Recently across social media I’ve witnessed many iterations of a ‘Communication Bill of Rights’ for individuals who use Augmented and Alternative Communication systems (aka ‘AAC’). Schools, speech services, advocacy groups and more are sharing their perspective on what it means for AAC users to have equal communication rights in varied contexts.
As a future speechie and a current teacher working with a very specific cohort of AAC users – students on the Autism Spectrum, predominantly assessed at Levels A to F for English Speaking and Listening on the Victorian Curriculum – I have been inspired! After trawling the web in search of an Australian Communication Bill of Rights to adapt for my classroom, I found Scope Australia’s version here.
We get so used to differentiating, re-interpreting, and adapting for students in special ed settings as we come to understand that individual abilities and points of need can be so very different. As professionals working in this field we tend to internalise common values and beliefs about access to education and information, yet sometimes I wonder if these are clear to the most important people: our students. I chose to incorporate a CBoR into my practice because it serves an additional purpose of framing those values in the context of what a student can expect to receive as a member of my classroom, whether they use AAC or not.
This my crack at creating a Communication Bill of Rights. As always, and in the interest of supporting student understanding and engagement via use of familiar language, I’ve incorporated symbols created by colleagues. The “I can” symbols are drawn from my school’s Core Vocabulary communication board, and the “look after myself/others/property” visuals are the representative symbols for our school’s Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) Expected Behaviours.
There’s an additional twist to my iteration of the CBoR… and that comes in the form of incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This year for the first time my school introduced the UDL framework for optimizing teaching and learning. I like it, perhaps because it’s gratifying to discover that a lot of what we already do in terms of special ed & Autism pedagogy is central to the UDL philosophy!
I know I learn best when I have opportunities to put theory into practice, so I’ve tested my skills in applying the UDL guidelines by linking my Communication Rights to the three UDL principles for now:
- Blue text indicates rights which acknowledge that every student must have an individually effective means of expressing or demonstrating their learning and knowledge.
- Purple text indicates rights which recognise that all students process information and establish the meaning of that information in different ways.
- Green text indicates rights which are predicated on the development of relationships and trust. When staff really see and know students as multi faceted individuals, we are more successful in discovering what is personally meaningful and motivating to each individual.
I’m wavering on the colour of a couple of those links though! There’s every possibility that my Communication Rights could experience chameleonic changes as the year and my learning progress. Stay tuned…