by Noah Callan | AAC and Technology Coordinator – Kids Plus

Many of us love going to shopping centres to spend money on all kinds of things, some we need and others we just want.  But how does this work if you can’t speak? How then do you communicate effectively in a retail setting?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can assist the customer in getting their message across. AAC is anything that encompasses the communication methods used to supplement or replace speech such as an electronic communication device, use of signing and gesture or the use of communication board or book, but this is only half way to solving the problem…

Other considerations include:

  • The retail staff member having experience with people who use communication devices
  • Their understanding of what AAC or a communication device is
  • and their experience interacting with someone who can’t speak and uses AAC to communicat

So here are some tips to help!

  • Have the right body language:
      • Make eye contact with the person who is using AAC
      • Talk directly to the AAC user and not the support worker or carer who is with them. This is crucial in communicating with an AAC user. Remember it is the AAC user who you are communicating with, so it makes sense to direct the conversation to them and not at them or around them.
  • Be patient:
      • Give the customer a chance to ask a question with their device and understand that this could take time.
      • Don’t interrupt them or ask more questions as they prepare their response or are asking you a question.

Who knows? They might have a good chemistry and have a laugh while the customer decides on a product. This is an example of being a good communication partner.

If you are reading this and work in a retail store, or find yourself interacting with people who use a communication device, just remember that AAC users want to interact with you, they want to find out about the various products being sold…(especially what’s on sale!), pricing etc.

Most importantly, AAC users want to be treated just like a regular customer.

So, do not judge the person who has a communication device or aid. Start to get to know the customer and how they prefer to communicate with you. It doesn’t matter how long they take,  and it’s very important to make that connection, make them feel welcome and comfortable within the retail setting.