Sunday, August 29, 2010

Advocating for Communication Access and Rights through Songs and Poems

One way to get through a new message is to use something familiar, particularly a tune.  The efforts of the Everyone Communicates, ISAAC's International AAC Campaign task force (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), and the TASH Communications Committee have been focused on spreading information and new perspectives on the value of using alternative methods to communicate anytime speech is difficult or ineffective.  Many people spend days, months, years or even a lifetime without effective speech.  Other methods for communication should be explored exhaustively and relentlessly to enable people without effective speech to communicate naturally, fluently, and effectively.  In addition, people who need AAC methods often do not get instruction in literacy.  However, gaining and improving literacy skills helps people to communicate better using AAC.  So, our message is about AAC and also literacy instruction. 

In working to spread awareness about these other ways to communicate and about the importance of literacy instruction, I started working on writing lyrics for familiar songs.  The first was "If I Had a VOCA", set to the tune of "If I Had a Hammer".  It was released by the TASH Communications Committee and the ISAAC International AAC Awareness task force in 2009 during October, which is International AAC Awareness Month.  We teamed with Snoopi Botten, an expert at programming speech technology for communication devices into singing voices, who made it possible for communication devices to sing the song.  He and his friend Dave made the video listed below, which has been viewed over 5500 times around the world in many countries. 

Following the release of "If I Had a VOCA", additional lyrics seemed to converge in my thinking, so I started looking for songs that are public domain.  The tunes I found were old but familiar (to me from chorus class or from old movies) tunes such as "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain", "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", "ABC Song /Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", and "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy".  The lyrics are quite similar from song to song.  The critical points I wanted to express are the same, even though the tunes may change:  (a) everyone can communicate and we must work to find the methods that enable each person to be successful; (b) literacy instruction helps improve communication using AAC; (c) role models help everyone to see what is possible with training, ongoing supports, and technology for AAC; (d) mentoring by people who use and understand AAC helps people who are learning to use AAC; (e) communication is about conversation and engaging with others, not just making choices and answering yes or no to questions; (f) people who use AAC need access to all words, including the core words (through word lists or by spelling) that help us make sentences and generate new original statements rather than just saying preprogrammed comments, and (g) communication is essential to self-determination. 

I hope you will enjoy the songs and share them.  Some of the songs have been made into videos with a computer singing voice supplied by Snoopi Botten.  We plan eventually to release all of them in mp3 format for loading onto communication devices so that people who use AAC may sing these songs if they wish.  Technology and the right supports make it possible for people to communicate and also to sing.