University of Northern Iowa Cancels Support of FC Conference

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Many reading this will be surprised to hear that the pseudoscientific practice of facilitated communication (FC) is still being taught at universities throughout the United States. FC, a technique used primarily on people with minimal spoken language abilities, requires a facilitator to support the person’s wrist, arm, shoulder, or other body part while typing out words on a keyboard. Reliable testing demonstrates that messages obtained using FC are authored by the facilitator and are not the words of the person with disabilities. While a select number of profoundly impaired individuals may start out needing close instruction by an educator, specialist, or caregiver in the initial stages of learning to use a communication device, evidence-based communication systems and technologies exist that allow those individuals to move toward independent functioning without long-term dependence on a facilitator.

Most major health and education organizations have policies against FC’s use, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and the American Psychological Association. In 2014, the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) stated that the use of FC appears to be in violation of several articles of the United Nations Convention Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And, in August 2018, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) renewed its position statement against the use of FC.

Despite this, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) held its fifth Midwest Summer Institute in June 2018, which featured keynote speakers claiming to be “Master Trainers” in FC (though no formal licensing is required for this title), two sessions on facilitated communication (an introduction and a “getting started”/hands on work session), typing to communicate (FC by another name), and discussions by people with disabilities accompanied by a facilitator typing messages. UNI offered one undergraduate or graduate credit to students for participating in the conference, overseen by the UNI Department of Teaching.

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