Monthly Archives: November 2016

Value our volunteers: equipping them with the tools to engage people in local communities

As a student Speech Pathologist one of the many aspects of my placement with the eastern regional communication access network was to present at training workshops for community volunteers. The first training session was for community volunteers in the south-eastern region and the second training session was for community visitors who visit people with disabilities in residential housing and advocate for their needs if they can’t speak up for themselves.

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Key Word Sign training

The first training session involved volunteers from varying cultures and backgrounds. Some volunteers were working with people with disabilities on a regular basis and wanting to learn more strategies to improve effective communication. The others in the training worked with a range of people from those with mental health issues to people who were socially isolated. The content of the training included practical strategies for improved communication with people with communication difficulties, an explanation and discussion of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and an introduction to the communication access symbol and what it represents.

Many people were also very interested in key word sign and what it is and learnt some helpful signs too! The volunteers were shown different AAC devices including low tech, paper based devices as well as some electronic AAC devices. There was a lot of interest surrounding the different devices and what were the possibilities with someone using these devices.

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Listening to Those Rarely Heard is a training package designed to guide supporters of people with severe to profound disability through the supported decision-making process.

The second training was for community advocates who were eager and enthusiastic to be given the training opportunity and therefore keen to learn new information. All of the advocates visit people with disabilities in their homes regularly. Many are individuals with severe intellectual disabilities where determining their preferences and concerns is very difficult. The presentation included an overview of communication, an introduction to supported decision making (Watson, 2013) and introduction to the concept of “Talking Mats” (Joan Murphy) as a potential tool for people who would benefit from structured conversation.

This group had indicated they would like to use a tool to gauge an individual’s situation and concerns so they could be better at advocating for the person. They were interested in how structured conversation may be a way of discussing meaningful topics that may require advocacy (e.g. living  arrangements, diet, activities).

These volunteers had an impressive understanding of how their client’s communicate and explained how they were able to differentiate between subtle differences in vocalisations, facial expressions or body language. The training was very well received and they were keen on doing further training particularly in applying Talking Mats to specific clients who may be able to use it and benefit from more detailed discussion around how they wanted their life to be.

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Talking Mats in action

All the volunteers responded with positive feedback and were very happy to have upskilled their abilities. It was very encouraging to know that there are very competent people willing to volunteer their time and who are eager and willing to be a part of change for individuals and their communities.

By Bethany Simons                               Supervised by Bron Jones
Student Speech Pathologist                Eastern Regional Communication Access Network

Watson, J. (2013). Listening to those rarely heard: Supported decision making in this brave new world of individualised services. Paper presented at the 11th Biennial AGOSCI conference, Sydney, Australia.