Continuity of Operations planning information for the College of Education: Click here

College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct - Dec 2014 > Creating Innovative Materials, Improving Communication for People with Severe Disabilities

Creating Innovative Materials, Improving Communication for People with Severe Disabilities

David McNaughton, professor of education, will play a major role in the grant providing research for those who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication, typically people who are severely disabled.
Creating Innovative Materials, Improving Communication for People with Severe Disabilities

A child and Penn State graduate student using a form of AAC

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Education is involved in a $5 million grant that aims to improve the communication abilities for people who cannot communicate through speech.

David McNaughton
David McNaughton
David McNaughton, professor of education in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education, represents the College in this grant, which focuses on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

“AAC refers to methods of communication used by people who have difficulty with speech,” McNaughton said. “This can stem from autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or a number of other conditions.”

Types of AAC include sign language, communication boards and speech-generating devices, which voices communication based off of eye or body movement.

“AAC is critical to people with severe disabilities who cannot speak,” McNaughton said. “Communication is critical to participation in all aspects of life.”

McNaughton will work closely with Janice Light, principal investigator and professor in Penn State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in  the College of Health and Human Development.

“The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is the internationally-recognized leader in the field of AAC,” he said. “The College of Education’s Special Education Program will greatly benefit from this partnership, giving us the ability to conduct leading research in the field.”

The project activities will take place as part of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication and is funded by the National Institue on Disability and Rehabilitation Research..

The five-year grant has four components: research, development, training and dissemination. McNaughton will lead the training and dissemination activities for the grant.

“I will contribute to the development and implementation of AAC activities for teachers and speech language pathologists,” McNaughton said. “We are also creating an open online course on AAC and several educational experiences, including an engineering capstone, two summer institutes for doctoral students and opportunities for new faculty to do research on AAC.”

Webcasts and other informational materials will be made freely available to those who require AAC. This is not a new area of research for McNaughton, who has been involved in the AAC field for over 25 years.

“This grant is exciting because it will lead to better educational services for children who need AAC,” he said. “We are creating innovative materials for the betterment of communication for those who need it.”

Other collaborators in the grant include Oregon Health and Science University, Madonna Rehabilitation Center in Nebraska and Invotek, Inc., a technology research team in Arkansas.

Further information on Penn State AAC activities is available at

By Jack Small (November 2014)