2019 Student Research & Design Competition: AAC to Support Full Participation

The RERC on AAC is pleased to announce the 2019 Student Research and Design Competition.

The 2019 Competition is designed to stimulate research and development on the topic of Augmentative and Alternative Communication to Support Full Participation. 

The competition deadline is May 4, 2019.

A Research and Design Award (up to a total of $3,000) is available to the first place student project. $1,500 of the award funds can be used by the first place student team to support approved expenses to further the project, including additional research and development activities and/or dissemination activities (e.g., travel to visit a research mentor, conference travel and registration, etc).  $1,500 of the award funds is also available to the first place student project to support attendance at  2019 RESNA conference in Toronto, Canada. If the winner(s) of the RERC on AAC award is a Bachelor or Masters level student during the 2018/19 academic year, the winner(s) will also be named as a finalist in the RESNA Student Design Competition and eligible to compete for the RESNA Student Design Competition Award .

What is the challenge?

People who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) have new expectations for full participation in society. An emphasis on community living, meaningful educational programs, access to employment, and increased community participation has led to new opportunities for many individuals who use AAC. We provide three short videos below to illustrate that outcomes and challenges experienced by three people who use AAC, we encourage you to visit the AAC Learning Center to view more consumer perspectives on the use of AAC.

However, despite the positive outcomes achieved by some, many children and adults with complex communication needs continue to experience substantial challenges in education, employment, health care, and community living. For example:

  • Many children with complex communication needs are still denied the opportunity to participate in appropriate general education. For example, in the United States, more than 55% of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and over 70% of children with multiple disabilities receive most of their instruction outside regular education classrooms, away from their peers
  • Up to 90% of students with complex communication needs enter adulthood without acquiring functional literacy skills
  • Less than 5% of individuals with complex communication needs are employed even part-time
  • The overwhelming majority of individuals with complex communication needs who are patients in hospitals have no access to appropriate AAC and struggle to communicate medical needs or provide medical information
  • Over  90% of adults with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have access to AAC and have no means to participate within activities of daily living; Over 75% of individuals with multiple disabilities do not regularly engage in any type of community activity, largely due to communication difficulties.

Ultimately, the goals of AAC intervention must be that children and adults with complex communication needs have the opportunity to live as full participants in all aspects of society. Meeting this goals will require changes in AAC technology development, service delivery, and intervention research: All three must embrace the challenge of supporting persons with complex communication needs and their communication partners in pursuing valued real world outcomes ( Light & McNaughton, 2015)

For the purposes of this competition, we welcome entries that address the challenge of supporting communication for people with complex communication needs in achieving full participation in society.  Entries can address a wide variety of topics, including improved AAC interfaces, access techniques, improved service delivery, and other topics.

Entries for this competition should advance our understanding of engineering solutions to the challenge of AAC intervention. Submissions can address research or design issues (please information on submission format below).

Who can enter?

The RERC on AAC competition is open to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students (including Masters and PhD students). Because of funding restrictions associated with the funding agency for this competition, at least one of the members of the winning team must be a U.S. citizen. We encourage entries from any student(s) with an interest in the topic, and the competition is open to students from any major (e.g., computer science, computer engineering, linguistics, speech language pathology). While students can work with faculty on a project, the submission should clearly reflect the work of the student (or student team). We welcome a wide variety of approaches to this topic, and we welcome submissions that address issues of research, design, and/or development.

What is the submission format for the RERC on AAC competition?

The submission document should should be a  6-page pdf and address each of the following content areas

  1. Problem Statement/Research Question and Background
  2. Methods/Approach/Solutions Considered
  3. Description of Final Approach and Design
  4. Outcome (Results of any outcomes testing and/or user feedback)
  5. Cost (Cost to produce and expected pricing)
  6. Significance

Please include a title page (this does not count against the 6 -page maximum) with

  1. Project Title:
  2. Lead Author/Contact Name:
  3. Email address:
  4. Additional Authors:
  5. University Affiliation and URL:
  6. Faculty Supervisor(s) Name and Email:

Please also include Acknowledgements and References, these also do not count against the 6 page maximum

The actual proposal for the RERC competition should be emailed as an attachment to David McNaughton at dbm2@psu.edu before May 4, 2019.

Where can entrants find more information?

Entrants are also strongly encouraged to partner with the family members of persons who use AAC, and persons who use AAC, in order to obtain a better understanding of their perspective on the nature of the challenge and desired features of solutions.

FAQ Questions may  be addressed to David McNaughton at RERC.AAC@gmail.com. Responses to general questions will be posted here. The RERC on AAC Student Research and Design Competition is a collaborative activity with RESNA. 


Undergraduate and Masters level students are also encouraged to submit their materials to the RESNA Student Design Competition (deadline March 15, 2019, see below). Please note, the RERC on AAC competition and the RESNA competition are two separate competitions, with two separate submission procedures and two different deadlines, however we will work with RESNA to identify entries to the RESNA competition that may qualify for the RERC on AAC award. You can see past entries to the RESNA Student Design Competition that addressed the topic of AAC here.

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