Can we provide the bells and whistles? Supporting PC-based VOCAs and accessible computers

Liz Howarth, Rohan Slaughter (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There are both advantages and disadvantages of PC-based voice output communication aids (VOCAs) [1]. One advantage is that, in addition to voice output, the same device can run any Windows software, making it available to the user given that an appropriate interface can be provided. A disadvantage of PC-based VOCAs is that they are more sophisticated than dedicated devices, and therefore typically require greater levels of technical support to keep them running effectively. Without the appropriate levels of support, technical problems may prevent use of the voice output software, removing or reducing the user’s ability to communicate.

Even where AAC practitioners feel that their clients would potentially benefit from the additional opportunities offered by a PC-based device, there are issues around whose responsibility it is to provide the extra level of service required to facilitate this. Work is required to set up the interface and technical configuration to provide IT applications in an accessible way, and then to provide the ongoing support for the user to learn how to use these applications effectively, and technical support to keep them working. This is ‘new work’ that was not required of AAC services five years ago, and in a field which is already under-resourced and where the primary focus is on face-to-face communication, it can be difficult to resource this ‘extra’ level of service.

At Beaumont College we are running ‘The Wheeltop Project’, with sponsorship from BT, which aims to improve access to communications technology for young people with physical and learning disabilities. We have used the sponsorship to buy equipment and software, and to fund a new ‘Technologist’ position in the college to carry out the associated work. Through the project we have worked with our own students and other young people in the local area to set up portable, customized tablet PC systems with a customized access method and interface to suit each user’s needs and preferences. Most but not all participants
use their device as a voice output communication aid. We present firstly the reasons why we wanted to try to achieve this, and secondly the model we have used at Beaumont College in order to do so.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-28
Number of pages5
JournalCommunication Matters Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


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