Communication Training for Local Area Coordinators – East Hume Regional Communication Service

Latrobe Community Health is working with local communities to ensure it is welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities.

It partnered with the East Hume Regional Communication Service to improve its communication access.

Latrobe Community Health is the Region’s NDIS Local Area Coordinator organisation.

Local Area Coordinators are responsible for linking individuals to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and providing information and support in the community.

East Hume Regional Communication Service delivered training in two sessions at Wodonga and Wangaratta. Twenty seven Local Area Coordinators from across three sites (Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga) attended.Group of people attending onsite training

The training sessions increased awareness of the impact of a communication disability on an individual’s ability to be involved in decision making about their life, and how communication partners can provide meaningful support.

Wodonga team attending via video link up

Attendees participated enthusiastically in the communication training activities and enjoyed the sessions. Comments included:  “Extremely relevant to what we do.”; “Great information, engaging presentation.”; “I have done this type of training a number of times but never tire of the content and always learn something”; “Very positive and caring …presenter”

As a result of the success of this training, EHRCS has also been able to provide training for Murray Primary Health Network, and Partners in Recovery (who provide support for people with severe mental health issues).

East Hume Regional Communication Service is continuing to build the partnerships with providers of NDIS services in the North East region.

More choice and control at dinner time

How do people make a choice when they can only accept or reject what’s offered? That’s the problem some people living in residential facilities with little or no speech can face.

It may help if staff ask questions, such as “Would you like sausages? or “Would you like chicken?” But that’s only two choices. And the person has to know what the words mean and have a way to indicate yes or no. That’s hard for some people.

It can be easier if there are pictures to choose from.

It can be even easier – and more empowering – if the pictures are used with Talking Mats ®

Many options can be explored and a person can have a record of all the preferences they’ve identified. (That’s why Talking Mats is also a great planning tool!)

Dietitians at Bendigo Health wanted a way for people with communication disabilities living in the community to have more food choices, including the healthy ones! They wanted people with communication disabilities to have their choices heard by the people supporting them at home.

In partnership with the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service, the dietitians developed a set of Talking Mats with photos of many different food options.

The Bendigo Health Food Preferences Talking Mats kit:

Food preferences Talking mats pack

In Talking Mats, each card shows a picture of a different item.  A person places their preferred items on the left and non-preferred items on the right. Items without a strong preference go in between.

There are 9 sets of cards in the Bendigo Health kit. They are: snacks, vegetables, cereals, takeaway, drinks, meat & alternative, fruit, dairy and exercise.

Here’s how one person completed her Talking Mat about her meat/alternatives preferences:

Example of a talking mat showing meat and meat alternatives

Some of these may be foods she had not thought of – or ones she had not been able to ask for.

Having her own photos of her mats mean she can communicate her food choices and have more variety in what she eats.

[We used the header cards (which were user tested) with permission from Talking Mats It is well worth a visit for resources and more information about Talking Mats.



Communication Champions: Changing the Culture of Day Services

Steph Bryce from North West Regional Communication Service interviews Hannah Chalker, Communication Coordinator at Distinctive Options

Photograph of Hannah Chalker, Communication Coordinator at Distinctive Options

Hannah Chalker

How did you get started as a disability support worker?
I’ve known since I was a young child that I wanted to support people with disabilities. As a teenager, I did lots of volunteering, including with Riding Develops Abilities. When I was 18, I completed a Cert IV in Disability. I’d planned to work with kids, but my parents encouraged me to submit my resume to Distinctive Options, and here I am six and a half years later!

How did you end up in the Communication Coordinator role?
The opportunity came up for me to become the Communication Coordinator and it sounded like something I would enjoy. I had studied Auslan, so I have a keen interest in using sign. I have been the role for almost a year. 

What is a Communication Coordinator?
A communication coordinator is a designated person within a disability service provider who is given specific time away from the clients to develop communication aids and strategies for the service (and individuals), to give staff guidance on using AAC and to keep up to date with the latest technology and strategies.

Sometimes I go into programs and model using communication aids with our participants, with both low tech and high tech aids, such as Proloquo2go. I also send out emails with useful resources and information.

I hear that you have an exciting project at the moment!
At the start of the last term, we came up with the idea of having a team of dedicated people who we call ‘Communication Champions’. They are staff members who want to develop their communication skills, really make an effort to use AAC within their programs and model to other staff. We thought it would be good to have different people spread out around the service who feel confident in their AAC skills. There are eleven people in the Champions team.Communication Champions Flyer

What inspired you to do this?
One of my managers felt that we could make communication a higher priority within our service and really wanted to push staff to use AAC more often. That’s where the seed was planted.

What was the aim?
We want communication to become something that we do every day as part of our routine, not something extra. Obviously, it will still take effort to use alternative methods of communication but that’s what our participants need and what we should be providing.

How does the ‘Communication Champions’ project work?
At the moment we have a meeting once a term. Sometimes I’ll send out emails that have more detailed information than I would send to other staff. I try to provide support, asking the champions how they are going with AAC or what they feel like they need more support in. We are just in the beginning stages, so we are still building on the skills of the Communication Champions.

Have you had any good outcomes so far?
One of the Champions came to me the other day telling me about how she used a photo for successful communication. She was trying to get one of our participants to come inside and was using different signs such as ‘stand up’, ‘go’ and ‘bus’ and this wasn’t working. Then she brought out a photo of him at the place they were going to. He responded straight away, stood up and went inside.

The Champions are thinking more about different strategies that can be used and trying other methods of communicating. It’s great to see the different interests within the team emerging. One Champion is passionate about Key Word Sign– she’ll come to me and show me what sign she learnt today. Another Champion who has been there for over 20 years commented that just being a part of this team has inspired her to think differently about communication.

What are your aspirations for this?
I hope in the future that the culture of Distinctive Options will have a bigger focus on communication and that this will be built into everyday routines. I’m going with the flow for now. It would be great if the Champions had more admin time for training and more regular meetings but that is not always possible and this is one of the challenges. But I’m looking forward to seeing this area of our service flourish!

Any final thoughts?
I’m so grateful to be part of the Communication Coordinator Network trained and convened by the North West Regional communication Service. It is great to have that support and to know that Libby and Steph (the two Regional Communication Service speech pathologists) are just a phone call away. Every time I come to a Network meeting, I pick up new pieces of information and ideas and that’s something I really appreciate!


Communication Access using eLearning – An Update!!

A while ago, we wrote about our Communication Access eLearning Package to teach businesses about how they can improve their communication accessibility.  We worked with Carl Russell, a gentleman living with communication disability, to develop the training.

This is the title page of the presentation.

This is video in the presentation of Carl telling his story.

This slide talks about the different types of communication boards that people can use.

Following an extremely successful pilot with a local council, a further 95 people working across the West Hume have completed the training.  These people work at businesses including councils, Visitor Information Centres, aquatic centres, neighbourhood houses and medical clinics.

We originally had some issues with Internet speed, but this has been fixed with the training now completed offline.  We also changed some of the content to include some wonderful video clips that were created by Speech Pathologists from the Gippsland and Inner South Regional Communication Services.

Highlights of the feedback we have received to date are:

  • 85% said their knowledge of Communication Access had improved “greatly” or “somewhat”
  • 100% said “yes” or “somewhat” to feeling more confident to speak to someone with a communication disability
  • 96% completed the training in 1 hour or less
  • 82% liked this style of training and 97% would recommend the training to others

For our service, the main benefits have been less travel time meaning more time can be spent on other projects; and being able to reach a much larger audience compared to if we only offered face-to-face training.

Karen Oswald

Technology and You Forum

Eastern Regional Communication Service took part in a successful forum in Ringwood organised by Maroondah City Council “20 minute neighbourhoods” Project Officer, Fiona Burridge. The event, titled “Technology and You” explored the rapidly changing technological advances that are impacting on people with communication difficulties and other disabilities.

Maroondah City Council partnered with EACH, Eastern Regional Libraries, Sage Hotel, Uniting lifeAssist and Yooralla’s Regional Communication Service to run community information sessions on how technology can be useful for people with disabilities.

Topics included:

  • Communication and networking
  • Work and creativity
  • Home automation
  • Independent living

Special guest presenters, carer, Garry Hills along with his son, Christopher, talked about their experiences using technology, how it changed their lives and how it may work for others. Christopher has severe cerebral palsy with head control his only reliable movement. He uses head switches to communicate and to control everything in his environment. He runs a successful video editing business. Chris is an Apple ambassador and showed the new emojis that Apple has submitted to the emoji dictionary.

See Chris on YouTube:

Melinda Spencer (who cares for three teenage children on the autism spectrum) spoke about how technology helped them all, as a family, to become more independent and confident in everyday activities.

The Maroondah Council NDIS Transition Coordinator spoke about how technology fits into an NDIS plan, particularly to improve independent living skills and community access.

Also two sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, offered opportunities for everyone to meet and speak with the speakers and community partners.

At the Communication Access Network table, we demonstrated apps for communication such as the  Key Word Sign and Tools2Talk apps, as well as other memory and organisation supports. There was also information on the Communication Access Symbol and how organisations can work towards it. More than 40 people spent time at the CAN table discussing apps, trying them on the 3 ipads, and asking about community resources for people with communication needs.

The afternoon session was booked out with 100 participants and the evening attracted about 80.

Bronwen Jones

Eastern Regional Communication Service (Yooralla)



Give and take: Making a difference and developing skills – Students in a Regional Communication Service

Mietta and Sarah, before becoming fully fledged speech pathologists, did a final placement with the North West Regional Communication Service in 2017.

They really enjoyed it and learned heaps.

And they contributed heaps as well!

In one project, they made choice boards and community request cards to use at McDonalds. These aids enabled people with communication disabilities to choose and order their food and drink themselves. This was a new accomplishment for several people!

The McDonalds staff still use the record sheet the students designed. The students have moved on, but the record consistently shows more people communicating more often and more independently at this McDonalds!

In another project, the students held a “signing lunch” for workers at a health care facility to promote Key Word Sign. They made resource materials and handouts and taught some signs to staff.

Click here to download the Key Word Sign Lunch Vocabulary sheet

Everyone was filmed signing “Give me a Home Among the Gum Trees”. They were learning and having fun.

Click here to download the Key Word Sign “Give me a home amongst the gum trees” sheet

As well as working on projects, the students regularly spent time at a day service for adults with disabilities.

Mietta and Sarah said;

“At first, trying to communicate with people with moderate to severe levels of communication disability was quite overwhelming.

But we quickly found we couldn’t wait to get there each day and work with these wonderful people in supporting their communication. We felt privileged to see that our work was really making a difference.

Being able to communicate is so central to the quality of life of all people.  For people with disabilities, effective communication skills and tools are essential to be included and to be able to participate in their community.”

The Service’s managers reported that they were delighted with the input the students were able to provide for a number of participants.

A father was very happy with the students’ contribution to one young woman’s  independence on the train.

Mietta and Sarah said that they would always remember and value the placement.

And they showed that, through a community capacity building approach, students can make a lasting and positive difference for people with communication disabilities and their communities.

Communication Access eLearning Module

The Speech Pathologists from the Gippsland and Inner South regions have created an eLearning module for Communication Access Training. The website can be accessed by anyone working towards an accessible service with the support of a CAN partner. Contact your local Regional Communication Service to learn more.

The module is available online and comprises a series of videos, downloadable documents and an interactive quiz.

This eLearning package was created to combat the challenges often associated with providing face to face training, such as staff availability, scheduling, staff turnover and driving to regional areas.

The package and the resources within can be used in a number of ways:

  • A standalone training package to prepare for a Communication Access Symbol assessment
  • Refresher training
  • Part of an orientation package for all new staff at an organisation
  • Pre-training task before more in-depth face to face training is delivered
  • Videos shown during face to face training

Should you have any questions regarding this package or Communication Access in general please contact Scope’s Communication & Inclusion Resource Centre or your local Regional Communication Service


Boards at the Bar – West Loddon Mallee Regional Communication service’s Emma Douglass

Interviewed by Alyce Jenkins

Communication access helps everyone participate in the community, including enjoying a drink or a meal at a restaurant.

During Speech Pathology Week at the end of August, the Christie Centre, supported by the Regional Communication Service, in Mildura worked together with their local community to raise awareness for communication access.

Community members were invited to “order silently” at lunch or dinner time at four popular venues; Gateway Tavern, The Corporate Moose, Cider Tree, and the RSL.

They ordered without speaking.

Instead, everyone used picture boards, alphabet boards or key word sign and gesture to get their message across, leading to some amusing interactions.

At first, some patrons were unwilling. But venue staff and people from the Christie Centre showed everyone how it was done. People who ordered silently got discounts or vouchers for their drinks and meals too.

Before long, most patrons were joining in. Everyone quickly realised how hard it is to communicate without speaking. They found communication boards and some basic key word sign can work.

As well, everyone understood more about communications aids, and how useful they can be for people with communication difficulties to get their message across.

Nathan, the bar tender at The Corporate Moose, said the communication boards will be useful in the future. He will be using them when it gets too loud inside or when backpackers don’t speak English!

Ordering Lunch – From “potluck” to “easy” with Visual Menus

Gippsland Regional Communication Service is working with Cells Café in Bairnsdale to increase communication access.

Cells Café is a social enterprise creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in East Gippsland.

The café has a strong commitment to everyone being able to participate. It is working towards being awarded the Communication Access Symbol.

As part of the process, communication access at the Café was informally assessed by Frank Powell, a local man with a disability. Frank has completed training in communication access.

During Cells Café’s communication access journey, there have been many positive changes. Mel Newcomen (Gippsland Regional Communication Service) and Frank reflected on what has happened so far.

Mel Newcomen (Gippsland Regional Communication Service, Scope) and Frank Powell with the visual menu

Frank thinks the visual menu has made the most difference. Frank said that he could only make “potluck” orders the first time he visited, because the menu was only in written format.


The original menu

He suggested the menu could include photos of the food, so more people could order independently.

The Café added photos of the food with the prices. They also changed the format from trifold to A4 pages, which is more accessible for people with low literacy and for people who use one hand to open the menu.

The improved accessible menu

When Frank returned to the Café after the changes had been made, he found “they have done a good job.” Mel asked if Frank could order what he wanted this time. “Of course I could, easy”, Frank said, smiling.

Visual menus are a small change that have a large impact on communication access. More people can order the food they want and participate in our community.

Visual menus can make the  difference between getting a “potluck” lunch to choice being “easy”.


Mel Newcomen, Speech Pathologist, Gippsland Regional Communication Service, Scope

Communication strategies in Corryong

On May 9th Ranelle and Meredith (East Hume Regional Communication Service) met with a group of Year 10 Corryong Secondary College students. The aim of the meeting was provide information about a project that is taking place in Corryong. Corryong is a small country town in the Shire of Towong. The project involves interviewing people with disabilities. This is where the students at Corryong Secondary have been asked to get involved. Their role will be to interview people with disabilities about the positives as well as some of the downsides of life in a small, rural community.  The interviews will be compiled into a short video which will be shared through the Shire of Towong website and other sites.

The speech pathologists from the East Hume Regional Communication Service were involved in teaching students about disability awareness and how best to engage with people who have communication disabilities.

group in library

The importance of positioning

group having discussion

Talking about communication strategies

The students took part in a number of activities that highlighted the importance of positioning, providing context for communicating and some strategies that can help when having a conversation with people who have a communication difficulty. We enjoyed sharing the role of the RCS with such a positive and friendly group of kids and we are looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Ranelle King and Meredith Lane (East Hume RCS)