A systematic review of research on augmentative and alternative communication brain-computer interface systems for individuals with disabilities

Betts Peters, Brandon Eddy, Deirdre Galvin-McLaughlin, Gail Betz, Barry Oken, Melanie Fried-Oken

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Augmentative and alternative communication brain-computer interface (AAC-BCI) systems are intended to offer communication access to people with severe speech and physical impairment (SSPI) without requiring volitional movement. As the field moves toward clinical implementation of AAC-BCI systems, research involving participants with SSPI is essential. Research has demonstrated variability in AAC-BCI system performance across users, and mixed results for comparisons of performance for users with and without disabilities. The aims of this systematic review were to (1) describe study, system, and participant characteristics reported in BCI research, (2) summarize the communication task performance of participants with disabilities using AAC-BCI systems, and (3) explore any differences in performance for participants with and without disabilities. Electronic databases were searched in May, 2018, and March, 2021, identifying 6065 records, of which 73 met inclusion criteria. Non-experimental study designs were common and sample sizes were typically small, with approximately half of studies involving five or fewer participants with disabilities. There was considerable variability in participant characteristics, and in how those characteristics were reported. Over 60% of studies reported an average selection accuracy ≤70% for participants with disabilities in at least one tested condition. However, some studies excluded participants who did not reach a specific system performance criterion, and others did not state whether any participants were excluded based on performance. Twenty-nine studies included participants both with and without disabilities, but few reported statistical analyses comparing performance between the two groups. Results suggest that AAC-BCI systems show promise for supporting communication for people with SSPI, but they remain ineffective for some individuals. The lack of standards in reporting outcome measures makes it difficult to synthesize data across studies. Further research is needed to demonstrate efficacy of AAC-BCI systems for people who experience SSPI of varying etiologies and severity levels, and these individuals should be included in system design and testing. Consensus in terminology and consistent participant, protocol, and performance description will facilitate the exploration of user and system characteristics that positively or negatively affect AAC-BCI use, and support innovations that will make this technology more useful to a broader group of people. Clinical trial registration: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?ID=CRD42018095345, PROSPERO: CRD42018095345.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number952380
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jul 27 2022


  • augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
  • brain-computer interface (BCI)
  • dysarthria
  • locked-in syndrome (LIS)
  • systematic review
  • tetraplegia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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