By: Kathy Smith, MSPA, CCC-SLP/L (retired)
AAC Spotlight is a series of interviews that we hope will be another resource. Reading about other people who are interested in AAC (augmentative-alternative communication) can help us connect with each other and share experiences and concerns. NWACS will occasionally interview people to help all of us learn more about each other and AAC.
In the Spotlight: Carmel Caga-Anan, MS, CCC-SLP
Today, we bring you our interview with Carmel Caga-Anan, Speech-Language Pathologist at University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC). Carmel recently co-presented "AAC Across the Lifespan" at the WSLHA Spring Workshop with NWACS president Tanna and NWACS board member Casey. She has contributed some of her favorite resources here for us all to access.
Please tell us about your studies and job.
I started my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington (UW) majoring in linguistics. During that time, I discovered speech pathology so I obtained my postbaccalaureate and then Masters in Speech Pathology at UW. I currently work at UWMC, primarily in acute care and one day a week in outpatient. I have worked with people at all levels of medical care who have AAC needs. My outpatient focus is on serving the needs of people with ALS (PALS).
Funding of AAC devices can be challenging. How do your clients with ALS get funding for their AAC systems in a timely fashion?
I encourage people to have multiple means to communicate and explore all levels of AAC systems—from no tech to inexpensive low tech to complex systems. For low tech systems, I provide them printable templates or reproducible materials and instructions, we check with our local ALS Association (ALSA)—the Evergreen Chapter—for loans, and/or some PALS can purchase them. For more complex systems, we check if their insurance covers DME (durable medical equipment). Most of the people I see are on Medicare, which pays 80% of an approved device. I help and counsel families on obtaining funding for the remaining 20%. This can include using secondary insurance or exploring other resources/alternatives. Families can also work with the manufacturer’s funding consultants to devise a payment plan, if they opt for paying out of pocket. In addition, the ALSA Evergreen Chapter Loan Locker may have some equipment available as a loan.
What got you interested in working with adults who have acquired communication deficits?
I’m of a generation that grew up experimenting with technology. Also, my clinical fellowship was at the Seattle VA, where I had an opportunity to work with a variety of people and get some mentorship in AAC, among other things. I found AAC very interesting, challenging, frustrating, but rewarding.
What is your #1 tip for speech-language pathologists that are new in the area of AAC services?
Be transparent and honest with yourself and your clients about your knowledge of AAC systems. I may not know all the software and systems, because there are so many options and technology changes so quickly—every 3-6 months something new can become available. Remember what you know about language, and use that to help guide you on how to educate your clients into making choices that will be successful for them. If I can offer a #2 tip, what helped me personally was joining ASHA SIG 12 and posting myself out to the world that I’m new and want to meet people (virtually, remotely, locally, whatever)! It was a great way to start networking, and through that, I’ve met a lot of really great, supportive people and discovered other programs, associations, and things related to AAC and assistive technology.
What do you like to do when you are not a speech-language pathologist?
I’m local to the area, so I spend a lot of time with my friends and family. I like doing random activities that will result in laughter and good memories (even the bad ones that I can laugh about later). I like to knit. I enjoy being outdoors—and not in an athletic kind of way, like climbing Mt. Rainier. Rather, I like to go on walks, canoeing, floating on the river, go on hikes, check out a new town. I might even take some knitting with me or sip on some wine or beer while enjoying the great outdoors.
Thank you, Carmel, for taking a moment to participate in our AAC Spotlight series!
Comment: Carmel and I have lots in common. Years ago, I worked as an AAC specialist at UWMC and I love to knit and sip wine. Should NWACS start an AAC knitting group…anyone interested?
You can read our other posts in our AAC Spotlight series by clicking HERE.
Do you have a suggestion of someone you would like to see us interview for AAC Spotlight? Let us know in a comment below or send us an email.