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The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research awarded researchers Karen Erickson (UNC), Lori Geist (UNC), and Jeff Higginbotham (University at Buffalo) funding to the improve expressive communication of individuals with complex communication needs.

The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) has awarded $2.5-million across five years for Project Open to Karen Erickson (PI) and Lori Geist (co-PI) of the Center for Literacy & Disability Studies, Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Jeff Higginbotham (co-PI) of the Communication and Assistive Device Laboratory, Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, University at Buffalo.

Project Open will have three primary tracks: research, development and dissemination. All aspects of the project are focused on improving expressive communication during in-person conversation and interaction for individuals with complex communication needs (CCN) who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The target populations include older youth and adults with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cerebral palsy, and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The research track will focus on creating a comprehensive catalog of: (a) the problems individuals with CCN and a range of etiologies experience using AAC to replace or support speech and other modes of communication; and (b) the strategies individuals with CCN and their communication partners employ to address problems and support successful in-person interactions.

The development track of Project Open, conducted in partnership with Drs. Mohit Bansal and Gary Bishop of the Department of Computer Science at UNC Chapel Hill, will result in an open-source, web-based, AAC research and development platform. This open-source programmer interface will be used during the project to design and implement focused user interfaces and test cases for field testing and continued research and development. The interface will be made available for individuals and manufacturers to modify and use the code for their own purposes.

The dissemination track of Project Open will feature a project website and regular face-to-face and online meetings with the inclusive open-source research and development community.

Look for project updates and a link to the future project site at