Interprofessionalism: A Call to Something Different

14 May 2018 — SpeakUp Editor

Today we are delighted to share a guest post by The National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities (NJC) on interprofessionalism. The NJC is a collaborative group of health and educational professionals from eight member organizations including USSAAC ( to learn about other member organizations). The NJC advocates for individuals with severe disabilities and generates and disseminates information about relevant research, policy, education and clinical practices. The NJC focuses on promoting access to effective communication, including the use of AAC, for people with severe disabilities.


Successful AAC use most often results from the integrated efforts of a team of invested partners. Historically, AAC providers have referred to their teams as multi-, inter- or transdisciplinary, denoting various levels of commitment, collaboration and shared outcomes. More recently, the term “interprofessionalism” is being used. Interprofessional means that educators and healthcare providers collaborate with people from within their own profession, with people outside their profession and with clients/patients and their families, in order to meet shared goals. In short, interprofessionalism involves a continuous interaction and knowledge sharing among professionals, optimizing the patient’s and family’s participation throughout the process.

Some say this requires a fundamental change (D’Amour & Oandasan, 2005, p.9), and you may wonder how interprofessional practices differ from the teaming approaches listed above. We believe interprofessionalism requires a strong underlying commitment to core principles. These include

  • ongoing communication,
  • a client and family focus,
  • community-care, and
  • relationship-centered care.

Given these core principles, the interprofessionalism of AAC teams cannot be assumed. Nevertheless, the NJC now advocates for these principles as the central force behind AAC team-based services. In fact, the the NJC recognizes teams that embody these principles through its honor, the McClean Yoder Award for Professional Excellence. Nominations for the 2018 are available through May 31, 2018. Criteria and application are available at

How do providers become committed to this concept? How can USSAAC advocate for and support the use of interprofessional practices with people who have complex communication needs (CCN)? We believe there are two paths, interprofessional education (IPE) and interprofessional collaborative practice (IPCP).

IPE is characterized as education that transcends traditional discipline-specific instruction. IPE focuses on learning alongside and from other professionals (Barr, Koppel, Reeves, Hammick, & Freeth, 2005). Many universities and colleges today employ IPE in their classrooms to encourage their students to function interprofessionally after graduation. IPE can mean co-constructed curricula and joint instructional opportunities. Imagine the potential benefits of IPE for AAC professionals—learning and studying side by side with occupational therapists, special educators, and students from other related disciplines, they would be far more “graduation ready” to meet the needs of children and adults with severe communication disabilities. Unfortunately, most training programs today continue to function in isolation, so the path to interprofessionalism is a challenging “baptism of fire” on the job.

One way to encourage interprofessionalism is for teams to commit to using an IPCP approach. With IPCP as an overarching goal, providers can devote themselves to using the core principles of interprofessionalism. For those pursuing this path, we recommend a special Clinical Focus issue of the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology dedicated to interprofessional teams and severe disabilities (Volume 26, 2017). Aside from self-study, teams pursing IPCP can seek professional mentors trained through IPE.

The complexities of care involved in meeting the diverse needs of persons with severe disabilities necessitates collaboration. The NJC believes IPE and IPCP can guide AAC team members and contribute to best practices and improved communication outcomes for people with severe disabilities.


Barr, H., Koppel, I., Reeves, S., Hammick, M., & Freeth, D. (2005). Effective interprofessional education:

Argument, assumption, and evidence. Oxford, England: Blackwell.

D’Amour, D., & Oandasan, I. (2005). Interprofessionality as the field of interprofessinal practice and

interprofessional education: An emerging concept. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 1, 8-20.

The NJC has no financial or non-financial disclosures associated with this blog entry.


Jill E Senner, PhD, CCC-SLP



Thank you for reading this blog post. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of USSAAC members and board members. No endorsement by USSAAC is implied regarding any device, manufacturer, resource or strategy mentioned. We would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts with a comment below or send a message through our contact page.

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