Frontline Initiative DSPs and Technology

The right to communicate DSPs, communications, and technology


Jolene Hyppa-Martin, MA, CCC-SLP practices Speech Language Pathology at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

As a speech and language pathologist (SLP), I work with people who have communication disorders. I evaluate their communication abilities and provide interventions to help them communicate. I work with people of all ages and varieties of conditions. Some people have intellectual or developmental disabilities. Others have conditions that develop later in life. In my role as a speech and language pathologist, I can help people with expressive communication and receptive communication.

The SLP code of ethics tells us to find ways to meet the needs within our communities. I work at an outreach clinic. It serves people with complex communication needs who receive services in their homes. We do thorough evaluations and learn what communication abilities people have. Then we work with people to build on these abilities, or give them new options for communication. This often includes using what we call “augmentative and alternative communication technology” or AAC. 

We connect people with AAC to help them to express and understand language. It ranges from pen-and-paper strategies and eye gaze boards, all the way to very high-tech speech-generating computers. Our clinic is known for our eye gaze devices. These are computers that generate speech and are operated by the user’s eye movement. They are very helpful for people with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities such as cerebral palsy.

Communication is inherently social. It involves the many people in a person’s life. So when someone has complex communication needs, we work with them and their care partners, or other people in their life. These may be DSPs or PCAs, family members, social workers, or nurses. We can help the support staff learn how to be good communication partners. This can include learning how to use high- or low-tech AAC technology. Whatever the technology, being a good communication partner is necessary to the person being supported.

Communication is a human right. All DSPs can be effective in supporting people with complex communication needs. All people have the right to communication, regardless of the extent of their communication disabilities. 

Through communication, people can affect the conditions of their existence. As a DSP, you can make sure that all people are treated according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association bill of rights . This includes “be[ing] spoken to with respect and courtesy, be[ing] spoken to directly and not be[ing] spoken for or talked about in the third person while present, and hav[ing] clear, meaningful… communications.” For people with complex communication needs, AAC technology can be very empowering. 

Technology has changed a lot in the last several years. If you work with a person with complex communication needs, check to find out if they have had an AAC evaluation recently. There may be new tools available to support his or her communication.