A closer look at ROCC Domain 8: Availability of Communication System

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Image shows a hat stand with AAC devices hanging from it.

For those already using the ROCC, here is something to think about…If your student/client is not really taking responsibility for carrying their system around with them (Domain #8), consider why this is happening. 

  • Is it worth it to them? 
  • How are they scoring on ROCC Domain #5?  
  • Do they see the system as their voice? 
  • Is it something they see as useful to them (and useful in all of the settings that they go to), or is much of their communication happening when other people model or ask them questions? 

If you can focus first on domain #5, you might also see an increase in Domain #8 without really having to work on it, or at least it might happen more easily once you have growth in Domain #5.You’ve got to want to use something before you think it’s worth carrying around. 


This featured domain discussion is around Domain #8, AVAILABILITY OF THEIR COMMUNICATION SYSTEM. 


The goal: To take responsibility for access to a system that meets their needs at all times.


This domain is based around the concept that if an individual needs any additional aids in order to communicate autonomously and competently, then they themselves must ultimately take responsibility for these aids  being available when they need them. 

There is a distinct difference between this domain and Domain #2 which targets ownership rather than availability. It is not enough to just own aided communication tools, they must also be available for use when the person has something to say, and also to ensure that the effort to communicate is less than the motivation required to do so. If it’s too hard, or takes too long to get the device, the person may choose not to bother saying something, or worse still, their communication partner may not make the effort to provide them with the opportunity. 

For example, if telling someone that you like their new shoes requires you to walk across the room (or worse still, back inside) to collect your device, then more than likely it’s not worth the effort. Though you may own a great aided system with a comprehensive vocabulary, the effort to use it in this example would be much greater than the motivation to compliment someone. However, if the system is on hand, a quick compliment could result in a smile and sense of connection, ignite a longer conversation, or even be the start of a new friendship. Aren’t these the main reasons we communicate?

In the early stages, and for emerging communicators, we usually start by modelling the importance of having a system available. Communication partners can problem solve and practice having the aided system available in all situations, and as discussed in other domains (particularly Domain #5), provide the individual with opportunities to learn how it can be of benefit to them in order to communicate their autonomous thoughts. Having the system available is not enough on its own!  Unless the individual understands its purpose and is motivated to use it for that purpose, then it’s just a unique version of a handbag without the handy pockets for your phone and  lipstick! 


Why is this domain important?

Though we can carefully structure a world around an individual where people understand the importance of aided communication tools and the situations in which they are required, the ultimate goal is that the individual themselves take responsibility for their own needs. This may take time, learning, problem solving and maturity, but should always be the long term goal, because no matter how many people and service providers come in and out of their lives, they themselves will always be there. If we can help them to learn to be responsible for making their device available, then we don’t need to keep training everyone else!

For some, taking responsibility for having their system available means learning to carry it with them so that it’s available in any situation that it might be required. The ROCC provides the following definitions of “available”:

Available = ready for immediate use, actually using it or within reach within a few seconds if they ask for it.

Not available = it would take more than 10 seconds to get it.

For those who have varied aided systems, or use AAC as an adjunct to speech, they will need to learn which system they need in different situations so that they can be prepared, or to understand the importance of having a backup system available just in case it’s needed. 

For others who are not able to physically carry their system or to get it out of their bag, being responsible for availability of their system may mean that they can remind others to bring it, or that they simply check that it’s available to them during transitions, or as part of their “getting ready” routine. Responsibility may be different from independence in this case. An individual might notice when the system is not available and learn a method to alert others to retrieve it, or set it up for them. 

Another important learning for competency in this domain is knowing  when an aided system might be needed versus other unaided modes of communication. As we discuss below, the process of learning the nuances of when and how to have their system available are learned just like any other life skill – gradually over time with models and expectations by those around them. It’s important that communication partners see their role as enabling the individual rather than doing it for them. 


Scoring notes

Scoring on this domain is fairly straightforward and most ROCC users find it easy to allocate a level. The tricky part comes when an individual does not need the aided AAC system all of the time. Maybe their speech is intelligible to familiar partners, or when discussing familiar topics but when they meet new people or want to talk about something that others don’t know about, then an aided system is required to ensure they can be autonomous and specific about their message. It is important for ROCC users to consider what competency would look like for each individual in relation to availability before making judgements on the score. 

For example, if someone is competent with sign language and their day to day environments incorporate sign interpreters, then the only need for an aided system might be when they are outside of these environments. Their score on Domain #8 would be based around availability when they need it, and not limited because they don’t keep it with them during their daily activities. 


The end goal

In this domain, the end goal is simply that a person has all of the tools they need at any given time to communicate in the most efficient way possible. It is not a requirement to carry something around if it is not needed, but beware that you first consider that communication opportunities are usually not predictable and we don’t always know when and what someone will need to say. Better to be ready – just in case!  


What can I do?


At the emergent levels, communication partners are the ones who have the responsibility for availability. Training partners around the importance of having the system available, and providing an understanding of the balance between effort and motivation to communicate is crucial. At emergent  levels 0-2, the partners are modelling the availability of the system but without expectation on the individual as yet. Strategies should aim to start at level 2 on this domain, rather than stepping through level 1, as it is counterintuitive to focus on only one setting. However if the person is currently scoring at level 1, then expanding to all situations should be the first priority within this domain. 

In order to transition to levels 3 and 4, communication partners can begin to make their efforts to have the system more overt. For example, you could comment out loud that you are checking that their system is set up at the start of the day, or emphasise that “oops” moment when you forget to collect their device before moving to the next room. 

Also at the emergent levels, it is important to problem solve the strategies that will compensate if the system can not be available in some situations. This might mean adding some Aided Language Displays (ALD) to the environment, teaching the person a word, sign, vocalisation or body movement that will indicate that they need their system. If using ALDs, always remember to include a message to ‘get my AAC system’ if the person wants to add messages that are not on the ALD. 


In levels 3 and 4, we start to see the individual developing the habits we modelled at the emergent level. More than likely this will take more problem solving as well as prompting to remember, but also crucially cannot develop unless the individual themselves see the system as their voice (Domain #5). None of us develop habits or take on responsibilities unless it’s worth it to us. Consider whether the individual sees the system as something that is useful to them (and useful in all of the settings that they go to), or is much of their communication happening when other people model or ask them questions? It is very important to first consider a focus on Domain #5 before pushing them too hard on Domain #8. Quite possibly, as you increase their autonomy and sense that the system can help them say the things they want to say, you might also see an increase in Domain #8 without really having to work on it, or at least it will happen more easily. In ROCC, we call this collateral improvement. It’s important to know that progress in Domain #5 is likely to result in changes in Domain #8 but not necessarily the other way around. Just making someone carry the system around without them knowing why, or really seeing its purpose is only a compliance task rather than part of the roadmap towards communicative competence. 


At this level there is little for us to do but problem solve any logistics or provide occasional reminders when there are other competing priorities. Encouraging comments can be helpful to maintain habits like ‘It’s so lucky you have your PODD here now as things just got really noisy and I’m finding it hard to hear your voice” or “it’s great that you were able to do that by yourself instead of me having to explain your signs to the man at the counter”.  


This domain also has several other considerations related to responsibility:

    • Age and maturity
        • As with any form of responsibility, young children need to learn this over time. Just as we learn to select the most appropriate clothes to wear for the weather or an occasion, children can learn to take on the responsibility of system availability. We can’t expect a 2 year old to do this well but should gradually increase our expectations incrementally with the long term aim that they meet the criteria for level 5 of this domain. (Not all individuals will be able to achieve level 5, but without consideration of what level 5 may look like for each individual, we may limit our expectations and therefore limit their opportunities).   
    • Logistics
        • Each individual will require different strategies and possibly equipment to enable them to achieve this goal. Some will need mounting on their wheelchair, others a carry bag or strap. For some, a reliable method to ask for their system when it is not available may be the first objective. 
        • Sometimes practical changes to our routine can impact outcomes within this domain. For example, on completing Module 1 of the EXPAND program (focused around problem solving availability) one family realised that by moving the charging location for their daughter’s device into their bedroom instead of the study meant that they always had the device available first thing in the morning by removing the extra mental step of remembering to collect it from the study. 
    • Competing priorities
      • Just as a young child may race out of the house without a hat or sunscreen, often other priorities mean that a person may forget to have their system available, or de-prioritise the effort to carry it. Sometimes in the excitement or intensity of a situation it may be forgotten. In other situations, it’s difficult to have the system in the same space as it gets in the way, may pose a risk, or is unsuitable for that environment (eg.on the trampoline or in the pool). This will happen to even the most diligent people at times, but over time, those occasions will be less often, and then at some point, when the individual themselves ‘feels lost without it’,  it feels more like a habit than a responsibility. Read this blog for a great reflection on this process. 


Useful links on this topic:

ROCC Blogs – Particularly  A closer look at ROCC Domain 2 and A closer look at ROCC Domain 5 

TWS EXPAND program – especially for those scoring at levels 0-3

Ready Set Pictello Course as well as a slightly dated but still helpful blog post sharing ideas for efficient interaction in less familiar settings that may provide an adjunct to a comprehensive system. 

Mealtime Mats and AAC Cushions to provide Aided Language Displays as an adjunct to a comprehensive system. 

You can also learn more about Domain #8  in the context of ROCC by doing the ROCC Basic Training

To find out more about Domain #8 or any other Domain, get in touch with us at rocc@roccassessment.com.au 

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