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My last two blog postings (June 25, 2016: “Seeing is Believing;” July 1, 2016: “Becoming America’s Next Top Modeler”) have told the story of Velma, a caregiver at an adult residential program. One day, Velma was exploring the Unity144 vocabulary in the Eco2 and she discovered words for female body parts.  I wasn’t present for this revelation, but apparently it was surprising enough to find these words in a male client’s device that it warranted mentioning it to a supervisor who then mentioned it to a program coordinator, who then saw fit to send me an email asking, “Do you know how those words got in his device?”  The example word in the email was “vagina.”

I took a deep breath and imagined the possible scenarios that happened. Were they shocked at hearing the word “vagina?” Were they concerned that the male client was adding the words himself, suggesting a level of sexuality that wasn’t expected or condoned? Did they think someone else, besides the client, the family, or me was adding vocabulary to the device?   Did they want me to delete the words from the device?

This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten an email or phone message from someone “concerned” about vocabulary in an AAC device – whether those words were sexually-charged body parts or vulgarities.   I couldn’t ignore the email, but with issues like this, it is better to be simple in an email or voicemail response, and save any further explanations until you can meet with the person face-to-face.  So, I explained that those words were part of the standard Unity144 vocabulary program (so no one else put those words in there). And, like all human beings, the male client should have access to these words, but also show the responsibility to use them appropriately and respectfully. The only condition to which I would consider deleting the words was if the client requested to have them removed.

The program coordinator’s email response was re-assuring.  No one was offended or shocked; and they all completely agreed that the words needed to stay in the device – at least until I conferred with the client.  We all agree that, “yes, he could say vagina if he wanted to.”

Someday, if you haven’t already, you’ll get that email or phone call too. The best advice I can give you is: don’t be shocked; “vagina happens.”

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