Oct. 4, 2021

Listening to the AAC User’s Voice with Chris Klein

Listening to the AAC User’s Voice with Chris Klein

Mai Ling kicks off this edition of the show with a few updates for the Xceptional Leaders community and then she introduces this episode’s guest, Chris Klein. As the vice president of Impact Voices and a writer and speaker about AAC communication,...

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Mai Ling kicks off this edition of the show with a few updates for the Xceptional Leaders community and then she introduces this episode’s guest, Chris Klein. As the vice president of Impact Voices and a writer and speaker about AAC communication, Chris is equipping the next generation of AAC users with insights on AAC communication and other things that relate to overcoming the barriers of a disability. As an AAC user himself, he is passionate about making sure that the voices of the users are being heard and that they are involved in the conversations around this technology.

Contact Mai Ling: MLC at mailingchan.com

Contact James: James at slptransitions.com



Introduction 0:00  

Yes, you can see I have a disability. At the same time, I believe everybody struggles with something. So really everybody has a disability or constraints in their lives. The question then becomes, what are you going to deal with it?

Mai Ling0:25

Welcome to Xceptional leaders with Mai Ling and Martyn, where we give you front row access to intimate conversations that are shaping the way the world is supporting people with disabilities. If it's happening, it's being shared here. I'm Mai Ling Chan you can find me over athttps://www.mailingchan.com/Martyn Sibley is not able to join us today. You can find him athttps://martynsibley.com/. But we're going to be talking about Chris Klein's interview, it was so wonderful to catch up with him and find out all of the amazing things that he has been up to in the world of AAC and being a leader and mentor in this space. But before we get to that, we wanted to celebrate this week, October 6, It’s World Cerebral Palsy Day, we've had several guests on our show who have this diagnosis, and you can go back and search for them. It's just a wonderful time of year to really focus on this area and then we also want to spotlight Martyn Sibley, he has a new TV ad out there. So you may have seen it if you're in the UK, he is now a LinkedIn Changemaker and this little spot is just so amazing. It's great to see his face as well as hear his words. I also want to share that all of the first drafts are in for my third and last book in the becoming an Xceptional leader series. This one focuses on speech-language pathologists, and I am so really excited for you to read these, I got to read the first drafts and we are well on our way into the second ones and it's definitely a process and a journey. But Wow, they really are inspiring and beautiful and super personal. So not having Martyn Sibley here, I really want to make sure that you know how much we miss you, Martyn and we also want to engage with all of our audience and so please follow us on Facebook, we have the Xceptional leaders page there, you can also find us on Instagram, you can sign up for our mailing list, and just keep connected with us in the shows any special events and any discounts. Alright, let's get to our interview. So I'm here today with Chris Klein. And he is someone that you would say is a long-term member in the AAC community that's augmentative and alternative communication. He says that he had his first AC device when he was six years old and that allowed him to be mainstreamed starting in third-grade and that means a lot. We know that you know not being able to communicate really ostracizes you from your peers and from the community and so I'm so excited to hear about Chris's journey, and also his future career. He has a degree in kinesiology, which is the study of body movement, and then also masters of divinity at Western Theological Seminary. So welcome, Chris.


Thank you and it's nice to be here. 


Mai Ling  3:21

Thank you. I'm actually really honored. I have a past president of the United States Society of Augmentative Alternative Communication here in the house. That's a big deal, the USS AAC. So thank you for serving from 2013 to 2016.



That was an honor for me to do that. But also an eye-opening experience too.


Mai Ling4:20

Excellent. Um, I have some notes here from you about that, and so if it’s Okay, is that I'll read that for you?





Mai Ling4:29

Great. He says that. In this role, he realized that the AC community had a real need for a mentor program and this led him to form the organization that is now called become AC. So we're definitely going to get there and we'll talk more about that. For our listener want you to know that Chris and I have worked on some questions that he could pre compose and we can, you know, have some rich responses from and then we're also going to be integrating some spontaneous questions and answers here so that you really get to hear his natural and genuine voice. So Let's start out with this really exciting presentation, you were able to present in 2011 for the TED x Macatawa and it seems like a requirement now that everybody has a TEDx talk, but you did this 10 years ago. That's amazing.



I had been speaking for about 11 years, and I have been speaking a lot locally. I was very surprised that they asked me to speak at this TEDx Macatawa. At the same time, I knew it was an opportunity to shed some light on people who use AC. It was also an opportunity to share that all people have abilities, and we need to look past their disabilities. Disability is a term I believe gets used wrong. Yes, you can see I have a disability. At the same time, I believe everybody struggles with something. So really everybody has a disability or constraints in their lives. The question then becomes, what are you going to do with it, you can let the disability hinder you, or you can let your abilities overshadow the disability. I get it. letting our abilities overshadow our disability is very hard for some of us because people just see the disability. That is frustrating. But I don't believe we can let that stop them from trying to achieve the goals we want to achieve.

Mai Ling6:35

Absolutely and then from that, I believe that's been your inspiration to be so involved in become AAC and then also impact voices. Can you share a little bit more about these?



I am so excited about impact voices. I believe that is going to give AAC users a bigger voice at the table. I am vice president of impact voices. I am helping develop our mission and vision along with developing programs that are going to help equip the next generation of AAC users to take the reigns. I decided to join this organization because we want it to be all AAC lab. That is very important to me because I believe this industry has been led by speech-language pathologists, manufacturers, researchers, and academics. I don't want to make anybody too upset. But I don't think this has made a whole lot of difference in some areas. This is why I believe we need to invest in AAC users and develop more leaders so that we can continue to move the needle forward. employment is an area that hasn't been addressed very well. We believe we are developing a great plan and we are going to address employment at dawn and make a difference. For the AAC users listening to this, get excited. This is your organization and we want you to help us guide it. We want you to tell us what is important to you. I want to bring the younger AAC users along so that they will continue to leave the industry moving forward and I believe that leads us to the next question,


Mai Ling8:25

Which is?  I'm dying to know what's the next question



I have always believed in mentoring relationship has always been valuable in every aspect of life. I believe this is needed in a AAC. We are going to put two or three beginning users together with an expert an AAC user, and allow them to discuss things that are important to them. life skills can be learned and relationships can be built. This is going to help everybody navigate to the hurdles of life. There are hurdles in every area. So having somebody there to bounce something off of or even to have somebody there to advocate for you. Also, I would like each group to pick a service project. I believe doing a service project together would be beneficial to everybody. It would be nice to have them in the same community so that they could do a service project. If they are in the same community, they could do a service project for the AAC community as a whole. The idea is to help them begin to build up their resume and help them build some leadership skills. This brings me to the leadership program. We are going to create opportunities for AAC users to develop leadership skills via creating advisory boards. Impact voices also plans to develop a leadership academy Where AAC users that are leaders will teach up and coming in AC users, they would have an opportunity to become a team member of a project and help lead it. This is greatly needed in the AAC community and I believe once again, it has to be AAC lab. We have to develop more younger AAC leaders so that the mission of AAC can keep moving forward.


Mai Ling 10:28

Excellent. Chris, there's so much in your responses and I wanted to back up a little bit, you answered what the next question was was going to be? Are you involved in developing leadership and mentorship programs? and it sounds like you're on the absolute forefront? I love how you started out with if you are an AAC user get excited? And yes, absolutely. I hear you. In my book, becoming an Xceptional AAC leader that just launched in March of 2021. We had five people who use AAC, sharing their stories of excellence, and you know how they have been leading the community. But there are so many AAC users who could have been included and this is what you're doing is bringing those people together and putting them right at the forefront of leadership and connection. That's fantastic and needed. I also hear heard what you said that up to now most of the industry has been professional LED. Yes, and I don't think it's controversial. It's just that just is what it is. Right? Yes. And we're starting to have people like yourself for


It is what it is and that is fine. But I do believe the voice of AAC has to change.


Mai Ling12:09

Absolutely. I agree with you. I also see people like Jane Odom, who was another co-author in my book, taking that role of spotlighting people, having them write blogs and become the voices, you know, helping through her channels to share their voice and then there's also a Facebook group for AAC users. It's like an AAC community and only AAC users can respond for the first 24 hours. Are you in that group? Chris? 



I believe I am but I can't remember, because I'm in so many.


Mai Ling13:03

I know I hear you and I'm looking now. So the group that we're referring to is called “Ask me I'm an AAC User”. That's literally the name of it. Yes, and it's there's a 24-hour rule that people can ask questions, but only people who use AAC can respond and it has been so eye-opening for me, Chris, learning so much about the controversy between, I guess, industry infused language. So it's like an AAC user or person who uses an AAC or an Autistic person or a person with Autism, you know where that terminology is coming from and how people really want to be referred to you know, they'll let you know


That is an interesting subject.


Mai Ling14:06

But it's a perfect example that the professionals and the industry I don't even know how to say this correctly. So I'm saying professionals so that's like Speech pathologists assistive technology doctors, right? That they are deciding what the language to use is and when you actually talk to the individual. That's not the type of language that they want.



Yes, exactly and I really want to try to figure out what language AAC users want.


Mai Ling15:12

Exactly. I have learned so much from people like Lydia Dali and India Oaks, Krista Howard, Latif McLeod, and Tim Ginn. They, again are co-authors in our book, and I continue to just be so honored, you know, to be in the space of people like yourself, Chris, where you're, you're helping us to grow, and you're helping us to unify the community rather than be divisive with language.


 And that is what we need to do in order to improve life and equal life.


Mai Ling16:18



Mai Ling16:19

I've always said the most valuable things I've ever done to increase my business and industry knowledge in a very specific niche of disabilities was always related to learning from other people, whether it was going to conferences, introducing myself, and connecting directly with LinkedIn messages, or asking people for a warm referral. hearing other people's stories and finding pearls of wisdom has been a priceless part of my journey and ultimately, my success with various offerings is directly related to these. That's definitely why I created this podcast for you, and also why 13 other amazing disability leaders and previous podcast guests join me to write a book for you. For less than $15 you can get intimate stories and priceless startup journeys from 14 Xceptional disability leaders, including my co-host of this podcast and Martyn Sibley. So I invite you to go to Amazon search for becoming an exceptional leader and get this book today.



Here’s another great podcast serving the disability industry that you might enjoy


7:17 ( Music ad) Now let's get back to our amazing interview


Mai Ling17:53

So I wanted to ask, I know that you have had opportunities to present and I've learned so much about people's lived experiences through presentations and first person perspective. So this is so impactful. So how are you supporting so that people can have their voices more heard at events?



Wow, I am really encouraging AAC users to let their voice be heard. I truly believe the voice of AAC has to be changed. It has to come back to the ACA user and less from the manufacturers, speech language pathologists, researchers, and academics. This is why we need more leaders like myself, just speak up about things. We need more self advocates so that our voices can be heard loudly. This is how we are going to start a grassroots movement. This is how we're going to improve employment and have other impact on other aspects of life. It is time for the AAC user to guide the movement instead of being a bi standard and I would like to add to that, I believe some of these conferences need to make their process easier to submit stuff. For me, I have no problem writing up an abstract in some learning objectives. But for some that is really repetitive and time-consuming.

Mai Ling21:26

I can actually speak to that a little bit. So, I am chief of partnerships at Xceptional Ed, where we provide professional continuing education and for people who are taking our courses there that are specific for AAC, we want them to be submissive for professional licensure and the only issue there, Chris is that we now have to conform to the requirements of the national associations. So we provide for American Speech-Language Hearing Association, which is ASHA. And then also an OTA, which is occupational therapy and both of these professions work very closely with assistive technology and AAC and so in order for us to submit that course, and the professional to be able to achieve that one hour or two hour time for the learning. Right, so then we have to get that information from the presenter, which includes like you're saying, at least two learner outcomes. So saying, you know, after you listen to Chris, you will be able to, and then the actual verb, you'll be able to identify, you'll be able to recognize, you'll be able to describe right, and then other ones are financial, nonfinancial disclosures. So Chris receives royalty for this presentation, which I hope that you are, and then there's also let me see like a product disclosure. So Chris receives royalties from this AAC device that he mentioned, if that's possible, you know, who knows if you are doing sponsorship for them? So these are things that unfortunately depends on who like what organization you are presenting for, but they are kind of answering to a higher authority, and they just can't get out of those requirements.



And I do understand that you're right. I'm just wondering if we can make those a little easier for other AAC users to submit stuff. Not that I want to lower any standards


Mai Ling24:50

Well, let's talk about an offline and see if you're talking more about the process because I don't know if we could actually go to the associations to say these presenters have to provide them but these present Don't you know? So maybe it's just because I break it down into separate segments. So you're not giving everything at one time? Yes, I do. I totally understand that. And it's just because it's so time-consuming to be able to submit everything. . Excellent. Well, I'm glad we talked about this and I hope that people who are listening or also hearing this is that we really need to think about accessibility in all different ways. So maybe chunking and that's what I'm thinking of here. Chris? Is chunking, how information is submitted and that would help because it's very physically taxing, mentally taxing, you know.



 Exactly. For me, that is fine. I'm thinking about others


Mai Ling26:03

And that is your space. Chris, thank you so much for everything that you're doing for us and for the community. Do you have any events coming up or anything that you want to share with us?



I want to encourage the AAC users to check out impact voices. We are small right now, but programs are coming and we are excited about the possibilities. We will be planning a conference soon, which will be run by AAC users and we are going to bring in employers so that they can get to see how much talent they are missing by not hiring an AAC user. Yeah. Also, we have virtual hangouts every second Tuesday and third Thursday of every month. Yeah


Mai Ling26:50

Excellent. Okay and then how can we find you out there? I had to get a special referral from Jane Odom. I know that you're really busy guy. And usually, I hound someone



 I can be found in lessons from bangtour.com that is the best way.

Mai Ling27:41

Alright, and I'm gonna have to highlight that Chris, I can see you on zoom. So our listener can't. And the big toe. Is it Mr. Big toe? I can't remember what your hashtag is.



I believe it's Mr. Toe 23 on Twitter.


Mai Ling28:23

That's excellent and that's because that is how you are accessing your AC device. Correct?





Mai Ling28:30

Fantastic. And you know, I mentioned earlier that you started very early using AAC Was that your first way to access using your toes?



Yes. I was playing with toys as a baby with my toes. So access was never a question, which we know now is a blessing. 


Mai Ling29:27

Fantastic. Nothing can stop you now. I love it. Thank you for joining us. It's been an absolute pleasure getting to know you better, and I can't wait to meet you in person. Chris. Thanks so much. 


Mai Ling 29:47

Thanks so much for joining us for this episode, and I invite you to connect with me directly athttps://www.mailingchan.com/  We also want you to let us know what you think about the show ideas and how we can continue to help you or referrals to a great guest Through our Facebook group at Xceptional leaders podcast or email us atxleaderspodcast@gmail.com.

Martyn 30:07

Yes, Mai Ling I totally agree that I know we're both really mission-driven people, and for me, it's always been this big mission, to have a world that's fully inclusive for all people, and in the end, that's probably why we've bonded and come together so well on this podcast, Xceptional leaders podcast because we get to meet cool people, give them a platform to share their story, and really just make such an impact in the disability world. Love it. Also, for everyone listening, please do head over to disability arises.com. This is the magazine that I co-founded about 10 years ago. We've got a free mailing list there for all the latest article news, discounts for the shop if that's your kind of thing and definitely, definitely do get your copy of becoming an Xceptional leader book. We want you to get as much information as you need and to be as successful as you can be.

Chris KleinProfile Photo

Chris Klein

Chris Klein is a voice to those that have none and helping hand to those with disabilities, even though he was born with cerebral palsy and uses augmentative communication to help him interact with the rest of the world. Chris used his first augmentative communication device when he was 6 years old. This allowed him to be mainstreamed starting in third grade, and opened doors that nobody thought were achievable. He graduated from Hope College with a degree in Kinesiology, which is the study of body movement. He went on to get a Master of Divinity at Western Theological Seminary.
Over the past ten to twelve years, Chris has been working closely with people that use AAC. He was president of USSAAC (United States Society of Augmentative Alternative Communication). From 2013-2016. This opened his eyes to the needs of people who use AAC. He has realized that the AAC community has a real need for a mentor program, and this has led him to form an organization called BeCOME AAC. He believes in building meaningful relationships with people, and while BeCOME: AAC had some success, Chris felt something was missing. Chris has joined ImpAACt Voices. They have social hangouts every Second Tuesday of the month and third Thursday of the month. ImpAACt Voices vision is A world that values human diversity and embraces people with complex communication needs who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and for AAC users to have equality of life in every area of society.
He believes in developing language for a lifestyle!
Chris can be found at lessonsfromthebigtoe.com.