AAC Research and Innovation

Project Building Bridges: Preparing Highly Qualified Speech-Language Pathologists to Serve Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children with AAC Needs

Project Building Bridges, grant number H325K150405, was funded from 2015-2020 and granted an extension until 2021 by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs for the purpose of preparing speech-language pathologists with specialization in AAC as part of the Master of Science degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at SF State. The most recent in a series of USDOE grants to build AAC specialization at SF State, Project Building Bridges prepared 57 speech-language pathologists to serve students with complex communication needs and their families with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Project Building Bridges scholars completed a series of courses, clinical practice, service-learning and internship experiences to provide AAC services with students, in collaboration with families and school teams, to include individual cultures and languages. Project Building Bridges scholars acquired specialized competence in the areas of (a) AAC assessment, (b) AAC intervention, (c) AAC collaboration and  teamwork, (d) literacy development through AAC and (e) continued professional development in AAC to support the language and literacy skills with children, youth and adults. Project Building Bridges scholars received the AAC Graduate Certificate by the SF State Graduate Studies Division in addition to the Master of Sciences Degree, upon completion of the grant requirements.

Ideas that work and PBB logos

Project Building Bridges Innovations

Through the development of Project Building Bridges since 2016, SLHS faculty and Project Building Bridges (PBB) scholars developed many innovations to expand AAC services for students with complex communication needs and their families in culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the SF Bay Area and international locations. Featured PBB Projects are highlighted below and many respond directly to the meeting the challenges presented by sudden changes in education imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Students Collaborating on a couch

NIKA Project Partnership with Peru and India online, Summer 2020, Spring and Summer 2021

Plans were well underway for 13 Project Building Bridges scholars in Cohort 5 to travel with the NIKA Project Team to India and Peru in summer 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world in early 2020. As a result, NIKA and the Project BB International AAC Service-Learning project took a new direction to develop partnerships with school professionals in Kerala in India and Cusco and Iquitos in Peru.

Read more about NIKA Project AAC Service-Learning with teams in Peru and India

Navigating Student Success in the Pacific (NSSP) Project Partnership online, Summer, 2020

In the summer of 2019, two Project Building Bridges scholars in Cohort 4 traveled to the Republic of the Marshall Islands where they participated with University of Hawaii faculty, Katherine Ratliffe and Mellanie Lee in the summer institute at the College of the Marshall Islands.  See Transformative Experiences: The Marshall Islands for more information.

This summer, in July 2020, a virtual meeting was held with the NSSP teacher scholars and Project BB scholars in Cohort 4 and 5 through ZOOM from their home islands in the Federated States of Micronesia including Yap, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Chuuk; and the atolls of the Marshall Islands including Majuro and Enewetak. NSSP teachers shared their perspectives on cultural attitudes in their home islands toward persons with disabilities.  Follow-up meetings with the NSSP teachers and Project BB scholars are planned for the coming academic year to further explore communication tools that can be developed with local resources in island communities.

NIKA Project Partnership with Bali, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Summer 2019

Six SF State students traveled with a team of AAC mentors in partnership with the NIKA Project to work in schools with children, families, teachers and university graduate students. SF State students had the opportunity to create and to implement AAC systems through teaching families and teachers, thus contributing to the power and sustainability of communication tools for children with disabilities in each location.

Read more about NIKA Project AAC Service-Learning with teams in Indonesia and Malaysia

Navigating Student Success in the Pacific (NSSP) Project Partnership, Summer, 2019

In partnership with the College of the Marshall Islands in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, two SF State students participated in the summer of 2019 with faculty mentors, Dr. Kathy Ratliffe and Ms. Mellanie Lee, and teachers in the CMI Summer Institute to develop AAC tools with families and children in the Marshall Islands. SF State students assisted faculty in teaching and partnered with teachers from throughout Micronesia to develop AAC strategies to implement with children and families upon return to their own island communities.

Read more about NSSP Project AAC Service-Learning with teachers at the College of the Marshall Islands

Therapy Abroad Partnership in Belize, Summer 2018

In partnership with Therapy Abroad, eight San Francisco State University students provided support for an AAC Summer learning Camp in Belize City. The experience provided opportunities to collaborate with other disciplines, educate clients and provide parent and caregiver training. The camp highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary involvement by the total health care team and its relationship to effective patient care. Read more about Therapy Abroad AAC Service-Learning in Belize (Link to page Summer 2018 Transformative Experiences: Belize).

In response to the pandemic, all academic and clinical instruction transitioned to the online environment in March, 2020. Faculty and students in SPED 743: Issues in AAC were challenged to complete teaching and learning. As a result, Project BB developed Tele Service-Learning in AAC. For more about Tele-AAC, see the AAC Telepractice Resource page.

A featured project in Tele Service-Learning in AAC was completed by two PBB scholars, Beth Lytle and Alisa Lego, who collaborated with AAC Mentor Michaela Sullivan, SLP, to create online core vocabulary resources to support facilitators and communicators during the school year. The result of their work is published by Carol Zangari, SLP on PrAACtical AAC in an article "PrAACtical Introductions: Meet…A Year of Core Vocabulary Words – School Edition." Congratulations to Michaela, Beth and Alisa for this tremendous contribution.

Beginning in spring semester 2020, Project BB graduate assistants Becky Matthews, Emily Wilt, Beth Lytle and Asha Giles began hosting monthly online AAC Bootcamps. Each of the AAC Bootcamps featured topics requested by PBB scholars and AAC Certificate candidates. To date, six AAC Bootcamps were hosted by PBB scholars and invited speakers including the following:

  • Cortical Visual Impairment and AAC: Emily Wilt and Becky Matthews (PBB Scholars, Cohort 4)
  • AAC and Teletherapy: Brittany Davis  (PBB Scholar, Cohort 4)
  • ALS and AAC: Lindsay Cheng  (PBB Scholar, Cohort 4)
  • Autism and AAC: Julia Navarro  (PBB Scholar, Cohort 4)
  • Conversation with Chris Klein on his use of Unity: Chris Klein and Michelle Caputo
  • Device Exploration Day: Joan Sharp (PRC), Kelsey Dowler (LAMP), Rachel Shepard (Tobii Dynavox), RJ Cooper (RJ Cooper & Associates, Inc.), Katrina Borisov (Eyegaze) and Camber Moulton (Saltillo).

More events are planned in the upcoming months to include Telepractice in AAC and Culturally-Responsive AAC.

Check out our Facebook page for futures events.

Project Building Bridges, ASHA Poster Presentation, 2021: Graduates of Cohort 4 presented a virtual poster featuring their experiences in the International AAC Internship during the summer of 2019 with travels to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Bali in Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The poster featured a live Question and Answer with Gloria Soto, Nancy Robinson, Lindsay Cheng, Brittany Davis and Rebecca Matthews on November 19, 2021. See links to the poster and handout below:

Project Building Bridges, OSEP Poster Presentation, 2021: Nancy Robinson and Gloria Soto presented a virtual poster for the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs Directors’ Conference in July 2021. The poster features the development culturally responsive AAC competencies with Scholars enrolled in Project Building Bridges in Years 1-6, 2015-2021. See links to the poster and handout below:

Project BB Scholar Culminating Presentations: Each year, Project Building Bridges Scholars present culminating portfolios of their work with individuals with complex communication needs and their families in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. See links to Project BB Scholar presentations below:

Project Building Bridges BOLD Thinking Event:  Project BB was selected to participate in San Francisco State University’s BOLD Thinking Campaign Event at the Masonic Auditorium on April 4, 2019, where Project BB Scholars and Faculty represented the Graduate College of Education and highlighted our work in AAC. Congratulations PBB! View the BOLD Slideshow.

  • Code-switching in bilingual AAC use
  • Beliefs and practices of SLPs on AAC service delivery for dual language learners
  • Development of a protocol for the analysis of Spanish language samples of children who use AAC and are in the early stages of language development
  • Role of recast and repair sequences on language learning in AAC mediated interactions

McCord, M.S., & Soto, G. (2004). Perceptions of AAC: An ethnographic investigation of Mexican-American families. Augmentative and Alternative Communication. 20 (4), 209-227, Perceptions of AAC

Robinson, N. B. & Soto, G. (in press). AAC in Schools: Mastering the art and science of inclusion. Ogletree, B. (Ed.) Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Challenges and Solutions. Plural Publishing, Inc.: San Diego, CA.

Solomon-Rice, P. L., Soto, G. & Robinson, N. B. (2018). Project Building Bridges: Training Speech-Language Pathologists to provide culturally and linguistically responsive Augmentative and Alternative Communication services to school-age children with diverse backgrounds. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 3 (12), 186-204. Perspectives of the ASHA

Soto, G. (2012). Training partners in AAC in culturally diverse families. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 21 (4), ASHA Division 12, 144-150. Augmentative and Alternative Communication Perspectives 

Soto, G., & Yu, B. (2014). Considerations for the provision of services to bilingual children who use AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 83-92. Bilingual Children Who Use AAC

Tönsing, K.M., & Soto, G. (2020). Multilingualism and augmentative and alternative communication: examining language ideology and resulting practices, Augmentative and Alternative CommunicationMultilingualism and augmentative and alternative communication

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