Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Wellness and Inclusive Services in Education


College of Education


Brent Elder, Ph.D.

Committee Member 1

Casey Woodfield, Ph.D.

Committee Member 2

Sarah Ferguson, Ph.D.


augmentative and alternative communication (AAC); disability studies in education; high-tech symbol-based AAC; qualitative multiple case study


Children with disabilities--Means of communication; Students with disabilities--Services for


Disability and Equity in Education | Special Education and Teaching


In this qualitative multiple case study, I collaborated with five students who identified as proficient high-tech symbol-based (HTSB) AAC users, along with seven of their school team members (STMs) and five of their (FTMs) to explore the process of learning to communicate proficiently using HTSB AAC. Data collection involved three rounds of accessible interviews with student AAC users, single interviews with their trusted STMs and FTMs, and an examination of artifacts and documents. Detailed case analyses were presented for each of the five cases in the study, which centered on students’ perspectives and experiences. The results from individual case analyses were extended to compare findings within participant groups and across cases. In this dissertation, I present the following findings: (a) students’ priorities as proficient HTSB AAC users, (b) key strategies and guiding tenets of STMs, (c) guiding principles of FTMs, (d) foundational strategies and guiding tenets shared by both STMs and FTMs, and (e) collective priorities of proficient HTSB AAC users, STMs, and FTMs. Lastly, I describe the process of students becoming proficient HTSB AAC users through three phases: (a) access, (b) learning, and (c) proficiency. The results of this study have notable implications for research, practice, policy, AAC software and hardware developers, and most importantly the AAC user community.

Available for download on Friday, May 01, 2026