Everyone was ready around the table when Meg arrived just before 10.30. We waited for the others to leave and shut the door. We moved so we could see each other.
We talked about Communication.
We looked at a picture of two women talking – Communication is about understanding and getting your message across.
We talked about the different ways of communicating – We found 5 ways:
• Signing (“Sign of the week” was “boat” so we used that.)
• Choosing and pressing a button on the Tech Talk (a speech generating device)
We all had a go doing each one.
We know that not everyone speaks, but everyone communicates – and everyone has the right to communicate.
Meg left pictures and a folder for each of us. She left more information and the Tech Talker so Kharlie can practise with us until Meg comes again.
So ends a typical meeting of the Communication Access Group at Distinctive Options with the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service.
What is the Communication Access Group?
The Communication Access Group is a group of four young women in Bendigo.
The group started meeting in January, 2018. They are supported by Kharlie, a Communication Coordinator, trained by the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service [see the 21.6.18 blog]. Kharlie works at Community Connect, Distinctive Options. Meg is the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service speech pathologist who comes to the group each month.
How did the Communication Access Group happen?
Last year Distinctive Options partnered with the Regional Communication Service to join the local Communication Coordinators Network.
A Distinctive Options disability support worker was trained by Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service to be a Communication Coordinator. Communication Coordinators have advanced communication support skills.
The partnership between the Regional Communication Service and Distinctive Options enabled more collaboration to start a communication access group.
The Regional Communication Service developed accessible consent forms for participants and parents to sign.
The manager at Bendigo Distinctive Options sent forms to 7 people and their families.
Four people agreed to participate. Two of them also consented to being photographed.
At the end of 2017, Distinctive Options asked the Regional Communication Service to train all staff. The training was in January. It focussed on effective communication support so everyone can participate.
Then the Communication Coordinator went on maternity leave! Luckily, there was time for a new Communication Coordinator to train. The Regional Communication Service held another Communication Coordinator course at the start of 2018.
Staff rosters at both the Regional Communication Service and Distinctive Options meant that meetings had to be monthly. (Fortnightly would have been better.) The Communication Coordinator is there every week. She supports the group to review everything when the Regional Communication Service does not come.
What has happened so far?
January: We all met each other. The Regional Communication Service speech pathologist saw how well some people watched and listened, that some could read words, that one could sign very well, that most could understand speech most of the time, that some already knew about their right to do what everyone else can do. Everyone was keen to interact. Speech was not everyone’s most effective way to communicate, but that did not stop everyone communicating!
February: We talked about communication. (The February meeting was described at the start.)
March: We tried AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) – low and high tech. We looked at the wheelchair access symbol and found out what it meant.
Later, everyone looked out for the symbol.
May: We found that the Communication Access symbol and the wheelchair access symbol look different and show different kinds of access.
We looked at personal communication cards
June – Something extra:
The Regional Communication Service speech pathologist saw the Group was ready to use a communication board so they could prepare to have impact in the community. She looked at the research and consulted other speech pathologists at the Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre and chose the best items for the board. She made the boards using the [email protected]+ on the iPad.
Everyone needed to learn how to use the communication board, through modelling and practice.
The communication access meetings continued. But more meetings started (at a different time) so everyone could to learn to use the board. This time, the Regional Communication Service allied health assistant will come. For the first meeting, the Regional Communication Service speech pathologist and another Distinctive Options disability support worker came as well.
Eventually the communication board will have 40 pictures. Everyone got their own copy with 8 pictures to start with. The Regional Communication Service also gave the two Distinctive Options workers other resources, including a chart of the Key Word Signs (for words that will be on the communication board) and a training package about how to model AAC.
Group members are learning about communication access and rights together. The Communication Coordinator supports everyone to communicate in effective ways and in different places in the community. Everyone’s confidence and communication skills have grown. The group will work together for communication access in the community in the second half of 2018.