In the list of commemorative awareness months, October’s got a lot going on. It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month, after all, as well as National Dyslexia Awareness Month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National ADHD Awareness Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Spina Bifida Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. October kind of feels like Awareness Awareness Month, to be honest. Relevant to my own life and my own personal perspective, along with all those worthy causes, October is also AAC Awareness Month.
There’s so much I could say about Augmentative and Alternative Communication and the new life it has given to people like Schuyler, individuals with complex communication needs but also dreams of interacting in society in everyday circumstances. I could go on about how important it is for the world around us to understand and accept AAC users on their own terms.
Instead, I’m going to tell you an extraordinary story. So brace yourself.
Yesterday, while out and about town, we took Schuyler to a favorite burger place for lunch. As we stood in line, she took out her iPad and her speaker and slowly but deliberately prepared her order in her speech software. After Julie and I had ordered, we waited for Schuyler to catch up. The people in line behind us waited without comment, but the young man behind the counter didn’t quite understand what was going on and asked impatiently, “Is she going to order?”
We said nothing. I silently raised my hands, signaling for him to wait. And then her weird little English-accented voice said “Can I have a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles and fries and a drink, please?”
And just like that, just by interacting with a person using AAC technology, you might say that the young man behind the counter became aware. He placed her order, and that was that.
After we’d finished eating, Schuyler asked if she could have a milkshake. I took out my wallet and handed her a five dollar bill. “You can have a shake if you go get it yourself.”
And she did. She programmed her iPad and carried it up to the counter, and a couple of minutes later, she returned with my change and a shake. And a big smile.
Like I said, an extraordinary story, in its own way. No big deal at all, and at the same time the biggest of deals. What does true awareness of AAC and how it works in the lives of users like Schuyler truly look like? You’ll know it when Schuyler and her friends can order a milkshake and no one cares. You’ll know when it’s ordinary.
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