What is Partner Assisted Visual Scanning?

What is Partner Assisted Visual Scanning?
Partner assisted scanning is an access method used by nonverbal people who cannot physically point to pictures or words themselves (i.e., they can’t select directly) when using a “no-tech” augmentative-alternative communication (AAC) system such as a picture communication board, multilevel symbol book, or an alphabet and word board.

“No-tech” AAC users who cannot access their systems via direct selection must access their systems through eye pointing, a coded system (e.g., eye blinks), or through partner assisted scanning using either visual or auditory scanning.

In this article, I will discuss partner assisted visual scanning as used by Mr. P in the video, “I Love Assistive Technology.” Mr. P uses a “no-tech” AAC picture board located on his lap tray when he is not using his “high-tech” communication device. Due to physical limitations, Mr. P is unable to point to the pictures on his communication board himself so he uses partner assisted visual scanning.

During partner assisted visual scanning the communication partner points to pictures on the communication board in an agreed upon pattern with an agreed upon method of selecting symbols. Communication partners must be trained on the specific scanning pattern the AAC user prefers and how the user indicates when they have selected a desired area of the board.

I will first describe how the vocabulary is organized on the communication board and then I will explain the scanning pattern Mr. P uses and how he indicates a selection.

Mr. P’s lap tray communication board contains over 100 words and was designed to maximize the speed and efficiency of communication. Vocabulary is organized and color coded into categories. Categories are ordered according to frequency of word order patterns found in the English language. For example, the 1st category consists of time concepts (i.e., days of week, months of the year), the 2nd category has pronouns and people commonly talked about, the 3rd category is verbs, the 4th is adjectives, the 5th is nouns, and finally the 6th category consists of commonly used phrases. Therefore a sentence like,” Friday + I + go + big + party” would involve selecting one word from each of the categories 1st to 5th in order. Of course not all sentences are going to follow this word order pattern but in general the organization of the board significantly helps to facilitate correct word ordering and speed of communication.

Categories are color coded and labeled at the top of each category to clearly delineate each category and thus, make the board more user friendly for both communication partners.

Mr. P’s specific scanning pattern is to first select a category, then a row, then across the column to select a word. Mr. P indicates a selection by looking at his communication partner.
The process to select a single word is as follows: 1. The communication partner points to each category; Mr. P will look at his communication partner to indicate they have landed on the category that contains the word he wants to say. 2. The communication partner points to each row within the selected category (most categories only have 3-4 rows); Mr. P will look at his communication partner to indicate when they have landed on the row that contains the word he wants to say. 3. The communication partner points to each word in the row (i.e., to each column within the row); Mr. P will look at his communication partner to indicate when they have landed on the word he wants to say.

Obviously this is a slow and labor intensive method of communicating. It is not optimal but it serves as a good back-up method of communicating when the voice output device is not available. Remember, “high-tech” devices need to be shipped out for repairs from time to time and it may take a few weeks to obtain funding to repair the device. A good back-up “no-tech” communication system is an invaluable tool during these times.

To learn more about the "high tech" AAC seen in this video, read my article,"Example of Single Switch Scanning to Access A Dynamic Display Voice Output Communication Device"


Hampson, J. (2006). Partner Assisted Communication Systems: Let me show you how I communicate. Communication Matters Journal, 20(2), 2-5. ISSN 0969-9554

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