Author Archives: crcscope

North West Communication Coordinator Network

The NW Communication Coordinator Network has launched into another year – its seventh year of operation! Over that time, 17 adult disability Day Services from across the North West metropolitan region of Melbourne have participated thus far. We congratulate and thank those day services for their demonstrated commitment to enhancing participation of people with complex communication needs.
On average we have around 10 – 12 day services participating each year, which typically covers around 800-900 clients!

North West Communication Coordinator NetworkThe Communication Coordinator Network is a capacity building initiative for day services to embed a whole of service approach to providing inclusive communication environments for people with complex communication needs. The NW Regional Communication Service ( NW RCS) Speech Pathologists support and mentor the Communication Coordinators, who in turn become the on the ground agent of change in developing a ‘culture of good communication practice’ in their respective Day Services.
Places in the Network are limited based on the capacity of the part time funded Speech Pathology positions and so only a couple of new services each year have the opportunity to join.

This year we welcome Plenty Valley Disability Services and Scope Northern Districts to the Network. We look forward to continuing to work with
– Araluen , ACES Nth – St John of God, ACES West- St. John of God, IDV, Autism Plus, Distinctive Options and Milparinka Communication Coordinators
– Have a mandatory day off line each week to devote to the role
– Attend initial intensive training in communication, leadership and change management – our newest Coordinators have just completed this this week!
– Attend monthly Network meetings for resource sharing and
PD facilitated by the Speech Pathologists
– Develop a Service Communication Plan – to highlight goals of the service to work on
– Receive ongoing mentoring and site visits from the Speech Pathologists for support
– Coordinate service wide quality improvements in provision of inclusive communication environments

feb 15 011

We’ve seen innumerable benefits and outcomes embedded into the way
communication is supported within participating day services including
– Shifts in staff attitudes and approaches to supporting
communication and participation throughout someone’s day
– Large numbers of new communication aids developed and used
– Increased independence of people when provided with the right communication tools for the environments they engage in
– Reductions in incidents and behaviours of concern reported
– Policies and procedures developed to support communication initiatives and communication being recognised by Boards as a key ‘ strategic direction’
With the impending introduction of the NDIS, consideration of how to monitor appropriate standards of service provision to people with disabilities will be even more paramount.
NW RCS is currently developing a draft document for its Network regarding ‘Communication Standards for Disability Day Services’ which in addition to supporting participating day services with actions to undertake, we hope will ultimately provide a means to provide recognition to those day service working ‘in partnership’ with our service to provide best practice support to individuals with complex communication needs.

New Picture (2) New Picture

By Kym Torresi

Teaching speech pathology students – never enough time!

Melbourne University

Latrobe University



Part of my job role is to lecture speech pathology students about multi-modal communication. I share this role with Hilary Johnson. We have the position of adjunct lecturers at both Melbourne University and Latrobe University.

The School of Human Communication Sciences at Latrobe University uses a Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach to teaching. Latrobe offers an under-graduate program in speech pathology but also has an option for a master’s entry level. Students’ learning involves problem-based scenarios that cover assessment and intervention issues. There are a series of case studies that highlight key aspects of multi-modal communication. For instance, one scenario is about a young child with cerebral palsy who uses a PODD communication book and needs to update her access to technology. Another is about a woman with motor neurone disease who is realising the need to use another form of communication to compensate for her deteriorating speech. There is a case study about a young adult transitioning from school to adult services. And there is also a seminar topic on the assessment of severe intellectual disability and a young man with Down Syndrome.

Melbourne University offers a Masters in Speech Pathology and students enter with an undergraduate degree often in a related area. Teaching at Melbourne has a more traditional lecture format. Students receive a series of lectures in multi-modal communication based on Dowdens’ model of communication. This includes information on emergent communicators – where their level of communication ability has not yet been determined; context- dependent communicators – reliant on communication partners for successful interactions and independent communicators – where speed of communication may be the biggest barrier.

Both universities provide skills classes in aided and unaided communication. Students get the opportunity to learn Key Word Sign and to get a “hands on” session with electronic and non-electronic communication devices.

We aim to give students a taste of multi-modal communication. We want them to understand that AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) is a viable option and not a last resort for people who have complex communication needs. There is never enough time to cover all that a new speech pathologist needs to know. But hopefully, the students see the important role speech pathologists have in the area of complex communication needs and that if nothing else, they know where to find and who to ask information.

By Karen Bloomberg.

Silence in the mall

Mildura residents came to experience some of the challenges faced by those who can’t use  speech to communicate. A silent morning tea was held in Langtree Mall to promote communication and give the public a chance to use alternative forms of communication.

Many got involved in the various games, including silent bingo and themed activities on the tables that introduced different forms of AAC. Hand gestures, writing, communication boards, pictures and even moulding of play dough was used to try to get their message across, some more successful than others!

Silent morning tea entertainment


It was great to see the local Parkinson’s and Stroke Support Groups, as well as members from the Christie Centre and other community organisations and even those that were just having a stroll through the mall and decided to join in.



A stand out of the morning was a performance by the Sunny Street Singers, a choir from the Christie Centre. The choir is made up of 5 talented young women who have performed at many events around Mildura. They performed original songs with accompanying key word signs and received a great big silent applause for their outstanding effort.

The Silent Morning Tea received TV and Newspaper coverage, which aimed to increase the awareness of complex communication needs in Mildura. Many that attended made statements such as “it made me realise how difficult it is not to use speech to communicate” and “I didn’t know about people that have trouble talking”. Overall it was a great morning that was enjoyed by all and sent home a strong message about communication in the community.

By Danielle Bryan

Supporting technology development within Grampians

On the 24th of November, Grampians Regional Communication Service was invited to attend the Ballarat Digital Hub Adaptive Technology and Apps Event at Central Highlands Library. This was a new initiative which saw providers from Vision Australia, Hearing Australia, Yooralla, SCOPE, Quantum and Pinarc Disability Support come together with trade displays and be available for individual consultations or information sessions.

Pinarc expo standGrampians RCS took up this fantastic opportunity to promote the use of both high and low technology for people with complex communication needs. It further allowed us to network with other agencies from not only around the region but also state and nationwide. On the day Grampians RCS was able to showcase various examples of communication apps for the iPad including speech generating apps, choice making apps, and scheduling and timetabling apps.


We also had many people interested in the recently released Tools 2 Talk app to assist them in generating visual supports. It was great to see many family members of people with communication difficulties attending to explore the wide range of apps available.

The central highlands library staff rated this expo as being successful and reported they would like for it to be established as an annual event in the future. Grampians RCS are currently in talks with the library about how they can further support the use of technology for people with communication difficulties including technology being freely available in the library with particular apps for the community to trial.

By Megan Nestor

Carl’s story

Carl using his lightwriter

Carl using his lightwriter

Carl is a very intelligent, inspiring gentleman who lives in Tatura. He has not been able to talk for some years now as the result of a brain injury. Carl’s Lightwriter is his voice – a small, typewriter like device that converts text into speech. We were fortunate to meet Carl through Cuppa and Conversation, a group for people living with communication disability held in Shepparton.

Carl very kindly spoke with us about the advantages and disadvantages of living in a small community, his “love/hate” relationship with his Lightwriter, and the challenges of living with a communication disability.


“I guess most of the benefits of being in a small community surround the fact that most of the locals know my story, so they are aware of my disability and that helps with their patience in conversing with me and so on. Some of the disadvantages are the lack of anonymity in that people have certain expectations that may not always be good ones. One of the biggest barriers to access to services that I experience is the difficulty the person on the other end of the phone has when I make phone calls. Even though I might pretype out what I want to say they just don’t have the patience that is required for me to type out an answer to a question etc. Patience is the greatest skill that someone without a communication difficulty needs to have when communicating with someone who uses AAC.”

“The most challenging part after the accident was the inability to talk because it is so isolating. For example, even my closest friends post-accident have basically deserted me because I’m not much fun to be around. The Lightwriter is an essential piece of kit for me. It is my voice. I have a real love/hate relationship with it. Love because it provides me with a voice and a way to express myself to the outside world but hate because I have to type out everything that I want to say and that takes time; so I find that conversation gets pared back to very basic and direct forms and it doesn’t flow like it should. As well, it is not good in group situations because the natural speakers conversations tend to leave you behind. It’s just a fact that we don’t realise how fast our speech is; even if I was an A grade Typist, which you can see that I’m definitely not, I don’t think this problem would be eliminated.”

By Karen Oswald

My experience as a speech pathologist

My name is Zarah Lont, I am currently based in Warragul and have begun working in Regional Communication Service in June 2014. I am a new grad Speech Pathologist, finishing my studies at Charles Sturt University in 2013.

So far being part of the Communication Access Network has been an eye opening experience. I am finding the work of CAN highly rewarding. At university, the focus of studies was individual therapies. Being exposed to CAN while on a fourth year placement and now working in the position has given me a an appreciation of the range of supports and education that is in the role of a speech pathologist.

In the few months that I have been in the RCS position, I have made wonderful friendships and connections. The Gippsland RCS team including Bernie, Mel and I can’t forget Chris have been so supportive in helping me settle in.


As a team we recently delivered an Accessible Written Information Workshop, which was highly successful. This was a great introduction for me about delivering training using a community capacity building approach.

I have been involved in supporting a number of individuals and the people that support them. I’m discovering the amazing variety of communication resources around, and finding it rewarding being able to share these to enhance participation for individuals.

Overall I am very excited and enthusiastic about continuing to work as part of CAN. The short journey so far has been wonderful and I can’t wait to continue to develop my skills into the future. I know my work so far is only a small aspect of the role, so I am anticipating that as I discover more, I will only grow into the role even more. I am hugely grateful from the overall support I have received within CAN, it really is a fantastic network to be part of.

By Zarah Lont

Small things make a big difference

I recently met Wayne again after almost 20 years. We used to work together. He was in supported employment and I was the “Speechie” there. Wayne is deaf and was a fluent sign user, mostly relying on fingerspelling. He also used a speech generating communicator called a Lightwriter which was great for people who didn’t fingerspell. He was very social and lots of fun. He had a great sense of humour. Last I heard he was living in the community, travelling independently and still working. I met him recently at a meeting. The first thing he signed to me was that he was married! He was so happy, his grin said it all. His wife Cathy is also profoundly deaf and they live in a nursing home as Cathy uses a wheelchair and needs daily physical support.

Wayne and wife Cathy with his alphabet board
Wayne and wife Cathy

I had trouble “reading” Wayne’s fingerspelling as he now has crippling arthritis. He no longer had his Lightwriter. Over the years, his communication had gradually reduced to the point where only Cathy could read his signing and communication was very slow. I thought of all the instances during Wayne’s day when he would not be able to interact with people; travelling on the bus, talking to co-workers, buying a pie, celebrating success of his beloved Hawks, chatting over lunch with friends, talking to his sister, socialising at home with nursing staff and housemates.


When Cathy wasn’t around he couldn’t communicate. Wayne’s communication access to his world had narrowed right down. He couldn’t talk to people and they couldn’t talk to him. This gradual loss of communication had happened over such a long period that people didn’t think there was anything that could be done.

After drawing the alphabet on a piece of paper and having a conversation with Wayne and his sister using this “board”, they agreed that communication was so much quicker and clearer and that it would be useful when he was “out and about”. Two weeks later Wayne received a Frenchay Alphabet Board (FAB) from Scope’s Non Electronic Communication Aid Scheme (NECAS). It is just the alphabet on a perspex board but it was like magic for Wayne and Cathy. Wayne is never without it, it lives in the basket of his walker. Cathy says it has made their conversations “wonderful” and that Wayne was so excited to be able to order his own dinner at home instead of Cathy ordering for him.

The next step for Wayne is to look at a voice output device again so that he can make his voice heard again in the community. It made me think about how small things can make a big difference and each communication aid or visual display in the community can have a huge impact. Also, the benefits go both ways. Wayne has greater access to his community and Wayne’s community now have access to his lovely personality and he can brighten someone’s day with his great sense of humour.

alphabet board

By Bronwen Jones

Petrol stations and dumpling restaurants – champions in accessible information

I am enthusiastic about accessible information. I admit that I get very excited when I encounter accessible information in the community. I usually congratulate the bewildered shop staff and go on to preach the merits of communication accessibility and its place in universal access. To amusement of most, I photograph the example as a keepsake of the wonderful efforts that people have gone to, to increase accessible for everyone in our community.

petrol stations

Accessible Information Safety Signage and Advertising at the United Petrol Station, Bairnsdale.

I recently flicked through my collection of photographs as I was preparing for a workshop on “Making Written Information Accessible” later this month. I was struck with the number of examples of accessible information from petrol stations and multicultural restaurants. This led me to ponder the motivations of people to produce information in an accessible format and how a better understanding of motivations may enable CAN speech pathologists to increase their efficiency to facilitate organisations to become communication accessible.

So why petrol stations? Next time you are at a petrol station, take the time to have a look around. The safety signage (and even the advertisement!) at petrol stations are a brilliant example of the use of symbols to convey information. Perhaps the necessity of prioritising the safety information in the signage has enabled people to present information in accessible format. Or perhaps I am underestimating the motivations of sign’s authors and they instead where aiming to gain the status of communication accessibility.

dumpling restaurant

Accessible Information Signage at Dumplings By the Sea in Lakes Entrance.

And Dumpling Restaurants? I am sure that you, like I, have marvelled of the communication accessibility of the photo menus of many multicultural restaurants. A small dumpling restaurant in Lakes Entrance has a menu presented in an accessible format to rival any “Easy to Read” DHS document. Each dish is clearly photographed with the price, being perfectly communication accessible. Perhaps the motivation of the menu creator was to communicate a menu of delightful cuisine for which English words do not suffice, or perhaps it was to create an environment of communication accessibility.

Within my role as a speech pathologist in the Communication Access Network (CAN) I continuously spruik the value and need of accessible information. My motivation is to increase the participation within our community of people with communication disabilities. This is the core business of my role and is dictated by funding bodies. This motivation is of course perfectly valid and merit worth, however it may be more correct to think of in terms of universal access. Not in terms of “communication disability” but for participation for all of our community.

Perhaps an occupational hazard of working within the disability sector is that one can become disability focused. Universal access, of which information accessibility is a part, is not focused on minority groups within our society, it is focused on the whole of community and the commonality of humanity. To think in terms of universal access and focus on the commonality of needs, may enable our goals of participation to be more likely to be achieved. After all, I think that like me, most people could identify with one or more minority groups with our society, but we all share in our humanity.

So my point is to remember the commonality of needs within our communities and aim to highlight this commonality when facilitating community projects. Perhaps the safety signage at petrol stations and the photo menus at dumpling restaurants can remind us of our commonality in humanity.

By Mel Newcomen.

Good Things video update

In March I wrote a post for this blog about the video “Good Things” which was about to be released on YouTube.

The video was posted on 2nd April 2014. Six months later it seems like a good time for an update.

Good Things has now been seen by over 1200 people around the world. According to YouTube’s statistics there have been 1289 unique views to date. “Unique views” means that it is not the same people watching repeatedly. This number does not include people who have watched Good Things from the DVD (rather than YouTube) or the many people who have watched it in training sessions and at conferences.

Photo of the Good Things video showing Maria using signing at her local pharmacy.

Good Things has been presented at the Speech Pathology Australia 2014 national conference; the International Society for Alternative and Augmentative Communication (ISAAC) conference in Lisbon, Portugal; and Scope’s recent Solutions to Inclusion conference.

It has also been featured on a number of websites including Respite South, Talking Mats and PrAACtical AAC.

It has been exciting to see so much interest in the video. Residents and staff involved in making Good Things have enjoyed the process and the publicity. One of the residents and I are hoping to be able to present the video and the process of making it at next year’s Having a Say conference.

One of the surprising things that has come out of the Good Things project is the level of interest in the video overseas. We have had views in 35 countries so far. Maybe the issues faced by people in group homes are the same around the world. It has been a privilege to contribute a small piece to a worldwide conversation about supporting communication and inclusion in group homes.

Once again I would like to thank all the people who have worked hard on this project – most of all the residents and staff who have opened up their lives to the world. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the video yet, you can find it here:

You can watch the whole video (approx. 20 minutes) or choose a chapter that interests you. I’d love to hear your questions and comments. You can send them to me at [email protected]

Andrea McQueen

Alpine Access

What an exceptional day we had in beautiful Bright on Tuesday 9th September. Bright put on a show with fresh blossoms on the trees and glorious weather – not to mention a fabulous group of people from all over the Alpine Shire, who were interested in learning about how to best communicate with people who have a complex communication needs.

Photo of health professionals from Alpine Shire learing about complex communication needs.Participants from across the Alpine Shire, who perform important front of house, reception, allied health assistant and managerial roles at Alpine Health and other local medical and community health practices, gathered for a whole day of communication fun with Kelsey and her co presenter Chris from Wodonga, who gave insight into living with a complex communication need. The day also included a surprise Silent Morning Tea, where we had fun playing ‘Silent Bingo’!

Lance Hately from the National Relay Service joined us in the afternoon for an informative presentation about the Relay Service. His presentation highlighted how we can use this fabulous technology to communicate with our clients who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. This session was very well received by participants who particularly enjoyed communicating with Lance through an Auslan interpreter.

The day was a huge success! Here a just a few of the feedback comments we received:

  • “…I feel empowered to communicate with people from all walks of life”
  • “Everyone in the community should complete this training”
  •  “Communicating my message with no speech is really hard!!”

By Kelsey Graves