Telework and Individuals Who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication

David McNaughton, Tracy Rackensperger, Cory Baker, and Dana Dorn.
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA, 16803


For individuals who use AAC the traditional workplace brings many special challenges with respect to transportation, technology access, and activities of daily living1. Telework, work activities that take place outside the normal work setting and that are made possible by Internet and telecommunication technologies, has been suggested as a promising alternative to traditional office employment2. Nine individuals who use AAC and participate in telework activities described benefits and challenges to telework activity.


Augmentative and alternative communication, employment, telework


Individuals who use AAC decribe numerous challenges to traditonal workplace participation, including transportation barriers, challenges with access to workplace technology, and a lack of supports for activities of daily living1.  Telework, defined as work activities that take place outside the normal work setting and that are made possible by internet and telecommunication technologies, may be a promising alternative to traditional office employment2,3,4. At the same time, there are concerns about some aspects of telework, including the possibility of social isolation and reduced opportunities for receiving employer feedback2.


This study was designed to address four major questions:

  1. What types of telework employment are currently observed for individuals who use AAC?
  2. What are the benefits of telework as described by individuals who use AAC?
  3. What are the challenges to promote successful telework experiences for individuals who use AAC?


In this study, nine individuals who use AAC and who are engaged in telework employment activities participated in an online focus group discussion moderated by Tracy Rackensperger. Prior to the initiation of the focus group discussion, basic demographic data and a complete description of employment activities was obtained. Participants discussed the following topics: (a) the benefits of telework employment, (b) the challenges to telework employment, and (c) recommendations to employers for improving telework employment outcomes.


The nine participants engaged in telework activities related to advocacy (2), technical support (2), database management (2), teaching (2), and technical writing (1). Participants described four major benefits to telework. First, individuals enjoyed the efficiency of working at home. As one participant wrote, “My trip to the office is cut from an hour and a half to 30 seconds”. Individuals also enjoyed the flexibility of scheduling and the ability to attend to personal matters, such as medical appointments, during business hours. Participants enjoyed the financial compensation received for telework activities. Finally they viewed their relationships with co-workers in a positive manner, although some said they would enjoy the opportunity for additional face-to-face interaction.

Participants described three major challenges to telework. As noted above, communication with co-workers was sometimes difficult. As one participant noted,  “ Communicating by phone or email loses the face to face interactions that many people need to establish trust” . Some participants said they found it hard to motivate themselves, saying “It is much harder to stay focused at home than it is at work”. Part of this may have been due to the challenge of separating employment and daily living activities. One participant observed that “My working space and living space totally overlap and constantly interfere with each other”. Finally ,participants noted the challenges associated with technology, including both the lack of reliability of assistive technology, as well as getting home equipment to successfully interface with corporate technology.

Participants generated a number of recommendations for employers. First, they encouraged employers to think of ways to promote employment related and social interactions for teleworkers – one participant wrote that employers should “Include (the teleworker) in conference calls and chatrooms, don’t limit work to email”. The participants suggested that employers should learn to be flexible, and respect the independence of the teleworker. One participant commented “It is important that the employer lets the worker be self-directed. Micromanaging works even less well when there is telecommuting involved.” Finally, participants noted that they believed that employers should provide a positive, inclusive environment for the teleworker. As one participant wrote, “A boss needs to stick up for their telecommuting employees…they need to be sure the employee is talked about in a professional manner even when the employee is not there”


Telework appears to provide a promising approach to employment for some individuals with disabilities3, 4, 5, including individuals who use AAC. Participants identified clear advantages to telework over traditional office activities, including flexibility of scheduling and increased efficiency. At the same time, participants spoke of a need to be proactive in addressing challenges associated with telework, including developing techniques for regular communication with fellow workers, and utilizing strategies to ensure receiving regular feedback from the employer.


  1. McNaughton, D., Light, J., & Arnold, K.B. (2002). “Getting your ‘wheel’ in the door”: The successful full-time employment experiences of individuals with cerebral palsy who use augmentative and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 18, 59-76.
  2. Kurland, N.B. & Bailey, D.E., (1999). Telework: The advantages and challenges of working here, there, anywhere, and anytime.  Organizational Dynamics, 28, 53-68.
  3. Anderson, J. (2001). Telecommuting: Meeting the needs of businesses and employees with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 16, 97-104.
  4. Bricout, J. C. (2004). Using telework to enhance return to work outcomes for individuals with spinal cord injuries. Neurorehabilitation, 19, 147-159.
  5. West, M. D. (2005). Telework and employees with disabilities: Accommodation and funding options. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 23, 115-122.


This research is part of the Communication Enhancement Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (AAC-RERC), which is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the US Department of Education under grant number H133E980026. The opinions contained in this presentation are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education. Additional information on the AAC-RERC is available at

Author Contact Information

David McNaughton,
227 CEDAR, Department of Educational and School Psychology and Special Education,
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park,
Pennsylvania, USA