What I learned in my first week of using my AAC device in public

I have been an AAC user for much longer than I’ve had a dedicated device. I use verbal speech about 50% of the time, and before AAC, it would just not go out or socialize during that 50%. After learning ASL and downloading some apps on my iPad, I communicated a lot more freely with the people close to me using AAC. Yet, in the several years I had AAC on my iPad, I used it only once or twice with strangers. I order online for food when I need to, I gesture, or I force words out (knowing that I’ll shut down much harder later. Starbucks mobile order is a godsend.

One of my reasons for getting a dedicated device though, was that the volume amplification allows me to actually be heard in public. So when I got it, I wanted to make an effort to use it in public, so that I didn’t become more afraid of it. With COVID-19, I don’t go out much to begin with, but I learned a lot in just a couple experiences.

First, I went to IKEA. IKEA is a hellish maze of furniture showrooms, plus a section near the end where boxed furniture is warehoused for you to grab for yourself. I had never been in an IKEA before, but my fiance(e) wanted a chest of drawers that would have cost more to ship than the item costs itself, and driving the hour and a half sounded doable in order to do something nice for my sweetheart.

 My first obstacle was figuring out where to go. The online listing gave me an “aisele” and “bin” number. I was confused though, because the aisle was 29, and the map of the store showed only 28 areas. I went to ask the sales person in the dressers section. It would be awkward to hold my device while holding my phone and cart. Here I learned:

The device isn’t always the right tool.

I showed the salesperson the listing on my phone, and they told me to look downstairs in the warehouse area. Apparently the sections of the store are numbers for shits and giggles, and the “aisles” are in the warehouse. At checkout, I tried to get my device ready for the question I heard being asked of everyone in front of me “cash or card” but it turns out that

having my hands full is more frequent of a state than I thought.

I flashed my card at cashier and got out with no words. Then, I went to buy lunch at the cafe area. I wanted meatballs. I successful used my device to say “Can I please have meatballs?”. The cashier leaned in with a quizzical expression. I turned up the volume. “Can I please have meatballs?”. The cashier laughs, “uh-oh, I can’t hear you”. I turn the volume louder. “Can I please have meatballs?”. There we go. I got my meatballs and I made a mental note:

Louder! No, really, louder!

A week or so later, I went to the laundromat. The laundromat is a loud, bright, smelly sensory mess. I had also never been to this laundromat, as we usually do laundry in our apartment building. I went to the laundromat because it didn’t require quarters, which are in short supply. At the laundromat, 

getting someone’s attention is the most difficult part.

I hopelessly try to intercept the person leaving the bathroom to get the bathroom key. My “excuse me” goes unheard, but she notices me moving and hands the key over. When I want to ask someone how long it takes for the dryers to dry, I physically walk around the counter to get in her line of sight before I ask “how long do the dryers take?”. She is confused and tells me they are 25 cents for 11 minutes, and you can do however long you want. That’s not what I meant–I meant ‘how powerful are the dryers?’, but that was my social confidence used up, so I just put a short dry time and figured I could add on as needed.

I stop at starbucks. I have ordered my drink ahead, but I don’t know if their bathrooms are open. They ask for my name at the counter, and as I fumble for the device, they say, “oh, no, I bet I have it here”, and read off the names for me.

People accommodate you faster than you can speak, it seems.

After I indicate my drink, I use the device to ask if the bathrooms are open. They say they’ll watch my drink for me, and I shoot off a “thank you” as I pick it up and leave. Success!

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