Erna Alant earned both her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1977 and 1978, respectively. She earned her Ph.D. in the field of speech-language pathology from the University of Pretoria in 1984. She began her teaching career at the Indiana University (IU) School of Education in 2009 as a professor of curriculum and Otting Chair in Special Education. She became an adjunct professor of speech and hearing sciences in 2009. She retired from IU in 2018 with the title Professor Emeritus of Curriculum and Instruction.
Prior to joining the IU faculty, she joined the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1978 from where she moved to Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal to work in the school context. In 1984, she was appointed at the University of Pretoria as a clinical tutor, lecturer, and later a professor in Communication Pathology.
In 1990, she founded the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) which is a unique graduate training and research facility in Africa. In 1995, the CAAC received the Education Africa Presidential Award from Nelson Mandela for its work in South Africa. Professor Alant also received the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 1998 for the project "Communication for Life". Since then, the CAAC has received numerous national and international awards in recognition of its impact on the African continent and beyond.
Alant's research endeavors over the past 18 years have focused largely on the development of relevant communication systems for people who have no or little speech within poverty contexts. One of the outcomes of this research was a book titled AAC and Severe Disability: Beyond Poverty published by Whurr Publishers in 2005. This book was the first book that focused on poverty and AAC intervention internationally.
In 2008, she received an award from the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in recognition of her international contribution to the field. She served as the president of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (2009-2010) and was an associate editor for the journal of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).