Questions and Answers Complementing the focus on AAC in this issue of the Leader, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation features the work of ASHFoundation student scholarship and research grant recipient John McCarthy. John McCarthy’s (second) career began with a question: What happens when you can’t use your voice the way you want to? Actually, ... ASHA News
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ASHA News  |   July 01, 2015
John McCarthy and his colleague Noah Trembly, who uses AAC, discuss plans for their next project.
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Augmentative & Alternative Communication / School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Language Disorders / Speech, Voice & Prosody / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   July 01, 2015
Questions and Answers
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, 66. doi:10.1044/leader.AN9.20072015.66
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, 66. doi:10.1044/leader.AN9.20072015.66
Complementing the focus on AAC in this issue of the Leader, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation features the work of ASHFoundation student scholarship and research grant recipient John McCarthy.
John McCarthy’s (second) career began with a question: What happens when you can’t use your voice the way you want to?
Actually, the question arose from McCarthy’s first career—in music. He was teaching a singing lesson when he encountered a student with voice pathology. As he learned more about the field of communication disorders and subsequently taught a student who stuttered, McCarthy realized that “a key part of an individual’s identity is communication. When I learned next that there were people with communication disorders so severe that they could not use their voice for everyday communication,” he remembers, “I was hooked.” So began career number two.
During the next step in his professional development, he worked as a school-based speech-language pathologist after receiving training in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in a federally funded program. At this point, McCarthy formulated another career-altering question: “How can a computer ‘voice’ be a part of your identity?” That’s the question his research is now dedicated to answering.
This question also led to the ASHFoundation supporting his research, “Improving Auditory Scanning Interfaces in AAC Devices.” His study focused on people who require AAC and who also have physical disabilities that prevent them from using computer-based systems. At the time, there was research on AAC use for people with physical disabilities, but little information on methods that aimed to improve auditory scanning of AAC devices for people with visual impairments.
McCarthy tested two potential solutions. He used environmental sounds to represent items, such as the sound of a ticking clock to represent a clock. He also provided spatial cues about the organization of items to simulate an environment in which sounds could be heard from various directions. The results showed that study participants reacted more quickly to sounds than to words, but perceived sounds less accurately than words.
McCarthy’s work is far from done. He is developing programs, devices and opportunities for people with communication disorders who have visual and motor impairments. From his creation of an online program to teach problem-solving using AAC, to working on a system to assist children with disabilities in their understanding of computer interfaces, to the development of an auditory scanning system for those with visual impairments, McCarthy is seeking to make communication available to everyone.

McCarthy is developing programs, devices and opportunities for people with communication disorders who have visual and motor impairments.

“My ASHFoundation awards have helped to advance both my career and my research,” McCarthy says. “The student support early on helped me pursue my research interests beyond the subject of my dissertation.”
Later, when he was a faculty member—he is associate professor and associate director of the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program in the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences at Ohio University—ASHFoundation funding allowed him to collaborate with colleagues in audiology on devices for people with visual impairment. “This collaboration was productive,” he says, “not only in research but in pursuing issues related to interprofessional education.”
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July 2015
Volume 20, Issue 7