Supporting Communication

Supporting communication

Communication aids and supports

When speaking is not reliable or available, various aids, supports and technologies can assist communication.

These are sometimes called augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). AAC can be used with speaking or instead of speaking. AAC can be a very important part of life for some people.

Working out which AAC options suit a person’s needs and preferences can take time. One AAC system will rarely meet all communication needs. Often, a combination is important.

The preferred AAC options may change over a person’s lifetime.

If a person has communicating difficulties, combining different ways (or modes) can make communication more successful. This is sometimes called multi-modal communication. Extra gestures, images, or symbols can help to make the meaning clearer.

AAC aids and technologies

Some AAC involves physical aids or assistive technology. Communication aids can be ‘light tech’ or non-electronic. This means they don’t involve electronic devices or technology. They are often paper-based. Other communication aids are ‘high tech’ meaning they do require technology to work.

AAC often helps by making communication ‘visible’ by using pictures, written words, objects, signs, or other visual supports. This allows everyone more time to think, understand, and share messages.

Some examples of ‘light tech’ communication aids


Communication boards

Communication books

Key-ring cards

Eye-gaze boards

Some examples of ‘high tech’ communication aids

Speech generating devices

Computer/phone/tablet with communication apps

Voice output devices

AAC supports

Some communication supports do not require aids or technology. They are sometimes called unaided.

The person uses whatever is available to them, generally their own body, to support communication. This includes using eye contact, facial expression, body language and gestures, as well as formal sign language including Auslan and Key Word Sign.

For people who cannot see, some additional options for AAC include sound (audio) supports and touch (tactile) supports. Some examples are:

  • A person who is deafblind may use tactile signs on their body or object symbols around them to assist communication
  • A person with low or no vision may use braille to read or listen to audio formats.

Mainstream communication supports

Many mainstream technologies and supports can help people many with communication difficulties.

Universal design benefits everyone. Some examples include:

  • sign language interpreters
  • other language interpreters and formats
  • Easy English and other alternative formats
  • closed captions
  • text readers and text-to-speech options
  • voice recognition and speech-to-text options
  • online assistants
  • font size options
  • screen contrast options
  • word prediction software
  • visual search engines.

Many of these communication supports are becoming increasingly more available in phones, websites, software and general equipment.


Communication advocate and AAC user

‘Having access to different modalities is so important because some days I can't move very much at all. So I would use my iPad on those days because it's bigger and easier to navigate. But then I use my phone with the text-to-speech application, and then I will also use my natural voice to yell at my son without any one of those options. If I have to stick to one, it would not give me the flexibility or the agility I need for certain days.’

Learn more

Augmentative and Alternative Communication in Schools Policy, Version 1. Published by the Department of Education, Tasmania, 2020. Version 2 due for release in late 2022. This document provides an outline of AAC policy for school implementation, and could act as a template for other States and Territories wishing to implement similar policies.

AAC Modules Produced as part of the ‘Right to Speak’ initiative in Scotland. Includes short, accessible, free online modules about communication and AAC. Also includes a collection of educational AAC videos and stories from around the globe.

Deaf Australia The Deaf-led peak organisation representing Deaf people in Australia.

Every Connects Assistive Technology Guide Produced by Assistive Technology Australia (formerly the Independent Living Centre NSW) in 2017. Funded by the Telstra Foundation. These resources aimed to support ‘connection’ for AAC users across a variety of devices, through fact sheets and lived experience videos. Includes educational modules on complex communication needs and telecommunications, digital literacy, cyber safety, alternate access methods, app and software considerations, and much more.