Mapping Communicative Activity: A CHAT Approach to Design of Pseudo-Intelligent Mediators for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

By Hengst, Julie A.; McCartin, Maeve et al. | Outlines : Critical Practice Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Mapping Communicative Activity: A CHAT Approach to Design of Pseudo-Intelligent Mediators for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)


Hengst, Julie A., McCartin, Maeve, Valentino, Hillary, Devanga, Suma, Sherrill, Martha, Outlines : Critical Practice Studies


Introduction

Advances in digital technologies have revolutionized devices for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), providing users a means of spelling out what they want to say, as well as offering access to thousands of stored words, phrases, and texts and the means to select different computerized voices to "speak" their chosen words. We only have to think of Stephen Hawking giving lectures on physics1 to glimpse the potential of such devices. However, given their dependence on prefabricated language (and the constant work of teams of human mediators), current AAC devices are quite limited in their ability to mediate the fleeting and mundane interactions typical of everyday talk. We argue that the limits of AAC are not simply technological, but firstly a question of theoretical frameworks. AAC design has largely been grounded in a prosthetic approach that imagines an AAC device as a replacement for damaged body parts/functions and in transmission models that take language-as-a-system to be the key to communication. We argue that a CHAT approach (e.g., Cole & Engeström, 1993; Luria, 1972; Rogoff, 2003; Wertsch, 1991) offers a richer theoretical framework for the design of AAC devices.

Our team, which includes computer scientists and engineers, communication researchers, disability specialists, and participant users, has been collaborating on the development of communication technologies (Robo-Buddies) that will function as pseudo-intelligent mediators (PIMs) of interaction, improving communication among diverse communicators by blending strengths of human mediators with features of current AAC technologies. The first step in our participatory design process - and what we report on here - has been to better model everyday communicative activity in a university setting by collecting interactional data from young adults who are potential AAC/PIM users. Taking a functional systems perspective, we report observations of six participants as they navigate campus settings. Our analysis focuses on the discursive alignments of these participants and their interlocutors, attending especially to ways their personal aides (PAs) function as human mediators of communication.

Drawing on Goffman's microsociology, our analysis provides a mapping of communicative activity around each of these differently-abled individuals (the majority of whom have cerebral palsy), presenting profiles of their everyday interactional patterns across settings and a close discourse analysis which highlights different roles taken by PAs in mediating these interactions. In conclusion, we suggest that a CHAT approach can aid AAC design by understanding devices as mediators of activity rather than as prosthetic extensions of individual bodies and by understanding communication as distributed and dialogic rather than simply the transmission of lexical-syntactic information. We also argue that attending to differently "abled" bodies as they move through everyday communicative environments pushes CHAT to more fully theorize physicality, individual mobilities, and the roles of bodies in the laminated assemblage (Latour, 2005; Prior & Schaffner, 2011) of functional systems.

AAC and Clinical Practice

The iconic image of physicist Stephen Hawking speaking to an audience epitomizes the potential of modern speech-generating AAC devices. Hawking has used a computerized AAC system since 1985 as his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)2 has progressively robbed him of voluntary muscle control. By all appearances, his digital voice gives him a remarkable freedom to speak publicly: In recent years he has hosted his own TV special/documentary, made guest appearances on TV shows (e.g., StarTrek), and delivered an untold number of professional lectures and public speaking engagements around the world. The WordsPlus3 software Hawking uses allows him to select, store and speak words he wants to say. However, Hawking's success is supported by much more than the AAC software. …

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