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Why Bilingual AAC Users Should Have Access to Both Languages

by Liliana Diaz December 14, 2023

Why Bilingual AAC Users Should Have Access to Both Languages

Do you have a bilingual AAC user on your caseload? Perhaps you have been receiving questions from the student's family and/or teacher on whether the student should have both languages present on their AAC system, and you're not quite sure where to find resources? Well you came to the right spot because here are some facts that all educators, families and SLPs should know about when working with bilingual AAC users.

Plain and simple, ALL bilingual AAC users should ALWAYS have access to both languages on their AAC systems, and here's why:

The Right to Communicate in their Language(s)

Everyone, including bilingual AAC users, have the right to communicate in the language(s) they want, like and prefer. Verbal bilinguals can pick and choose which language they want to communicate in at any point in time, and bilingual AAC users should have that option as well. Communication and one's home language are interconnected and they are an essential piece of one's identity. When restricting a student from their home language, you are taking more away than just his/her language, you are taking a piece of who they are as a person. 

The Right to be Successful in All Environments

Bilingual AAC users have the right to be successful in all environments and with all communication partners, including with their family IN THEIR HOME language. In order for our students to be successful with their communication systems, they must be able to communicate in a variety of environments. Our students spend a large majority of their time at home with their family. It is essential that their family are a part of the language learning process otherwise factors such as family buy-in to use the system, the carry-over of goals, motivation to use the AAC system, the exposure to rich language models, and all interactions are all hindered. 

The Right to Code-Switch

Bilingual AAC users have the right to code-switch whenever they deem necessary. Code-switching and code-mixing is a key component and natural process in bilinguals. Bilingual AAC users should be allowed the opportunity to naturally code-switch, gain access and learn new vocabulary in their home language and access both linguistic repertoires at any given point in time. 

The Right to Learn Another Language

Communication impairment should never be a reason why an individual who experiences complex communication needs becomes marginalized. Unfortunately many people with disabilities, who also come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, are often deprived of bilingual supports, dual language learning, and access to their home language for a variety of reasons. One reason is often due to the perceived severity of their disability, as well as the belief that adding another language to their mental capacity is beyond their learning load; however, this is a completely incorrect way of thinking, and research has proved otherwise. Bilingual people with a variety of disabilities, including communication impairments, are capable of becoming bilingual, speaking two languages and/or learning another language. 

The Right to Maintain their Home Language & Cultural Identity

With forced monolingualism come many harmful consequences. Depriving bilingual AAC users of the opportunity to learn and use both languages is harmful to their language learning, culture and family dynamic. Oftentimes, I have seen families lose complete communication at home due to language loss. In addition, language and culture are also interconnected and as a result, depriving them of their home language puts the AAC user at risk of losing their cultural identity.


Here are some resources/references that you can read to learn more about this topic and help you advocate for your student/client: 

McNamara, E. (2018). Bilingualism, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and Equity: Making a Case for People With Complex Communication Needs. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 3(12), 138-145.

Soto, G. (2018). Introduction to the Special Issue on Cultural and Linguistic Diversity and AAC. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 3(12), 136-137.

Soto, G. (2012).Training Partners in AAC in Culturally Diverse Families. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 21(4), 144-150.

Chabon, S., Esparza-Brown, J., Gildersleeve-Neumann, C. (2010). Ethics, Equity, and English-Language Learners: A Decision-Making Framework. The ASHA Leader, 15(9).

Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz


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