Compass Specialised AAC Service information

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a term used to describe devices or systems that help people to communicate if they have difficulty speaking.

Compass – what we do

Compass is the Specialised AAC Service for West London. We assess and provide Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). These are other methods of communicating that can be used alongside, or instead of, talking. We will make recommendations based on your needs and provide support to help you achieve these.

Our service is for adults (16 years and over) who have difficulty communicating using speech and who may also have physical difficulties which impact further on their ability to communicate. You can find out more about whether you are eligible for our service in the NHSE AAC service specification.

As a summary of the criteria, to be eligible for NHS England Specialised AAC Services, a person must:

  • be resident in England
  • be registered with a GP practice in England
  • have a severe/complex communication difficulty associated with a range of physical, cognitive, learning, or sensory deficits
  • have a clear discrepancy between their level of understanding and their ability to speak
  • be able to understand the purpose of a communication aid
  • have developed beyond cause and effect understanding

They may:

  • have experience of using low tech AAC that is inadequate for their needs

A person must not:

  • have pre-verbal communication skills
  • lack understanding of cause and effect
  • have impaired cognitive abilities that would prevent them from retaining information on how to use equipment

Priority is given to people:

  • with a rapidly degenerative condition, eg MND
  • with communication aid equipment that has ceased to be functional, or is unreliable and does not meet their communication needs
  • facing a transition to a new sector (eg school, college, workplace) or currently in rehabilitation provision
  • at risk of developing significant psychological problems or challenging behaviour as a consequence of their inability to communicate without a communication aid


What does Augmentative and Alternative Communication mean?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a term used to describe devices or systems that help people to communicate if they have difficulty speaking. This could be through electronic means, such as computers which provide a synthesised voice, or non-electronic means such as communication books, alphabet charts and other low-tech solutions. AAC can be a way to help someone’s understanding, as well as a means of expression.

There are many ways to operate a communication device. These range from finger-typing and pressing specialist switches, to using the head to control a mouse – or even using eyes through an eye gaze system.


What to expect at a Compass assessment

We usually come to see you in your home, school/college or day centre, as this helps us see what your communication needs are where you spend most of your time. However, if you prefer, you can come to see us at the RHN. This will be arranged with the healthcare professional who referred you to us. At an initial assessment, we will:

  • discuss the difficulties you are experiencing and what you would like help with
  • explore different ways of communicating and try different techniques and equipment
  • look at different methods to help you access and use the equipment
  • agree goals with you


Next steps following the assessment

You may need to trial a communication aid to establish whether it works for you. When the best solution for you has been identified and agreed upon, the equipment will be set up for you to use.

We will support your local therapists to help you use the communication aid and then decide if this is a good long term solution for you. If the equipment hasn’t worked for you, we will review and try some other options. If the communication aid has helped you then we will provide the equipment under the NHS England Specialised Commissioning AAC contract.

You will then receive ongoing maintenance and support for your device and you can contact us if there are any problems. We may log in to your computer or device remotely and attempt to fix the issue over the phone. If we are unable to resolve the issue, we may need to collect the equipment and send it away for repair. If you are dependent on your device for communication, we will do everything we can to provide a loan device, until your system is working again.

If you do not meet the criteria for our Specialised AAC Service, you may still be able to get some help with your communication from your local speech and language therapy service. Please contact your GP for a referral to this service.


If you would like to talk to someone about whether you meet the referral criteria, please contact Compass: – please be aware this is not a secure e-mail address

020 8780 4500 ext 5965 (please leave a message and someone will get back to you)


Find out more about Compass and other services at the RHN.