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Health, Science & Tech

Researchers, Speech-Disabled Discuss Maximizing Communication Potential

More than 1,800 people from all 50 states and nearly 40 countries are in Pittsburgh discussing ways to enhance communication for individuals with severe speech problems.

Researchers, clinicians, pathologists, software developers, engineers, manufacturers, those with speech and language disabilities and their family members are attending the 15th biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC). The conference opened Saturday and continues through August 4 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes forms of communication, other than speech, used to express thoughts, from gestures and sign language, to writing on paper, to electronic devices that create symbols and words or even speech generation.

The goal is to help people express themselves with the hope of increasing self esteem, greater social interaction and better performance in school.

Katya Hill, executive director of the AAC Institute in Pittsburgh, said one of the primary problems is how people view technology.

"That paradigm shift is people feeling more comfortable with technology and going out and self-prescribing what was an assisted technology field and now more off the shelf," Hill said.

She added that Pittsburgh has a lot to offer in communication enhancement.

"Look at the various university programs that we have in Pittsburgh, in terms of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Pittsburgh, the programs that are offered there, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University offering a speech and language program," Hill said.

The conference includes daily town hall meetings for AAC users and their families, an exhibit hall with learning labs, and a research symposium August 3 and 4 at the University of Pittsburgh.