Collective Consciousness and Belief in AAC Users
Humans are a successful species because they are connected to one another through collective beliefs and thoughts. These beliefs help shape our laws, our actions, and the experiences that we commit to memory. Our brains are wired to notice the things that confirm our beliefs over those that challenge. But not all these beliefs are true. One is the collective belief that disabled people cannot learn. This leads us to doubt disabled people in a way that we do not doubt others in society. Consider the difference between when babies are learning to speak and when children or adults are learning to communicate with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). When babies begin to babble, we know that they have no idea what they are saying. Yet we continually treat them as if they were telling the most interesting story we have ever heard. We pick out any sounds that could be vaguely related to something that has, is or will happen and give the sound meaning. We do this naturally and for long periods of time. Conversely, when a new AAC user is trying out a device there is a constant doubt that they mean what they say. Even when it is relevant there is a doubt that it is an accident. I firmly believe that this is because whether we want to admit it or not, we have an underlying belief that disabled people cannot be clever. I know this because even although I do always react to Leia's communication there are too times that she surprises me. Just last week during a session a mum said I am so pleased she (her daughter) did that because sometimes, you know, you wonder if you are delusional about their abilities. Her daughter met her with an appropriately withering look. It also explains why I have been described as easy (to talk to) on several occasions. When it’s an AAC user that is not my daughter I don't have to consider if I am a deluded parent. (Another dangerous collective viewpoint.) I can enter a dialogue fully expecting that the person has understood me and will have the ability to answer if they choose to do so. Collective consciousness can be changed but to begin with it takes a conscious effort. We simply must do this. It is harder to use AAC than it is to speak and babble as a baby, so if someone has made the effort to say something then it is a thing of worthiness and note. It costs you nothing to act as if the utterance was meant. Yet if you don't the costs could be high to the AAC user. Every time an utterance is dismissed that person is more likely to become passive and/or despondent in their communication. This is one reason people use AAC in some settings more than others. It's a much bigger reason that AAC gets abandoned rather than it being the wrong system or the person not being ready. Yet it is one that is less comfortable for us to admit. We, communication partners, are the main reason for lack of progress. It's time that become our new collective consciousness.