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Community request cards are small, portable cards that can be used in one’s community to access goods and services. 

Download: Community Request Cards

Special Thanks to Kelly Maher and Marie Safi

Background: Community request cards are small, portable cards that are used to access goods and services in one’s community.  Each card typically consists of a simple request paired with a corresponding image.  They are intended to help individuals with complex communication needs to be more independent.

Population: Individuals of all ages with communication disorders or cognitive difficulties.  

  • Independent use of community request cards requires ability to learn simple routine of presenting card in exchange for items
  • Individuals who require greater support can use cards with verbal or hand-over-hand assistance

Description: Community request cards can be used for a variety of interactions, including: making a simple purchase, using public transportation, participating in community activities, or asking for assistance.

How to make community request cards:

  1. Choose an activity that can be navigated with relatively simple language (e.g. Take the M60 bus from school to home.)
  2. Determine the messages the individual needs to communicate to complete this activity with greater independence.
  3. Write or type the requests on small cards using concrete, concise language.
    • This will make interactions simple and efficient.
  4. Draw or include a picture which illustrates the request.
    • Adding an image supports understanding by both the user and the vendor or community worker.

Examples:

Making a purchase: Hello. I would like to purchase a hamburger and soda. There is a $10 bill in my pocketbook. Please take it and give me back the change and receipt. Thank you.

Using public transportation: Hello. I would like to add $20 to my MTA Metrocard. Please take my $20 and give me back my Metrocard and receipt. Thank you.

Participating in community activities: Hi, two tickets for the 12:00 showing of Muppets Most Wanted, please. Here is $25, please give me back the change, tickets, and receipt. Thank you.

Asking for help: Hi I need help, could you please call (212) 555-1234 and tell them where I am? They will pick me up.

Additional notes:

  • Laminate the cards for repeated use.  
  • Multiple cards can be strung together.
  • Consider ways to facilitate transaction using cards.

How to introduce community request cards:

  1. Start with an activity that has a quick, tangible result (e.g. buying a cup of coffee).
  2. Practice exchanging the card for the desired item, either through role play or in a real situation.
  3. Clinician or support worker should accompany individual to the location where the request typically takes place and model handing over the request card.
  4. Hand-over-hand support can be provided if necessary, with gradual reduction of support over time.
  5. Additional modifications can be made as needed, depending on the user’s communicative level (see below).
Unintentional level

Benefit from interacting with people in the community

Support person can provide hand-over-hand assistance with presenting card

Intentional informal level

Object or object symbol can be attached to the card

Co-active assistance and modeling can be provided

Symbolic (basic) level

Can use specific cards with a photograph, logo or line drawing for preferred activities

Co-active assistance and modeling can be provided

Symbolic (established) level

Use multiple cards for range of community activities

May need initial support in learning to use cards

Cost: Minimal cost for materials (paper, ink/markers, laminating)  

Strengths:

  • Simple and inexpensive to make
  • Portable and easy to use
  • No formal training required
  • Suitable for individuals at a variety of ages and communicative levels
  • Support greater independence and community participation

Weaknesses: 

  • Function is limited to simple transactions
  • No flexibility—cards are static
  • Issues with community support and perceptions

Empirical Evidence:

The Department of Human Services in Victoria, Australia, funded a survey study of users of non-electronic communication aids, including community request cards (West et al., 2012).  Users and support workers who were interviewed generally reported:

  • reduction of frustration
  • increase in independence
  • increased engagement with people or ability to develop relationships

The Teachers College, Columbia University Program in Speech-Language Pathology has implemented a form of community request cards in an annual international trip to Ghana.

  • Ghanaian families reported that one of the primary chores for children is fetching food from the local market.  
  • The AAC Market cards included a hand-drawn picture of the desired food item, along with the written name and a quantity.  They could be given to the market vendors to request items to purchase.
  • This approach has been highly successful in the communities where it is used, and has been well-received by both families and market vendors.

Find other Contemporary Approaches to Intervention here!

Sources:

West, D., Johnson, H., Lyon, K., Iacono, T., & Trembath, D. Communication Resource Centre, Scope. (2012). Outcomes of the non-electronic communication aids scheme (NECAS) for adults with communication difficulties (Final Report)

Scope. (2010). Non-Electronic Communication Aid Scheme, Communication Resource Centre. Community Request Cards. Retrieved March 20, 2014

Price, E. (2014).  Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Approaches [Brochure]. Sunyani, Ghana: Program in Speech Language Pathology, Teachers College, Columbia University.

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