activism, autism, language, queerness, trans

How do you symbolize intimacy? For many AAC programs, not particularly well.

Content Note: mentions of sex, genitalia, abuse, assault, violence against disabled people, infantilization of disabled people, removal of autonomy. Also, this post is over 5,000 words long.

Well. This is a post about my adventures trying to create boards for various topics in Proloquo2Go (P2G), an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) symbol-based program for iOS. P2G uses symbols from SymbolStix Prime (SSP), but doesn’t have access to SSP’s entire library – for that, I had to buy a yearly subscription to SSP.

The problem with P2G and SSP, as will become readily apparent, stems from the fact that both systems are designed primarily for use by children. Not exclusively – I use them and plenty of other autistic/disabled adults I know do, too – but it’s clear that children are the target audience. This isn’t too much of a problem for me, aside from a few default folders being essentially useless. (Anything to do with “school,” for instance, is well-suited to a elementary school student; less so for someone in a masters degree program.)

The issue is what P2G and SSP lack in their vocabularies. Both are underequipped when it comes to topics related to sex, sexuality, gender, genitals, and sexual/reproductive health care. (I will henceforth refer to these topics as S2G2HC+ – sex, sexuality, gender, genitals, [sexual and reproductive] health care, and related topics.) SSP less so – as a friend once put it, “at least SymbolStix knows what a penis is” – but both are truly, woefully lacking.

I also want to make it clear that I’m focusing on P2G and SSP here because that’s what I have experience with. From limited use of other systems and talking with other AAC users, I’m aware that the majority of systems have little to no S2G2HC+ vocabulary and if they do, they often don’t have boards or folders dedicated to these topics. I’m focusing on P2G and SSP because I know them best but this is a problem with basically every system and symbol set.

The fact that P2G is so lacking in its S2G2HC+ boards and included symbols is terrifying to me. Unlike some other AAC systems (Snap Core First, which has comparatively amazing built-in vocabulary around S2G2HC+ topics, comes to mind), P2G comes with essentially no pre-programmed vocabulary on these issues. Certainly, one can program in these words and the system will recognize some words and automatically associate a symbol from its library with them. (A good example of this is a number of terms related to abuse and assault – P2G does not come with a default button for the word “rape,” but if a user makes one, the button will automatically populate with a relevant symbol.) But this requires a certain level of attention and knowledge/recognition that a user might need those terms. This, I am afraid, is the largest failure of these systems: the idea that a user or someone assisting them will just be able to add in any S2G2HC+ terminology that doesn’t already come in the system.

First of all, lots of P2G users are not the ones editing their own systems. Again, P2G is geared largely towards children, many of whom may not have the skills required to add or edit buttons and boards in the app. At least from my perspective, it is much harder to learn how to edit buttons/boards than it is to use the app to communicate. Because P2G is symbol-based, using the app to communicate by pressing buttons does not require significant ability to read or write. Editing entries, however, does. These are skills that a person using the app to communicate may not have, whether due to age, disability, or a combination thereof.

So for many users, the job of editing, updating, and changing their vocabulary – the literal corpus of everything they could say – falls to someone else. (Again, P2G is specifically marketed towards AAC users who can use a high-tech system but may not have the skills to be able to read/write/type yet.) I hope I do not have to explain why this poses an issue when it comes to S2G2HC+ terminology but I will for clarity’s sake: any parent, professional, assistant, or other communication partner who does not want an AAC user to communicate about these topics (or assumes the user has no need to communicate about these topics) can effectively prevent an AAC user from talking about things as basic as their genitalia, who they are attracted to, or if they’re experiencing abuse. (And, more insidiously, a communication partner who wanted to limit a AAC user from speaking about these topics at all could use P2G’s password-protection setting to prevent the user from editing their boards themselves, if they are capable of doing so, or accessing keyboard or typing features, if they are able to type.)

This, frankly, is unconscionable. It’s complicity in the continued abuse, neglect, desexualization, and infantilization of disabled people, especially disabled children. It is, quite clearly, saying that AAC users who can’t edit their own systems for one reason or another shouldn’t be able to communicate about things as fundamental as if they’re being abused. And by tacitly signalling that these are “adult topics” (after all, if they were “child friendly,” they’d be included in the app), it’s also signalling that children and young people who are forced to confront these “adult topics” have to choose between their youth and the ability to communicate what’s going on.

It’s the same terrible rhetoric that keeps people insisting that we can’t teach about LGBTQ+ relationships in high school sex ed because that would be injecting “adult topics” into the conversation. Well, buddy, you’re already talking about sex, which is a pretty “adult topic” but also, I knew I wasn’t straight by the time I turned 15. Plenty of people I knew figured it out way younger. Age-locking up these topics and saying no, you can’t have them leaves young people more vulnerable to abuse.

But back to AAC. Bryen and Moulton write “We know that the best victim is one who can’t tell (i.e., people who cannot communicate; vocabulary not readily available on one’s communication device).” Abuse thrives on silence and particularly enforced silence. A typically developing person who experiences abuse already has to overcome immense amounts of shame, discomfort, potential retaliation, and trauma responses to tell someone what happened. Someone who uses AAC has to overcome all of that as well, plus the potential communication barrier of literally not having the words for what happened to them accessible. Remember, a communication device is literally someone’s voice. I’m not going to tell speakies1 to go on some imagination adventure of desperately needing to say something but being physically unable to; if you want an exercise in something like that, go read Cal Montgomery’s excellent post on the subject

Moreover, this lack of terminology robs AAC users of the ability to talk about completely natural topics, not all of which are “adult” or “inappropriate.” A refusal to put in any language related to genitalia by default (and refusing to include symbols related to genitalia) may mean that an AAC user may not be able to communicate about health issues such as a urinary tract infection, which can easily spread to one’s kidneys and become life-threatening if not treated appropriately. Or the refusal to put in any terms related to sexuality by default, which in turn signals to users, and particularly LGBTQ+ users, that any seuxal or romantic feelings we may have are inappropriate things to talk about because they are not in our systems.

Certainly, there are some small steps. Again, P2G now includes symbols that automatically populate for terms related to abuse, as well as some other terms such as birth control. P2G also contains symbols depicting same-gender couples and well-recognized abstract symbols for terms like gay and transgender. (I believe P2G will originally default to suggesting male/female couple symbols for terms like boyfriend, girlfriend, and marriage but I’m honestly not sure since I’ve trained my own system at this point to default suggest gender-neutral or male/male couples.)

It is still not enough. It is still not enough to add in a few choice terms and refuse to improve further. Putting the burden of adding vocabulary about “sensitive” topics on users and their communication partners only further works to infantilize AAC users and reduce the likelihood that AAC users who mainly rely on P2G will be able to communicate openly and easily about these topics. I don’t want to imply that adding boards around these topics will completely fix problems of limited communication (after all, default boards can still be edited, deleted, locked down, or otherwise tampered with) but making these topics accessible by default will allow AAC users to communicate around these topics without the significant, labor-intensive process of creating these boards from scratch.

Let me put it this way: it took me, a student on summer break who is completely capable of creating and editing boards on a device I have total and unwavering control of, the better part of two days to create five boards. I created these boards using templates already present in P2G (I don’t remember exactly which one but it was one of the default parts of speech templates) using symbols from SSP2 and a word list I generated using words from Snap Core First and symbols from SSP. It took me two days, the use of both my iPad and an external computer, and repeated missteps to create five boards of words and phrases I would absolutely need as an adult to communicate about sex and sexuality. Granted, these boards are highly customized to me, but that’s the point. P2G is supposed to be about giving someone a nearly unlimited, customized vocabulary but if making a board for something as simple as going on a date takes hours and hours of time and multiple devices, something’s wrong.

Yeah, not all of the words on those boards are child-friendly but a) not everyone who uses P2G is a minor and b) lots and lots of those words should be accessible to people of all ages because they’re words for things that happen. To give just one example, a child going through puberty deserves to have vocabulary like breasts, erection, menstruation, arousal, wet dream. Maybe it’s the (still woefully inadequate) liberal California education I got, but I learned about all those words in sex ed/health by the time I was 11 because adults understood kids going through puberty needed that language. I also learned about a bunch of different terms related to sexual intercourse because adults understood that even if middle school kids were (hopefully) not having sex, they would probably be sooner or later and education, vocabulary, and free condoms are a lot better harm reduction than abstinence-only and radio silence.

Oh, yeah, condoms. That’s another term P2G doesn’t have a built-in symbol for, even though SSP has a (quite nice!) symbol for “condom” in its library. P2G does have a symbol for “birth control” – a pack of contraceptive pills. Which, fine, great, but oral contraceptives are a kinda lackluster symbol for birth control when only approximately half of the population has the right body parts for them to work correctly and a good chunk (I don’t have numbers right now but honestly, ask any AFAB person who’s used birth control and you’ll hear about how god-awful the pill can be) of that half really doesn’t like using oral contraceptives.

Sorry. Slight digression.

And the child-friendliness argument shouldn’t even be a valid one because the world isn’t child friendly! There are plenty of things that are child unfriendly in the sense that they are or enact literal violence or hate on children or are neutral but unpleasant things that happen to children because they happen to everyone (e.g., urinary tract infections). P2G has lots and lots and lots of symbols related to police and military, both of which are institutions that have hurt and killed a whole lot of children. We are not going to shield children and young people, or disabled people of all ages, from violence, abuse, death, and general malfeasance by robbing them of the vocabulary to talk about it. To be blunt, no person attempting to rape someone else ever stopped because they realized their target wouldn’t have the language to speak about it. On the contrary, and again to quote Bryen and Moulton, “the best victim is one who can’t tell.”

I want to make it clear that I’m not lobbying for giving young AAC users a vocabulary full of highly sexual, adult words that their abled peers wouldn’t know. I am advocating that we give all young people (regardless of how they communicate) proper vocabulary to talk about their bodies, identities, and experiences. That means we teach young children proper anatomical terms for their genitalia (as opposed to “private parts” or whatever other god-awful, vague euphemism is in vogue these days) and we make sure as they grow up they have the vocabulary to speak about things like puberty, sex, sexual experiences, sexuality/gender, and abuse and assault.

And when it comes to adults who use symbol-based communication, we deserve to be able to say and have symbols and buttons for anything we goddamned want. I’m a semi-speaking person. I’m also a gay as hell adult of somewhat indeterminate gender and have great fun pushing my device to its absolute limits by making it say some of the filthiest, rudest sexual phrases I can think of. It’s one thing to tailor a child AAC user’s vocabulary to the kinds of language that their speaky peers use (though even then, it’s not okay to say a child can’t have access to slang or dirty words their peers use because it’s “not appropriate”). It’s quite another to say that an adult of legal age who would not be limited in their sexual and romantic expression if they did not use AAC can’t have access to sexual vocabulary. A communication partner or helper’s hesitance at a disabled adult existing as a sexual being or having intimate desires is not a reason to deny said adult proper vocabulary.

There is, also, a pervasive argument I see every time this issue is discussed in depth in AAC fora: if we make this kind of vocabulary available through our app, we won’t be able to market it as all-ages on the app store. Aside from the fact that this isn’t a solution to the problem, I am slightly confused by this logic when P2G and Snap Core First3 (which has a fairly robust vocabulary around S2G2HC+ terminology that would be appropriate, with some customization, for a teenager to use) have the exact same 4+ rating on the Apple app store. Snap Core First also allows for the in-app download of the PCS Safeguard Symbols set, which are PCS symbols for “communicating about sexuality.” Moreover, CoughDrop, an open source AAC system that allows for users to create and share their own boards on any topics they like is rated … 12+. Maybe a system that allows for sharing of boards with literal BDSM terminology (I know, I’ve checked, I’m certainly not the only adult autistic looking for these terms) isn’t totally appropriate for the youngest AAC user but it’s not like even explicit kink and sexual terminology will get you age-locked to adults-only automatically. (CoughDrop’s 12+ rating is also attributed to “Infrequent/Mild Medical/Treatment Information,” so their issue doesn’t even seem to be sexual content on their platform.) I understand that Apple (and other companies; I just have the most experience with Apple/iOS) probably puts stringent regulations on companies looking to market apps to young children but it’s not like other AAC systems haven’t found ways around this.

Another argument I’ve seen against including S2G2HC+ terminology and other “adult” language (profanity, mainly) on AAC devices is that young users will abuse this in order to say inappropriate things. The use of inappropriate language can be addressed in the same way one would address speaky young people using inappropriate language: with sensible conversations and discipline as need be, not by removing one’s ability to speak entirely. We know that children and young people will hear and learn inappropriate terminology (including slurs and epithets much worse than a 12-year-old deciding it’s really funny to whisper fuck in the middle of class) and our response is to tell kids “there’s a time and a place for swearing and it’s not now or here” and/or “those words are totally inappropriate/hurtful/bigoted/etc. and you should not use them at another person.” A child using profanity isn’t an emergency on its own, regardless of how the child communicates. (Certainly, a person who doesn’t usually swear using profanity might indicate an emergency, but that’s not the point.) Presuming confidence also has to mean realizing what issues with what an AAC user might say are truly communication (e.g., AAC system or method-related) problems, which ones are behavioral challenges, and which ones just need to be dealt with by the other person rolling their eyes and ignoring someone who’s clearly saying fuck over and over again to be annoying.

I said at the beginning that SSP also has its problems and I’ll address them here as well. The main issue I take with SSP is that it locks a lot of S2G2HC+ terminology behind the label of “adult” and forces users to click through a menu to check that they do, in fact, want to see “adult” symbols every time they search for symbols. (As far as I can tell, there is no way to universally toggle adult symbols to “on” in account settings.) The SSP system, overall, is clunky and annoying to use (why, good gracious, do symbols download as PNGs on a computer but as JPGs on a tablet?) but it’s the locking of symbols, and which symbols they choose to lock, that I take issue with.

The “Adult” category on SSP contains terms mostly related to drugs/alcohol, weapons and violence, swearing, sex/genitalia, and, for some reason, tanning beds. (I mean, I wouldn’t want children or anyone else using a tanning bed, but I don’t think that’s a reason to classify tanning beds as “adult.”) Let me be clear: some of these topics are PG-13 or even R-rated but I don’t think it does anyone any good to classify them as “adult” and lock them down behind a menu. A better design, in my opinion, would be to have one folder for terms related to drugs and alcohol, one folder for terms related to weapons and violence, one folder related to terms for sex and genitals, and one folder related to terms related to swearing. (I don’t know what we would do about the tanning beds in this case. I suppose tanning beds are a form of violence against one’s skin?)

Here is what I take the most issue with: symbols for genitalia, abuse and assault, and some terms related to sexuality are locked behind the label of “adult.” Yes, some of these terms are not child-friendly but again, the world is not a child-friendly place. Children need terms related to abuse and assault because children, sadly, experience these things. Children need terms related to genitalia because they have genitalia that they sometimes need to talk about. Crucially, terms like “ejaculation,” “menstruation,” and “vaginal bleeding” are considered “adult,” even though most people go through puberty (and therefore experience ejaculation and/or menstruation/vaginal bleeding) well before they become adults. (This, to me, has shades of the same implication that anti-trans bigots make that once a girl has experienced menstruation, she is now a “woman” because “only women menstruate,” but that’s a topic for another day.)

The sexuality terminology that’s locked down is even more concerning to me. Icons for “sexuality” (man and woman holding hands, two men holding hands, two women holding hands) along with “reveal sexuality” (two men holding hands while one of them talks to another person via a speech bubble with a heart in it; two women holding hands while one of them talks to another person via a speech bubble with a heart in it) are considered “adult.” Granted, it’s not like they lock terms like “gay,” “bisexual,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” or “non-binary” behind the “adult” label, but the idea that sexuality as represented by the decidedly non-sexual concepts of “holding hands” and “a love heart” is somehow inappropriate for children is absurd, even if it’s applied to all sexualities. We can have endless debates about what exactly “sexuality” and “sexual orientation” mean (and believe me, I was on Tumblr for the worst of the asexuality discourse/invalidating people’s identities because they didn’t experience sexual attraction shitshow, I’ve seen these debates) but the symbols themselves do not imply that “sexuality” equals “wanting to do sexual acts.” The implication of the symbols is one of child-friendly abstract attraction – two people in love in the same way couples on children’s TV are: holding hands, maybe a few kisses, saying “I love you,” with no hint of sexual activity or NSFW elements. Moreover, the idea that two men or two women being in this nebulous, desexualized love (as implied by the “reveal sexuality” symbols) is somehow “adult” or inappropriate for children … I have no words. I will only reiterate that I was out as queer long before I was 18 and plenty of people I knew came out much younger than I did.

The “Adult” section of SSP also contains symbol for “consent” (two stick figures having sex with a green checkmark next to it) and “say no” (on stick figure saying “NO!” to another). I cannot overstate how harmful this is. Yes, sexual consent is “adult” because sex is “adult,” but by limiting consent symbols to those relating to sex and therefore locking them behind the “adult” wall, SSP is saying that consent is only applicable to adults (and more specifically, adults who engage in sexual activity). Children (and adults who do not engage in sexual activity) do not, therefore, get to access consent. This removal of autonomy is absurd. There are other symbols that come up when one searches “consent” but the only one that is specifically entitled “consent” is the adult-locked, sexually linked one. Plenty of other situations that require consent could be used to illustrate the concept; one example is a “consent” symbol with the little green checkmark next to a doctor examining a patient. Medical consent is another form of consent.

And then “say no.” There is nothing explicit about this. There is nothing sexual. There is nothing “adult” about saying no. The most fundamental part of communication is the ability to say no (and yes). Disabled people, especially disabled people whose disabilities affect their ability to communicate, and especially especially children with communication disabilities, are far too often robbed of our ability to say no. We are told that our consent (in any scenario) is optional. We are told that we do not have the wherewithal and cognitive ability to make decisions for ourselves. Decisions as small as whether or not we want to eat lunch when it’s offered or go to the movies on Saturday are made for us, not by us. “No,” is asserting oneself as a person and an individual with autonomy, not an object to be simply manipulated. To state (and not just imply) that saying “no” is adult in any way, shape, or form, robs disabled children of their very humanity and individuality. I cannot overstate how dangerous this is.

I could go on and on. The symbol for “sex education” is marked as adult, despite the fact that there is no sexual material in the symbol. In fact, the symbol depicts two “child” characters (smaller stick figures, one bald and wearing a blue shirt, one with black pigtails and wearing a pink shirt) sitting at desks at as an adult points to interlocking male/female symbols on a chalkboard. The fact that a symbol depicting children in class can be considered “adult” simply because it has the word “sex” in it is absurd. The icons for “bladder,” “breasts” (but not “chest”), “lighter” (as in the device one uses to light cigarettes and candles), “nipples,” and “pregnant” are all considered “adult.”

And again, many of these icons are not available through P2G. One must already have a subscription to SSP (~$100/year on top of the already $200+ price of P2G) to experience the disappointment of seeing how many terms that are necessary for AAC users to communicate about their bodies, sexualities, and experiences are labeled “adult.” It’s one thing if you’re a speech and language pathologist (SLP), disability services professional, or weirdly fixated graduate student who can afford a $100/year subscription to access extra symbols from SSP but for many people, $100/year is prohibitively expensive. For many people, it’s not worth it on top of the already high costs of either a specialized AAC device or a general-use tablet or computer with an AAC app installed on it. SSP’s symbols certainly aren’t the only ones a person could use on an AAC device – P2G will let you paste in any image you like for a symbol – but they are designed specifically for AAC usage and are created with disabled people who have complex communication needs and potential cognitive or visual issues in mind. There are other symbol sets available for free that may work for some people (the website Open Symbols is a great resource) but SSP symbols keep continuity with the symbols P2G uses.

SSP’s sorting of some words as “adult” at all also confuses me because their platform is, by-and-large, marketed towards SLPs, teachers, and other adults who need to find icons for their students’ or clients’ communication systems, not AAC users themselves. (This is evident in their user Personal Information section, where there is no option for “AAC user” in response to what one’s title/position is.) I understand that there might be some cause for labeling some symbols as “adult” if the platform was designed largely for AAC users of all ages but it isn’t. It’s designed, largely, for adult service providers, therapists, teachers, parents, and other communication partners.

Together, this is a system where symbol-based AAC users are systematically denied the opportunity and ability to participate in their own decisions and lives when it comes to sex, sexuality, gender, and sexual and reproductive health. It is astounding to me that so little attention, outside of activist groups and a limited number of academic centers, focuses on these issues. Astounding, but not surprising. After all, this is just one part of a larger world where disabled people are considered to be incapable of anything considered “adult.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re considered to be wholly incapable of work, higher education, sexual or intimate desire, relationship building, choosing our own futures, or living outside of congregate settings. No wonder the excuses for denying us language around “adult” topics are so plentiful.

And although not all symbol-based AAC users are children (clearly!), this is also a function of ageism4 as much as it is standard ableism or cissexism/heterosexism5. We as a society devalue and delegitimize the abilities and contributions of children and young people solely based on youth and arbitrary designations. A high school student who is 17 years and 11 months old can’t go on a field trip to the local wastewater plant without having a parent’s signature on their forms but a college student who’s 18 years and 1 month old is handed a bunch of legal liability waivers and told “sign these before you pick up your ID card.” (Ask me how I know this.) Obviously, young children do not have all the same developmental capabilities as adults, but the group “children” encompasses everyone from an hour-old baby to a teenager ten minutes away from turning 18. To reduce all children down to the capabilities of a young elementary school student (I had to follow the same “raise your hand and ask to use the restroom” rules in school from the time I was 3 until I graduated high school a month before my 18th birthday) and make decisions for them based on that is absurd and biased. To imply that all children, be they 6 or 16, need to be shielded from any discussion of sex and sexuality, is ageism. To imply that by refusing to discuss these topics with children (of any age), we will protect them is ageism. (And on the last point, it’s also absurd. Ask any elementary school or middle school teacher – children can have absolutely filthy imaginations. It’s just a part of growing up.)

Ageism feeds into ableism and the two combine into a no-win scenario for disabled children who use AAC. All children, all disabled people, and all disabled children deserve to be treated like human beings with the inalienable right to communication and vocabulary relevant to their lives. Age, disability, and the discomfort of others are not reasons to deny someone the vocabulary they desperately need. 

The solution is to develop boards and symbols for these topics and make them available. If anyone’s looking for someone to do it, I’m an unemployed grad student. My contact information’s at the link above. I’ll work for fair pay.

No, but seriously. This is not just an individual problem. I’m not even the first person to write about sexuality and AAC usage; Megan Hoorn wrote a whole Master’s thesis on it. Sure, this is something that we can technically solve on an individual basis but that’s the whole problem. Reducing it down to the individual level means every person who needs these terms (which I would argue is every AAC user on some level; at the very least, every person should have access to anatomical terminology for genitalia and language around reporting abuse) has to start from scratch to create a board for themselves. Open-source systems like CoughDrop that allow users to share boards are helpful but not everyone uses CoughDrop. I regularly see P2G advertised as the AAC system even though it has significant limitations and plenty of other AAC systems have the same limitations.

As a starting point, I would like all symbol-based AAC systems to have built in support, with associated symbols, for all the words on the Needed Vocabulary for Socially-Valued Adult Roles “Sexuality, Intimacy and Healthy Sex” set as well as all the words from the “Reporting or Telling about Being a Victim of a Crime” set. I would also like to see boards/folders for the following topics: dating, sex (as in sexual intimacy or sexual acts), sexuality (as in sexual orientation and social and emotional aspects of sex), gender, genitals, abuse and assault/reporting crimes, and sexual or intimate feelings. These should be pre-populated with relevant terms from the above vocabulary sets and also have space for more. Furthermore, I would appreciate it if SSP got rid of their “adult” label and were better about specifically labeling why they would consider a topic “adult.” (If SSP does want to keep its “adult” label toggle, I would suggest changing “adult” to “explicit,” removing the symbols I’ve mentioned in this post from the category, making it so users can permanently toggle explicit material on/off from their profiles, and making the default toggle position show explicit material.)

My own contribution to this (other than to continually agitate for a company to hire me to do this for them) is that I’m going to put together word lists and layouts of the boards I use and make them publicly available. These won’t be app screenshots or actual symbols, since those are copyrighted, but I will put together both lists of words and spreadsheets with the layout and color scheme of the boards I made, along with some recommendations and thoughts on how I assembled these boards. (There may be, er, minor redactions due to the fact that I am not about to broadcast my personal sexual life to the internet. I want everyone to have access to this terminology but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to know the specifics of what or who I’m into.) That’ll go up probably over the course of this summer – I have a bunch of other, more pressing concerns and this project will take me a while, but I will do my best to post material when I have it. Update: It’s finally finished! See the end of the post! (In the meantime, the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria has a webpage with downloadable boards around abuse and assault in a ton of different languages. It’s not perfect by any means but it is a good resource for low-tech communication on abuse and assault.)

Anyway, I’ve talked about this subject for a long time and I don’t want you to think I have nothing good to say, so I’ll say this. While on a mission to create these boards, I found my favorite symbol. It is, thankfully, available automatically on P2G as well as on SSP. The symbol is of a stick figure person. They have a slight smile on their face and small devil horns on their head. They are looking wistfully up at a number of little black hearts floating above their head.

It’s the symbol for horny. Because of course it is. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in an AAC program.

UPDATE 2 November 2020: I am so sorry it has taken me this long to finish this. In the interim, I got distracted with so much (life happens), dealt with grad school, got a new iPad and completely rearranged my P2G boards, and basically had too much else to do. But here are the boards on Google Sheets. They are 9*16 boards, which may be too big for some devices, so take what you need from them. Copy them, adapt them, use them as templates.

Footnotes (I tried to do these in Markdown but I couldn’t figure out how. Sorry.)

1speaky, pl. speakies: (noun) a person who is capable of typical verbal mouth speech and who does not use AAC in cases where most typically speaking people would use mouth speech; in fancy speech therapy terms, a person without complex communication needs. 

2: And, in a couple cases, icons from The Noun Project, since SSP’s symbols don’t cover everything perfectly.

3: Full disclosure: I downloaded the free stripped-down version of Snap Core First because an acquaintance mentioned its robust vocabulary around sex and sexuality. I haven’t used the full version and I haven’t used the stripped-down version for anything besides helping me compile a list of words and phrases I could use for my boardmaking. I also haven’t used any other symbol-based systems other than P2G significantly. (I bought and experimented with CoughDrop but I like P2G’s system more.) Ergo, I can’t really comment on how big of an issue this is beyond P2G and SSP but as I understand it, with the exception of Snap Core First and some of the CoughDrop boards, the rest of the industry isn’t much better.

4: Ageism is bias or discrimination that privileges younger and middled-aged adults over other age groups. In many cases, ageism is used to refer to employment discrimination against older adults in favor of younger adults (think hiring someone who is 27 over someone who is 57). In this essay, ageism refers to bias and discrimination against children, adolescents, and young adults because these people are very young and/or not yet of legal age.

5: Cissexism is bias or discrimination that privileges cisgender people over transgender/non-binary/gender non-conforming people. Heterosexism is bias or discrimination that privileges heterosexual people over LGBQA+ people. (As a shorthand, I am using sexuality as a stand-in for sexual and romantic orientation, but heteromanticism is a phenomenon similar to heterosexism save for that it applies to romantic orientation instead of specifically sexual orientation.)