longitudinal evaluation of the affects of a college education for persons who use AAC (e.g., employment, social network, community involvement).
Despite the limitations of the current study, the results provide important information for several reasons. This study provides insight into the communication demands experienced by individuals with severe physical disabilities and the strategies used to meet those challenges. The following skills were identified as contributing to successful college experiences: (a) to introduce self and use of system, including guidelines for successful interaction, to faculty and classmates; (b) to discuss academic expectations with instructors and peers; (c) to participate fully in the face-to-face and written communication demands of college level coursework; and (d) to make effective use of distance communication technologies, which was identified as especially important for the role that it played in supporting social interaction with peers and family members.
It is interesting to note that many of the successful strategies identified here may be common to other communication settings. Based on an extensive review of the research on the communicative interaction patterns of AAC users, Light (1988) suggested that persons judged to be competent communicators using AAC demonstrate the following skills: (a) portray a positive self-image to their commuinication partners; (b) show an interest in others and draw others into interactions; (c) actively participate and take turns in a conversation; (d) are responsive to their communication partners and negotiate shared topics; and (e) put their partners at ease with the AAC system, often by using humor as well as predictable readable signals. Many of these same skills were suggested by participants in this study as contributing to successful communication at a college level.
The identification of important communication skills for AAC users should not imply that they alone bear the responsibility for successful interaction. Respondents suggested the need for their communication partners to slow down, listen carefully, and give honest feedback as to their understanding of the AAC user's message.
Concerted efforts are necessary to ensure that the successes realized by the participants in this study are achieved by many more individuals who use AAC. The efforts of both students with severe disabilities and their service providers should be directed towards ensuring that individuals with disabilities have access to the technology, training, and ongoing support necessary for effective participation in college classrooms using AAC systems. Future research efforts should examine service delivery models that effectively meet the needs of individuals with severe disabilities at postsecondary settings (e.g., effective high school to college transition services), as well as the information needs of disability support service providers and college faculty (e.g., relevant training as a student enters college). Through the combined efforts of key participants, the opportunity enjoyed by only a handful of students with severe disabilities today may be extended to a larger group of individuals in the future.