Our Report to the Government of Canada: Part 4, Communication Access/AAC

We are blogging our report and recommendations to the Government of Canada, by section. Below are our communication access policy recommendations.

Full report: A4A National Policy Report & Recommendations, 2019

Communication access/AAC
25-30% of autistic people are non-verbal or semi-verbal. This means that like some other disabled people, we need access to augmentative and alternative communication platforms, called AAC. AAC is any means of communication–aside from verbal speech–that allows someone to use language. AAC can include: pictures; gestures; sign language; visual aids; and speech-output devices like phones or iPads.

The average time it takes for an autistic child to receive this essential communication access is 2.5 years. That is 2.5 years too long! Government funding programs must begin to adequately fund the services and technologies that allow non-verbal autistic children to communicate–and their caregivers to properly communicate with them.

As one of our members notes: “When I found AAC it was like throwing a drowning person a lifeline. It has changed my life. I was able to get employment supports; they set me up with an employment support worker who helped me find and apply to jobs…I went from minimum wage, followed by unemployment, to a full time job where I am constantly getting praise for the quality of my work. I didn’t change. My skill set didn’t change. My work experience didn’t change. The way I look and act didn’t change. The only thing that changed was how I communicate. …I cannot stress enough how big a difference AAC has made for me.”

AAC: Recommendations
Please note: AAC is not a part of ABA and it needs to be funded independently of ABA.

  • A Communication Charter of Rights for non-verbal and semi-verbal individuals, for fair access and accommodations in all aspects of Canadian life, including specific educational mandates for teachers, health care providers and first responders.
  • AAC access for all who need it, without delay.
  • Base funding for new acquisitions on changing communication and developmental needs rather than an arbitrary “5-year” timeframe.
  • Remove federal HST from iPads prescribed as a dedicated communication device, to improve access.
  • Partner with medical schools to create an education module for health care practitioners (especially ER) on how to communicate with AAC users.
  • Education for employers on AAC and autistic communication, led by disability self-advocacy groups.
  • Universal AAC education for first responders across Canada, led by disability self-advocacy groups.
  • Universal AAC education for teachers and staff in Canadian schools, led by disability self-advocacy groups.