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Director of the AAC Lab at Ohio University

photo of John McCarthy

John McCarthy, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Associate Professor

School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences
Grover Center W242
Office Phone (740) 597-1764
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Personal Webpage: www.ohio.edu/people/mccarthj

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Areas of Research

Improving the Design and Assessibility of AAC Systems


Line drawings of a duck pig and dog respectively from left to right with the duck appearing larger

bullet Many children with complex communication needs also have concomitant physical disabilities. These individuals may not be able to interact with a computer-based system with their hands. In a visual interface, scanning is a selection method where items in a display are highlighted and individuals who have one volitional movement activate an external device to select an item they see highlighted.
bullet Young children with severe physical impairments have difficulty understanding current methods of scanning.
bullet McCarthy et al., (2006) found that when children are presented with an object that zooms out towards them during a scanning sequence, they were more likely to learn the requirements of the interface with minimal instruction.
bulletAn additional challenge is added when individuals also have visual impairments. When the visual medium cannot be used, items are not highlighted visually, but are announced audibly. Improvements in technology now allow for a variety of animated graphics and sound cues to play within aided AAC displays.
bullet Scanning within visual scenes using a variety of animated and auditory cues is a current focus of research in the lab.

Joint Attention

photo of researcher holding a high-tech AAC system directly below her face with an infant sitting on mother's lap oppositephoto of researcher holding a high-tech AAC system directly below her face with an infant sitting on mother's lap opposite

bulletSmith, McCarthy and Benigno (2009) found that the position of a high-tech AAC system had an impact on the ability of infants to engage in bouts of coordinated joint attention.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

bullet Burke, Beukelman, Ball and Horn (2002), found that intervention specialists and pre-service professionals preferred to learn about technology in small interactive groups and did not like direct instruction methods. They also found that pre-service and current professionals’ interest in technology is low, despite knowledge of its importance.
bullet Discussion boards were conducted with two different graduate cohorts to supplement in-class instruction regarding assistive technology. One cohort participated as a single large group while the second was divided into small groups. Discussions were analyzed for themes and quality. Students’ evaluations of the experience were also analyzed.

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Creative Expressions

Narrative Study

bullet Individuals with severe communication disabilities continue to experience reduced expectations and opportunities in employment as the result of negative attitudes (McNaughton, Light & Arnold, 2002).
bullet Contact with and information about individuals with disabilities has been shown to be effective in changing negative attitudes (Shaver, Curtis & Strong, 1989).
bullet Reading personal accounts may be effective as a means of providing information and even approximating contact in order to change attitudes (Dal Cin, Zanna & Fong, 2004).
bullet A Solomon Four-Group Design was used to study the effects of reading personal narratives written by an individual with complex communication needs on the attitudes, potential future behaviors, and general experiences of 109 undergraduate business majors (McCarthy, Donofrio-Horwitz, & Smucker, in press). The Attitudes Toward Nonspeaking Persons Scale (ATNP) and a scale of behavioral intentions modeled according to Azjen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior were used as dependent variables. A sub-group of individuals in the experimental group participated in individual follow-up interviews.
bulletResults revealed individuals who read the narratives had more positive attitudes than those who did not; however, there were potentially reactive effects for pre-testing evident on one scale of the ATNP scale. Interviews revealed a need for more explicit information about the workings of AAC and a need to change expectations about working with individuals with disabilities.

The Soundbeam and Soundbox

bullet The Soundbeam is a device that translates movement into music. It uses an ultrasonic beam to pick up motion within the field or range of the beam. The motion is then carried back through the device as a product of reflection, and then using MIDI technology, instructions for music are written that coincide with the movements that were made. A computer and/or music synthesizer then produces the music output according to the movements originally detected by the ultrasonic beam of the Soundbeam.
bullet Vibroacoustic therapy is a novel therapy being researched for its efficacy with varying populations including individuals with severe disabilities.
bullet The Soundbox can be used as part of a sensory room, or on its own. In addition to enabling people with hearing impairments to feel sound, it has a range of sensory uses that can be either relaxing or stimulating, depending upon the sounds/music used and the personalities of those exp eriencing the vibration.
bullet Currently we are exploring possible theraputic applications as well as uses for the equipment to help individuals with disabilities express themselves in a creative way.
bullet *Visit the Soundbeam Website
bullet View Ohio University Dance Students Performing with the Soundbeam


Music and AAC

bullet A survey was emailed to a large number of Music Therapists inquiring about their current and past collaborative efforts with Speech Language Pathogists as well as about their experiences working with individuals who use AAC systems. Fewer participants reported currently working with SLPs (42.8%), although 50.1% reported currently working with someone requiring some form of AAC. Participants reported a mean level of expertise with AAC of 3.9 on a scale of 1-7. Sharing knowledge was noted as a top benefit of working with SLPs, while scheduling was reported as the most frequent challenge.
bullet Currently we are reviewing music techniques for their efficacy with individuals with complex communication needs requiring AAC

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Master's Theses

Lacey Donofrio

Lacey's Picture

bulletLacey completed a project investigating teaching the relational concept "on" to children who use AAC. Her study utilized an animated scene and direct instruction methods to teach the concept.
bullet Lacey graduated with a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Ohio University in August, 2007.

Jackie Strauss

Jackie's Picture

bulletJackie completed experimental study examining the effect of animated feedback on assisting typically developing children to locate verbs within a visual scene. She found that children perform well without animated feedback, when the concepts are appropriately embedded within the scene.
bullet Jackie graduated with a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Ohio University in December, 2007.
See Jackie's 2007 ASHA Convention Poster

Laura Dempsey

Laura's Picture

bulletLaura's project examined the effect of exposure to personal narratives written by an individual with disabilities on the attitude of fifth grade students towards children who require AAC.
bullet Laura graduated with a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Ohio University in August, 2008.

Julia Smith

Julia's Picture

bulletJulia completed a project which aimed to discover the joint attention abilities and behaviors of beginning communicators when the postion of an AAC device is altered in a one to one interaction.
bullet Julia graduated with a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Ohio University in August, 2008.

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Page Last Updated: November 24, 2013