Investigating secondary self-contained special education students’ access to augmentative and alternative communication through educator experiences : a phenomenological study.


Although federal laws require public schools to provide every student in Special Education with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and an individualized education program (IEP), which provides students’ accommodations and services, there is variation in the degree of access that many students have to assistive technology, particularly Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC provides the opportunity for choice and expression for students who have disabilities affecting their communication. To integrate AAC properly, a team member must evaluate and match a student with the appropriate type and then support integrating the AAC at school and subsequently at home. Self-contained Special Education lacks research on AAC. Adding to the depth of research is vital to bring about change in the Special Education community. To best serve students and abide by federal mandates, researchers must discover the roadblocks that students encounter in the classroom regarding communication and expression. This study aimed to add to the pool of research to better serve students in self-contained environments who cannot speak for themselves. This phenomenological study explored the degree of access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) through teacher experiences for Special Education students in self-contained secondary classrooms. The study focused on self-contained Special Education teachers, who are gatekeepers for students with complex communication needs who need technology such as AAC. The study utilized a social ecological framework to discover the interaction between individuals' environments and their accessibility options and a disability interpretive lens to focus on the Special Education community as a facet of human differences. The study consisted of 32 completed questionnaires and five semi-structured interviews, gathering the experiences of educators around the United States in various self-contained secondary environments. The themes found were systemic roadblocks, varying opportunities, educational silos, and autonomy. Though the themes of systemic roadblocks, varying opportunities, and educational silos fell from the interpersonal to the policy level, autonomy existed with the educators on an intrapersonal level. The results indicated that there is a widespread lack of teacher training on AAC, but that teachers are utilizing their skills and drive to best serve their students and learn the necessary systems.



Augmentative and alternative communication. Assistive technology. Special education. Self-contained special education. Secondary special educators. Social ecological framework.