History of the National Joint Committee

National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities (NJC)

NJC logoIn 1984, the Council of Language, Speech, and Hearing Consultants in Sate Education Agencies initiated efforts to develop national guidelines for developing and implementing educational programs to meet the needs of children and youth with severe communication disabilities. These efforts culminated in a national symposium, Children and Youth with Severe Handicaps: Effective Communication, that was jointly sponsored by the US Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, (OSEP) and the Technical Assistance Development System (TADS) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This symposium was held in Washington, DC, August 19–21, 1985, and involved professionals from state and local education agencies and universities across the nation—most of whom were directly involved in developing or implementing communication intervention programs for children and youth with severe disabilities.

The product of this symposium (OSEP/TADS, 1985) consisted of 33 'consensus statements' that put forth assumptions and recommendations considered basic to the provisions and recommendations considered basic to the provision of adequate and appropriate services to meet the communication needs of children with severe disabilities. Some of these consensus statements reiterated philosophical and action statements in Public Law 94-142; others added texture and specifics to actions specified in the law.

The symposium participants recognized the need for interdisciplinary efforts in this overall service domain. One of the symposium recommendations was that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH) 'be asked to coordinate an interagency task force for the preparation an dissemination of statements setting forth the parameters of responsibility for the development and enhancement of functional communication behavior and severely handicapped children and youth." In 1986, then, ASHA and TASH organized the National Joint committee for the Communicative Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities (NJC) and issued invitations to other organization to appoint representatives to the committee.

The purpose of the NJC for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities is to advocate for individuals with significant communication support needs resulting from intellectual disability, that may coexist with autism, sensory and/or motor limitations.

The Committee consists of members from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), ASHA, Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP), Council for Exceptional Children/Division for Communication, Language, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing (CEC/DCD), TASH, and the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC). 

The interdisciplinary composition of this committee reflects the pervasive importance of communication in all spheres of human functioning and across traditional boundaries. The shared commitment to promoting effective communication by persons with severe disabilities thus provides a common ground on which the disciplines represented by the member organizations can unite in their efforts to improve the quality of life of such persons.

The joint committee took as its first task the amplification of the basic assumptions and recommendations reflected in the consensus statements issued by the OSEP/TADS 1985 symposium. The amplification took the form of guidelines for meeting the needs of persons with severe disabilities, including persons with severe to profound intellectual disabilities, autism, and other disorder that result in sever socio-communicative and cognitive communicative impairments. Indeed, the need for such guidelines is underscored by the fact that there are approximately 2 million Americans who are unable to speak or who demonstrate severe communication impairments, but there is a shortage of trained personnel to serve them. Few personnel preparation programs address the communication needs of persons with severe disabilities.

The guidelines arrived at by the NJC for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities is an attempt to further inform the members of the constituent associations about current philosophies, intervention practices and knowledge bases specific to the treatment of communicative impairments among persons with severe disabilities.

After a 1992 OSEP symposium on effective communication for children and youth with severe disabilities, the NJC recognized the need to translate its guideline into a functional tool—a communication supports checklist that programs could use to improve communication supports and services for people with severe disabilities.

Further References on the NJC

National Joint Committee for the Communicative Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities. (1992). Guidelines for Meeting the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities. Asha, 34 (March, Supp. 7), 1–8.

McCarthy, C., McLean, L.K., Miller, J.F., Paul-Brown, D., Romski, M.A., Rourk, J.D., & Yoder, D.E. (1998). Communication Supports Checklist for Programs Serving Individual with Severe Disabilities. Paul H. Brookes: Baltimore.

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