1990; Shell, Horn & Severs, 1988).
There were approximately 2 million Americans whose speech is inadequate to meet their communication needs (ASJA, 1991). Some of these individuals make use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) techniques (e.g., pointing to words and alphabet letters on a communication board, typing out messages to be spoken aloud by a computer-based device) to communicate with others.
The use of these communication techniques poses special challenges to successful interaction. Persons who use AAC have been found to have varied communication skills, and interactions involving AAC users may differ markedly from conversations in which natural speech is used. AAC users typically play a respondent role in the conversation, experience limited opportunities to initiate, and are frequently confronted by communication breakdowns (Glennen, Sharp-Bittner, & Tullos, 1991). Perhaps the most noticeable difference is in the area of communication rate. The conversational speaking rate of non-disabled natural speakers is approximately 150-200 words per minute (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992; Goldman-Eisler, 1986). The rate for many AAC users is much less, often as slow as 2-8 words per minute (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992; Foulds, 1987). Clearly such reduced rates of communication differ markedly from the lively and rapid communicative exchanges typically observed in college classrooms.
To date only a small percentage of individuals with severe disabilities have sought access to higher education (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996). The autobiographical writings of some of these successful pioneers, however, provide evidence that individuals with severe disabilities have sought access to higher education (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996). The autobiographical writings of some of these successful pioneers, however, provide evidence that individuals with severe physical disabilities who use AAC can successfully complete university (Creech, 1993; Rush, 1986; Williams, 1993). For full participation in postsecondary learning, Blackstone (1989a) has suggested that students who use AAC must have ways to communicate successfully with classmates and teachers in a wide variety of activities and settings. At present, however it is not clear what unique barriers are encountered in using AAC in a postsecondary environment, and how these have been overcome by AAC users in these settings (Huer, 1991; Shell, Horn & Severs, 1988). Beyond the communication demands faced by all students in a postsecondary setting, Lowe and Hollman (1994) have suggested that there may be special demands placed upon AAC users including the demands of overcoming attitudinal barriers present in postsecondary settings (e.g., communicating with personal care workers). Students with physical disabilities may require AAC support to complete writing assignments (Schultz-Muehling & Beukelman, 1990), and the necessary technology and services may not always be available (Horn & Shell, 1990).
The purpose of this study was to learn directly from the experiences of successful college students who use AAC, so that future students (and the service providers with whom they work) can better anticipate and respond to the demands of postsecondary education. Specifically, the data reported are intended to address the following questions