Every non-verbal person can speak provided augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) aids are made part of their communication. This was underscored by disability rights activists as well as conveyed through the success stories of people who conquered their complex disabilities, at a conference here on Friday.
The activists were addressing the inaugural function of a national conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communications (ISAAC) India chapter, organised by Vidya Sagar at Dr. MGR Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women.
“AAC is part of communication training, but at present we do not have any long-term professional training programme, which should see more changes in the coming years,” said Sudha Kaul, founder-chairperson of Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Kolkata. She said the field is at an exciting phase as technologists have recognised the need to develop such assistive aids for non-verbal persons, giving examples of the innovation happening at IIT-Kharagpur and Madras.
Poonam Natrajan, Chairperson of the National Trust, said the membership of ISAAC had to grow as there was a huge community which needed help, especially AAC aids. A plenary session chaired by members of the Disability Legislation Unit of Vidya Sagar focussed on the need to see more work happening in other areas of disability such as those with neurological impairment and geriatric needs.
B. Meenakshi of the Disability Legislation Unit said there were only three organisations and two institutions working on research and development in the field, and ISAAC India chapter had only 28 members. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) looked at data collection for any policy decisions and budget allocation, therefore ISAAC forum had to grow, she said. Rajiv Rajan, coordinator of the unit, said the technological aids being developed should be affordable for all.
Vaishnavi Jayakumar of The Banyan moderated a session on ‘AAC and employment.' The audience sat in rapt attention to hear stories of Madhuri Kapur and Raju Saraf who battled their disability. “I am one of the AAC users with 90 per cent motor disability but now I teach computers,” said Ms. Kapur, who completed a diploma in computer application and is now a regular staffer at IICP, Kolkata.
Mr. Saraf, who runs his own photocopy shop at a school in Delhi, said when customers did not understand him, he repeated or wrote a key word.