Back in 2007, Gippsland Regional Communication Service began working with Aqua Energy as part of the Inclusive Leisure Initiative.
(Inclusive Leisure was a state-wide project lead by Leadership Plus (previously Inclusive Leisure Victoria) and Aquatics & Recreation Victoria. It was funded by a “Participation in Community Sport and Active Recreation” grants from VicHealth.)
A successful partnership was established between Aqua Energy, Wellington Shire Council, GippSport, Gippsland Regional Communication Service and community members, which continues today.
Aqua Energy partners for Inclusion in 2018: Geordie Cutler (Aqua Energy Customer Service/Administration Leader), Mark Thorpe & Shane Young (Auditors), Jocelyn Collins (Regional Communication Service), Leanne Wishart (Rural Access)
What did we do?
Gippsland Regional Communication Service developed a Communication Kit with Aqua Energy. It included communication boards, and information sheets in Easy English.
There were different communication boards for different areas including the Reception/front counter, Café, Gym, Group fitness rooms and Pool. The range of communication boards ensured everyone has the vocabulary they need to communicate in all areas of the Centre.
Every month, an audit ensured all communication boards, information sheets, and equipment were maintained in the Centre. This audit was done by a person with a communication disability and an Aqua Energy staff member.
The Communication Access strategies seemed to be working. People said:
“All staff now chat and interact with my daughters. They always assist with our needs.” (Mother of a person with communication disability)
“All the staff at Aqua Energy are very friendly and helpful. I look forward to doing the auditing each month because I now have some great friends who work at Aqua Energy. The communication boards have made it more accessible for the public who have limited or no speech.” (Auditors)
“Through the making of the communication boards, the Aqua Energy staff and people with a disability developed relationships and understanding. It has developed confidence and broken down barriers.” (Support Worker)
Three years later
Three years after the partnership was initiated, the Regional Communication Service provided training and information sessions for management and staff at the Aqua Energy pool and gym. Communication boards were modified for new needs and some more boards and Easy English documents were produced.
The new Aqua Energy Communication Kit was launched in Sale on International Day of People with a Disability in December 2010.
Three months after, things had changed at Aqua Energy! Many staff did not know what the communication aids were for, or where to find them. Customers with communication disabilities were frustrated!
Aqua Energy is a busy leisure centre, open 7 days a week for long hours. It has many part time, casual and sessional staff.
There had to be a new strategy to ensure all staff knew about communication access. The Regional Communication Service and Auditors had to find a way to maintain a working relationship with staff and with management and to minimise the time required of them.
Sustainable Communication Access at Aqua Energy
The solution was to engage three customers with communication disabilities as independent Communication Auditors.
The Regional Communication Service trained the new Auditors. The Regional Communication Service and the Auditors worked together to develop and test an Easy English Communication Audit tool. Each Auditor, wearing a uniform, visited the Centre once a month. They reported their results to the Centre’s Manager.
Soon, Management and staff warmly welcomed and supported these Auditors. There was again strong staff awareness and commitment to communication access and Easy English documents. Communication aids were again available. Every month staff have opportunities to interact and learn from the communication Auditors.
Into the community
The Auditors were invited to join the Access and Wellington Shire Inclusion Advisory Group, and now advise Councillors and Council Officers about disability policy.
Auditors had several new work experience opportunities.
The Auditors were involved in community awareness training, talking to to staff and community groups about their roles.
The Auditors received awards and were recognised by Wellington Shire at a community celebration during Volunteers Week.
What’s happened so far in 2018?
Aqua Energy was awarded the Communication Access symbol several years ago and maintains its commitment.
Two Aqua Energy Auditors ceased auditing. A new Auditor was engaged.
The Regional Communication Service ran an education session for the new Auditor and his carer. Then the two Auditors completed an audit together. The remaining Auditor assumed a mentor and training role for the new Auditor.
Each Auditor visits on alternate months. Results are reported to Aqua Energy Management and at the Wellington Shire Access and Inclusion Advisory Group (as a standard agenda item). Auditors report the number of crosses (ie unsatisfactory) and the reason for them.
The Aqua Energy Manager is very committed. She takes “crosses” seriously and fixes the issues quickly. Sometimes Auditors can include what has been done to rectify the issue in their regular reports.
When the new Auditor started, the Regional Communication Service provided a communication access refresher (in power point), which was emailed to all staff. The Regional Communication Service also provides face to face training on staff request.
Aqua Energy management recognises the value of the Auditors’ work to its business. It now remunerates the Auditors through free membership, worth about $800 per year.
Into the Future
Aqua Energy has sets a high standard for communication access in Sale. Its commitment to community partnerships and to receiving and addressing feedback, means that it remains a business where everyone can communicate.