fager recommend having a shared computer drive to quickly access, customize, and print communication boards based on patient and interaction needs. High-tech AAC systems, such as the ProSlate offered through Forbes AAC, can be set-up with many different AAC apps that can meet the needs of both pediatric patients and adult patients.

Provider trainings:

  • Gormley & Koch Fager recommend provider trainings, both in person or video trainings. It's important to consider providing health care providers with written instructions and/or signs that informs staff about a person's specific communication needs and information related to their use of AAC.

Preparing for health care interactions:

  • For individuals who utilize AAC for communication, it’s important to prepare them for communicating in upcoming health care interactions. The parent, caregiver, or spouse can collaborate with the patient to be sure their AAC system(s) have the necessary communication supports for their upcoming healthcare interaction.

  • It’s also important to consider what communication is required for any unplanned hospitalizations. Communication specific to an individual’s safety, health, and well-being should be easily accessible on the person’s AAC system(s).

  • Gormley & Koch Fager (2021) suggested individuals who require the use of AAC look into certain documentation options such as creating a communication passport (e.g., Widgit Health, available for download at, creating paper or mobile identification cards, and creating high-tech or paper communication materials specifically designed for medical interactions on the patient’s everyday communication system (Blackstone et al., 2015).


  • Blackstone, S., Beukelman, D., & Yorkston, K. (2015). Patient–provider communication: Roles for speech-language pathologists and other health care professionals. Plural.

  • Gormley, J., & Koch Fager, S. (2021). Personalization of patient-provider communication across the lifespan. Topics in Language Disorders. Topics in language disorders, 41(3), 249–268. PMID: 34421170; PMCID: PMC8375497.

  • United Nations. (2006). Final Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. United Nations.

Katie Threlkeld, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed, ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist and the Educational Program Developer at Forbes AAC. She has over eight years of experience in AT and AAC assessment and treatment with both the pediatric and adult populations. Katie has presented at the state and national level on AAC topics and she has University teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level.

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