Supporting communication in the South West: A two day Communication Expo

People living in regional areas often miss out on supports or services available in metropolitan cities. It’s no different for people living with a communication disability and those who support them. The South West Regional Communication Service partnered with the Warrnambool City & Moyne Shire Council Rural Access Officers to bring a Communication Access and AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) Expo to the South West.

The Expo took place over two days in the lovely seaside town of Port Fairy. There were three separate sessions for different audiences: individuals with communication difficulties, their families and support workers; speech pathologists and other healthcare professionals; and staff from a number of South West Councils. Close to 60 people came along to the expo across the two days. A guest presenter, Alison Heppell, from Scope’s Non-Electronic Communication Aid Scheme (NECAS) and Kids Chat attended both days of the expo. Alison talked about the services provided by NECAS and Kids Chat for individuals with communication disabilities. She demonstrated a large number of non-electronic communication aids. After her presentations, everyone had the chance to try the aids out and ask Alison questions.

Exploring non electronic communication aids

Everyone was also able to learn about some of the electronic communication devices available to people with communication difficulties. Liberator (a company which makes communication devices) loaned us a number of devices for the expo. Everyone had fun trying out the different devices, programs and iPad apps, directly touching the buttons or screen) or by using alternative  access methods, such as switches and head pointing.

Staff from a number of local councils participated in communication access training to help them make their workplaces and offices more inclusive and welcoming for people with communication difficulties. They then took part in accessible information training and learnt how to produce documents and written information in a way which can be more easily understood by those who have difficulties reading.

Sonia speaking from experience

Speech pathologists, health care professionals and council staff also heard from a guest speaker with a disability, Sonia, about her experiences and the barriers to access she has encountered. Sonia, and her IT consultant, Justin, demonstrated a number of ways she maintains her independence at home and out in the community. She uses switches to control her iPad, lights, and electrical appliances in her house. Sonia showed everyone the computer program which enables her to type messages, surf the web and keep working as a tutor.

Feedback from the two days of the expo was extremely positive. Everyone said they learnt a lot of new information about communication difficulties, the different types of electronic and non-electronic communication aids and supports available to those with communication difficulties.

Charlotte – South West Regional Communication Service.