Mobile Technology: Benefits and Challenges (summary)


Background Recent rapid developments in mobile and tablet technology have had great effects on the lives of many people with complex communication needs. There has been an increase in specialised apps to support communication which run on these often smaller and cheaper mainstream devices. These offer many benefits but also some disadvantages for users of AAC.

What was the aim of the study? The study aimed to consider both advantages and disadvantages of mobile technology for people who use AAC and to identify areas for future research and implications for practice.

What did the authors do? They carried out a review of literature related to mobile technology and apps and identified 5 areas of potential benefit and 4 areas of significant challenges which need to be addressed in order for the benefits to be fully realised.

What did they find?

Potential benefits:

Increased awareness and social acceptance The use of mainstream technology and availability of communication apps from the same app stores as other social or educational apps increases public awareness of AAC. This can also have a positive impact on social acceptance and self-image for AAC users.

Greater consumer empowerment in accessing AAC solutions The relatively low cost of mobile technology and apps makes it easier for people with complex communication needs and their families to buy and try out systems without having to seek funding and wait for formal AAC assessments.

Increased adoption of AAC technologies People are generally more familiar and comfortable with mobile technology than with dedicated voice output communication aids (VOCAs) and the mobile systems do not require lots of learning by communication partners to enable them to personalise the AAC content.

Greater functionality and interconnectivity The multi-purpose design of mobile technologies offer people who use AAC access to the same range of communication options that are available to everyone else, including: social networking, texting, internet access etc. Over 90% of people with CCN, surveyed in one study used their iPad for non-AAC as well as AAC purposes.

Greater diffusion of AAC research & development AAC research and development is now being undertaken by a wider range of individuals, rather than mainly by traditional assistive technology manufacturers. Some apps are developed in response to requests from users and then made freely available, leading to a greater number of resources.

Potential Challenges:

Keep the focus on communication If there is too much focus on the technology rather than the objective of supporting communication it is possible that devices might be bought without fully considering how they will be used. The lower cost of mobile systems could lead to people being expected to adapt to the technology rather than being assessed for a system that best meets their needs.

Develop innovative approaches to AAC assessment and intervention A lack of careful assessment means that AAC technologies provided might not be the most appropriate. Many people who use AAC and their families thought they did not get the professional support they needed to implement their system effectively and many speech and language therapists do not have training in the use of mobile devices.

App developers do not generally offer the level of technical support, repairs etc provided by assistive technology manufacturers who include this in the cost of the device, but families say they want technical support to be available.

Ensure ease of access for all individuals Alternative access systems for mobile technology are limited, so there are many people with CCN who cannot access them easily. The levels of skills required to use many apps mean they are often not accessible to people who have complex impairments.

The move towards low cost AAC apps means that there could be a reduction in funding available for research and development into AAC systems to meet the requirements of those with the most complex needs.

Maximise AAC solutions to support a wide variety of communication functions AAC apps often address a very limited range of communicative functions such as labelling or requesting and do not integrate with other programs to give access to the internet etc.

The authors suggest that a broader definition of communication access is needed, beyond speech output to support face-to-face interactions.


The authors suggest that there is a need for research into the effects of mobile technologies with a wider range of people who use AAC of and also the effects of these systems on their facilitators .

There is a need for research into:

  • how to design AAC apps
  • how to ensure best access to mobile technologies for people with complex needs
  • how to integrate communication into the other functions available via mobile technology

Added to site January 2014