Monthly Archives: July 2016

Training for Communication Coordinators and Facilitators in Southern Loddon Mallee

Support workers from Disability Services in Kyneton, Castlemaine, Echuca, Woodend, Gisborne, Rochester, Bendigo and Maryborough attended six days’ training with the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service in February-April 2016.

The training helps build the capacity of disability services across Southern Loddon Mallee to provide sustainable and effective communication support for adults with communication difficulties.

Participants learnt how to develop and champion communication support within their services, between services and in the community for active inclusion of people without speech.

Topics included:

  • Communication support needs – the individual and the environment
  • Communication aids and strategies
  • Key Word Sign
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Communication for life participation (including for positive behaviour support)

The Sensory Processing Disorders day was at a local conference centre and the entire regional communication coordinators and facilitator network was invited. Mandy Williams from CIRC was our very knowledgeable presenter. We were also grateful to Bendigo Health, the Regional Communication Service’s auspice body, for funding the venue and lunch.

Mandy Training for CC

Mandy Williams from Scope’s Communication and Inclusion resource centre presenting at the Sensory Processing Disorder day

Evaluations at the end of each training day were extremely positive. Participants also completed a survey several months after the course concluded. They reported that the course gave them more knowledge and confidence to use communication tools and to promote a positive communication environment in their services.

One new Communication Coordinator said:

“Staff engagement has been an issue at my service for a number of years, one reason for this I feel has been that we have not had “one” person heading this area. Since completing the training, and also having the Regional Communication Service Speech Pathologist hold a training session with all our staff, this area has improved somewhat. There are now staff members who are wanting to try different ideas and who are willing to listen to advice.”…

Due to the large number of clients we have and the limited time available for communication. I have been working on things that may benefit a number of clients. So far we created a daily timetable for clients which shows pictures of which staff they have in their program and the program picture matches the picture on their timetables at home. … We have also created a couple of choice boards, we are using these so clients can pick what it is they would like at the i.e. café before leaving then we are using the same picture in smaller size as a request card.”

The six day course is offered twice annually by SLMRCS.

By Meg Irwin

Speech Pathologist – Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service


She understands everything I say…

How many times have we heard this said about people with severe disabilities? As a speech pathologist I often think about how I know if someone understands what I am saying to them and what I need to do if I think they do not.

Why does it matter?

Everyone deserves to be understood and their wishes respected regardless of their ability level. But, how do we really respect someone’s wishes if we do not understand their communication skills and limitations. It is important to remember that not everyone understands speech. I know this can be hard to accept – particularly when the person you are talking to is an adult. But, the reality is, some people with severe disabilities find that understanding speech alone is just too hard. That does not mean we stop talking to people but it does mean being aware of how many other cues we might be using that allows someone to get the gist of what we are saying to them.

car keys

Holding up car keys as a signal to go home is an example of how messages can be understood without the need for speech.

Apparently only 35% of our speech is understood through words alone. Gestures, facial expression, body language, use of pictures and objects actually make up the rest. We know this from our own life experience. How many of us have been to a noisy bar and a friend has motioned a drink gesture and we have nodded in agreement. Or, held up the keys to the car and got the attention of our partner across a crowded room as a signal to go home. The message has been understood without the need for speech.

I have often been in situations where I have questioned whether the person with a severe communication disability has actually understood what has been said to them. A recent example was when I watched an interaction at the end of a meal. The support worker asked the person to take their plate to the sink. They pointed to the plate and then to the sink. Then they beckoned to the person and touched the back of the chair and asked the person if they would like tea, coffee or milo. This time, they got out the teabags, the jar of coffee and the tin of milo. Then, they signed the word spoon and got a spoon out of the drawer and pointed to the fridge and said “Can you get the milk?” Afterwards, the support worker said “See, she understands everything I say.”
I did not think the person understood everything that was said. But, what I saw was a successful interaction based on the use of speech and other cues.

There were a number of cues that helped that situation:

1)         Routine – at the end of a meal we generally take our dirty dishes to the sink

2)         “Do what you usually do in a situation” e.g. sit on the chair that is indicated

3)         Use objects that relate to the activity

4)        Use natural gesture or sign (where the sign visually relates to the concept or object talked about)

5)         Accompany use of objects and gesture with speech. People respond to tone of voice even if they do not understand speech alone

6)         (Do what others do in the same situation – even if you are not sure, following the crowd works more often than not).

I did not see the last cue but I was told that this person will often get their bag and go to the door when they see their peers head off in that direction.

A number of informal and one formal strategy i.e. the use of the Auslan sign “spoon” were used in that brief exchange. And more could have been done in that situation but it would have meant more planning and effort by the more able communication partner.

The options available to help understanding involve either unaided e.g. use of sign and gesture or aided e.g. use of pictures or photos strategies.

Using Key Word Sign (unaided communication) – Using simple sign and gesture with people who have difficulty understanding helps them understand the spoken word by relying on the visual cue of the sign. Teaching and learning simple signs has now been made much easier with the release of the Key Word Sign Australia App. This has access to over 600 line drawings and can be used to create individualised communication resources. It is also possible to attend Key Word Sign workshops to learn basic signing skills. Visit the Key Word Sign Victoria website for details.

Using objects and communication aids (aided communication) – If remembering manual signs is difficult, you could use pictures or objects. Scope’s Non-electronic Communication Aid Service develops communication aids, completely individualised to your needs.  (NECAS - or get the Tools2Talk+ App ( ) and do it yourself.

The person may not understand everything you say but there are many things you can do to make comprehension easier.

By Karen Bloomberg & Hilary Johnson


Easy English Training launched in the West Loddon Mallee

1On the 18th of March this year, the West Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service launched its first localised Easy English training module in Swan Hill. This was followed by another short session where participants could bring their practise documents to share with each other and problem solve together.

Due to the success of our first training session and high public interest, we held a second training session in Mildura on 20th May.

Participants of both sessions came from a wide variety of community organisations including the Local Councils, Private Health clinics, Community Legal Services, Community Support Services, Early Learning Centres, and more.

All reports from attendees were very positive. Participants reported gaining more awareness of the literacy skills of the general community and reported that the statistics were an “eye-opener.” Some also felt they gained an awareness of the fact that how their documents are currently written are “often not fit for the audience”, and that they need to make sure the message that is delivered is actually received.

The groups reported finding the training well balanced, and described it as an “enjoyable, interactive and practical workshop.” Some felt they had gained a skill that will help them to “better engage their clients”.

By the end of the session, some had set high goals for themselves when asked if there was anything they intend to do differently when they return to work as a result of the workshop:

“Re-designing Service Brochure within 2 months”.

“Update Client Services Handbook by June 30 2016”.

Very soon after the first training session in Swan Hill, Sharon and I received great examples of Easy English documents that attendees were working on and requests for pictures to add meaning to their documents. It’s very rewarding to know that the training has made a difference to how the participants intend to communicate with their audiences from now on.

The fact that our community is so willing to take on advice of a different way to convey their messages to the public, a format which looks so different to any they have used in the past, is very encouraging to us as Regional Communication Service practitioners.

Some participants even expressed interest in attending the Communication Inclusion Resource Centre’s two day intensive Easy English Writing Course. It’s reassuring, to know our community is so willing and committed to engaging our members who require accessible information in order to fully participate, and gives us proof of our continually developing “communication friendly” community.

Emma Douglass & Sharon Champion

WLC RCS Speech Pathologists