Communication Access at the City of Greater Bendigo

The City of Greater Bendigo Service Desks Communication Access Symbol assessment is probably happening right now! Good luck everybody!

The City of Greater Bendigo has a population of more than 110,000 people. A few years, it identified communication access as an important part of its Community Access and Inclusion Plan. It requested support from the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service.

Initial planning and training took place with the Manager of Customer Support and some selected “champions” working on the City of Greater Bendigo Service Desks.

Managers were informed and consulted about City of Greater Bendigo’s actions to achieve communication access.

One of the CoGB Service Desk Communication Book produced in collaboration with Service Desk staff and clients by the Regional Communication Service

The Mayor and Councillors and the Disability Inclusion Reference Committee were informed and reviewed the communication aids. The website was reviewed and changed.

By the start of 2019 City of Greater Bendigo service desks in three locations felt nearly ready for assessment.

City of Greater Bendigo promoting its communication access initiatives

In the first half of the year, the Regional Communication Service and City of Greater Bendigo staff worked hard to realise their goal to be awarded the Communication Access Symbol at the three main Service hubs in Bendigo and Heathcote.

Early in the year the Regional Communication Service observed and reported to City of Greater Bendigo managers on communication accessibility at the Service Desks. This led to some meetings with managers, to review results and plan responses.

The Regional Communication Service worked closely with the Customers Support Manager to make sure commercial picture communication symbols were properly acknowledged, to create explanatory material for the public and staff, and to organise staff training, including pre training questionnaires and tasks, pre and post training evaluations, scenarios for inclusion in training, and payment for the co trainer, who was a Communication Access Assessor and an Augmentative and Alternative Communication user.

The Regional Communication Service planned the training with the Communication Access Assessor. Four two hour trainings were delivered so that all staff at Bendigo and Heathcote Service Desks could attend.

Evaluations indicated that the training was highly valued overall. Participating in scenarios and roles plays, learning to use communication aids, learning how to interact with people with communication disabilities, and being able to ask a person with communication disability questions were all repeatedly commended. Everyone reported that they would recommend the training to others. 

The Communication Access Symbol

After City of Greater Bendigo receives its award, the Regional Communication Service will continue to support the sustainability of communication access. For example:

  • There is an identified champion who will review important elements of communication access provided by the Regional Communication Service regularly.
  • Links to CAN videos have been provided to enable new staff to understand communication access and old staff to refresh their knowledge.
  • There will be further liaison with City of Greater Bendigo Education staff who attended the training to ensure continued staff support.
  • The Regional Communication Service is involving other local organisations who can help resource the City of Greater Bendigo in communication access.

We hope more City of Greater Bendigo services will be developing their communication access.

Now another local government area has approached the Regional Communication Service for communication support, after seeing what the City of Greater Bendigo has done.

Increasing communication access at Information Centres in Gippsland

Bairnsdale Information Centre with the new symbols displayed

The Gippsland Regional Communication Service has been working with East Gippsland Shire Council’s Information Centres to increase communication accessibity. This is part of the council’s commitment to communication accessibility across all of its services.

Bairnsdale Information Centre has been the first Centre involved, with a view to roll out strategies across the Shire.

Bairnsdale Information Centre is an information hub in the centre of Bairnsdale. It is a resource for many international and Australian travellers. As well as providing information on local tourist activities, it helps travellers with logistical issues and with booking local accommodation. It also provide travellers with physical disabilities with information and links them to local resources to enable them to participate in tourism activities.

Information Centre staff had noticed some communication breakdowns in the centre. For example, travellers often made requests that indicated they were not aware of the Centre’s services. For example, it was not visually apparent that the Information Centre was able to book accommodation or that it offered free WIFI. All signage within the building was in written English words only, which was difficult to understand for people with low literacy or limited English. Staff also reported that several travellers daily asked for directions to public toilets (located outside of the building). This indicated that wayfinding signage could also be improved.

The Gippsland Regional Communication Service worked with staff to address these issues. Signage readability was increased by using visual symbols with written language. Symbols of  services provided by the Centre where displayed in the centre. Improved signage and a simplified map to direct travellers to the toilets made wayfinding easier.

The project is ongoing, but communication accessibity has already improved at Bairnsdale Information Centre. Feedback from both staff and travellers has been positive. This is another example of how small changes in a service environment can increase communication accessibility for everyone in the community.

Mel Newcomen, Gippsland Regional Communication Service

Preparing for NDIS Planning with Regional Communication Service Support

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been described as the biggest change in social services in 30 years and offers people who have received very little services in the past the opportunity to access life changing funding. But big changes can be disruptive and a bit scary, and the question on everyone’s mind is how to navigate the planning process to ensure that loved ones get the funding they need.

Planning for an NDIS planning meeting is one of the most important things people can do to ensure they get funding for communication supports that will make a difference in their lives. So, the North West Regional Communication Service has been offering  information sessions to support people to do this. Two information sessions have been run, and included information and discussion about setting goals, the range of communication aids available and where to go for support. These sessions were attended by adults with disabilities, their families and support workers. Many of the people who attended had not accessed speech pathology services in a long time and were excited about the possibilities that are now available.

Exploring communication aids and strategies

The information sessions generated a lot of discussion about how to navigate a new system that can seem quite alien and daunting. People who attended said that it was extremely beneficial to have the opportunity to exchange ideas with others going through the same process.

The groups recognised how very important it is to be prepared and organised well before your NDIS planning meeting to make sure you get the most out of your NDIS plan.

Here some of the tips suggested:

Be prepared and organised well before your planning meeting

It is recommended to start planning 3 months before your next review. There are lots of different ways to get prepared including planning workbooks and group sessions.

Collect any recent assessment reports and recommendations from existing service providers to bring to your planning meeting.

Think about your goals

Any services requested must directly link to your goals. Think about what your long and short term goals are and what supports you need to achieve these. You can talk to your current service providers for support in writing goals.

Use the language of the NDIS

It is a good idea to link your goals to the buzzwords of the NDIS. This will help your planner to understand that your goals are in line with the goals of the NDIS. Think about how your goals fit in with the following areas: Daily Living, Home, Health and Well-being, Lifelong Learning, Work, Social and Community Participation, Relationships and Choice and Control. The NDIS price guide can be a good tool to learn the lingo. 

Write a written justification if you didn’t use all the funding in your plan

There are many reasons why a person might not use all the allocated funding in their plan. There might be long wait lists for services, limited services available in rural and regional areas or an illness in the family. It is a good idea to write down why specific funding hasn’t been used and specify that it is still needed for the next plan.

Know that Support Coordination is available 

Support Coordinators are people who can help you make the most out of your funds by linking you in with service providers and helping you understand your plan. You can  ask for this to be included in your NDIS plan.

Seek support from others

It can be overwhelming to have to find services, manage funding and navigate a whole new system. Talk to family and friends about your experience and ask them to share theirs with you. Do they have a great speech pathologist that they can pass on to you? Can they pass on pearls of wisdom for preparing for planning meetings? It can make us feel supported to connect with others who are going through similar experiences.

Other tips

  • You can have more than one communication aid funded
  • Provide a quote where possible
  • Ask to see the plan before it is finalised
  • Bring someone with you to the planning meeting
  • Ask for a review if you are not happy with the plan
  • Swallowing assessments and reviews are currently being funded by the NDIS

Organisations or groups in the North West Metropolitan Region can contact the North West Regional Communication Service if interested in hosting an information session facilitated by the North West Regional Communication Service.

A special recipe for Bourkie’s Bakery

The Woodend Communication Access Group has recognised Bourkie’s Bakery as a great place to be.

Bourkies Manager receiving the award from two of the Woodend Communication Access Group members

What was the recipe for this award to happen?

Ingredients:

The Group, comprising five people with communication disabilities living in Woodend.

The Woodend Communication Coordinator, who was trained and participates in the network supported by the Regional Communication Service.

The Regional Communication Service speech pathologist

The staff and management of Bourkies

Method:

Take the partnership between the Regional Communication Service and the Communication Coordinator. Mix with the Woodend Communication Access Group.

Add the Communication Access Network’s communication friendly certificate and the Regional Communication Services’s picture based communication board.

Leave to rise.

Take the risen mixture and bake… into a certificate that lists the great things Bourkies does

Serve:

VIsit Bourkies and present the certificate to the Manager and Staff with each Group member pointing out one reason for the award.

The icing on the cake

Next, the Communication Coordinator and the Communication Access Group will work with Bourkies to develop some picture based communication aids, so there can be even better communication.

Meg Irwin (Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service) with apologies for stretching a metaphor

The Year in Review: The North West Communication Coordinator Network

The Northwest Communication Coordinator Network has been running for nearly 10 years! Two Speech Pathologists facilitate monthly meetings and site visits focusing on training, peer support and mentoring. Communication Coordinators from 8 different disability services are involved in the network. Communication Coordinators are Disability Support Workers who receive extra training and support to implement communication strategies in their service.  Communication Coordinators reflected on the barriers, enablers and successes of 2018.

A visual aid to support understanding and participation

Enablers to creating a culture of communication

Communication Coordinators listed many factors that promote a culture of communication at their services. A key factor identified was interest and support from staff. Communication Coordinators noted that having a collaborative and supportive team was essential in implementing strategies across the service. Support from managers was another factor that was identified as important. 

One Communication Coordinator stated that they have a supportive manager who is pro-active in promoting communication and that it filters down to the rest of the staff.

The monthly Communication Coordinator Network meetings were identified as highly valuable, as they provide the opportunity to share ideas and resources, receive specialised training and peer-support. Training on the topics of communication levels and appropriate strategies, sensory focused approaches, positive behaviour support and supported decision making were identified as appropriate and valuable. 

Communication Coordinators commented that the specialised support provided by the speech pathologists who facilitate the Network is highly valuable. One Communication coordinator said that receiving professional support in their own working environment provides an opportunity for practical suggestions that are relevant to their service.

Barriers to creating a culture of communication

Communication Coordinators identified the biggest barrier to creating a culture of communication at their services as insufficient time. Most Communication Coordinators are given one day per week away from clients to fulfil their Communication Coordinator role. It was reported that planning, creating and implementing communication strategies across the service needs more time than this.

Many Communication Coordinators noted that there is no time allocated for staff training. Training time would be invaluable in supporting staff to increase their knowledge and skills around communication. Another identified barrier was changes in service delivery attributed to the roll out of the NDIS. Some Communication Coordinators noted an increase in casual staff and decrease in permanent staff at their service. Many reported that this makes it difficult to implement consistent and sustainable communication strategies.

Achievements in 2018

There have been so many positive outcomes from the Communication Coordinator Network in 2018!

A strong theme has been increased opportunities for participants to make choices in daily activities. Two Communication Coordinators reported that participants are now choosing and purchasing their own drinks out in the community, where they were not previously. They reflected that participants are becoming more confident and independent.

Each monthly meeting includes Key Word Sign practice on different vocabulary, such as birthdays, holidays and football. Some Communication Coordinators have seen increased use of Key Word Sign by staff and participants at their service. One Communication Coordinator is a Key Word Sign presenter and another one is attending presenter training in January.

One Communication Coordinator has been heavily involved in NDIS pre-planning at their service. She has completed communication audits for each participant. These audits are used throughout the pre-planning process to identify goals, resources and services that would benefit the individual. A pre-planning Talking Mats set has been developed and a plan has been made for each participant to have a Talking Mats conversation prior to their next NDIS planning meeting.

Some cards for Talking Mats

Visual aids are common strategies used across services. One service has created communication boards to be used in every program. Another service has created a birthday calendar which is generating a lot of excitement; some participants are even making each other birthday cards. One Communication Coordinator has focused on supporting staff to use communication apps such as Tools2Talk+ and Key Word Sign Australia. They commented that staff are beginning to create their own visual aids for programs.

A big focus of the Communication Coordinator Network this year has been on how to successfully implement strategies. It can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure to produce lots of strategies and content but it is important to give each new strategy enough implementation time in order for them to be effective and sustainable. There have been ongoing discussions about the importance of working with staff in programs to modelling new strategies and seek staff input. Staff may require ongoing support to understand what a strategy is, how it is useful and how to use it with a participant. Giving enough time and support is essential for our work as capacity builders.

It is amazing to see such dedicated Communication Coordinators and we look forward to an exciting year ahead!

Building for the Future – A local training organisation focuses on communication support skills in their Cert IV in Disability

In 2015 there were 4.3 million Australians living with disability, and over one-quarter (1.2 million people) had a communication disability.

The Certificate IV in Disability provides students with the skills and knowledge to work effectively with people with disabilities in a range of services. Students learn to develop and implement programs that empower people with disabilities to achieve greater independence and well being. Students later work in residential group homes, training resource centres, day respite centres, other community settings or people’s homes.

Many training organisations across Australia do not include optional communication units in their Cert IV Disability courses, but Federation University in Ballarat recognised that skills in communication are very important. They wanted their students to know more about communication and the different ways people can communicate.

This year, Grampians Regional Communication Service is working with Federation University for their Certificate IV in Disability, aiming to give students a more “hands on” experience of AAC devices and communication strategies.

The VET Teacher for Disability & Community Services and the Regional Communication Service speech pathologist are working together, focusing on developing student skills in identifying communication needs and implementing strategies to support communication needs.  Students will have an opportunity to try, experience and ask questions of a range of AAC devices, enabling future disability support workers to support others with their communication needs. Students will get to experience diverse AAC, such as Talking Mats, chat books, communication boards and books, community request cards and key word sign as well as speech generation devices. Assignments and lectures have been designed to have a more realistic feel and to focus on facilitating and supporting communication to increase independence and participation. Students are also informed of resources available such as allied health professionals, visual supports, Communication Access, Easy English and the National Relay Service. 

For more information on Federation University’s Certificate IV in Disability see: https://study.federation.edu.au/#/course/DLLA

By Georgie Turner, Grampians Regional Communication Service

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.

Working together to Build Communication Access – There’s a communication aid for that!

The Communication Access Group in Bendigo was initiated by Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service (see our July, September & October blogs) in partnership with Distinctive Options, a day and lifestyle service. But the Group couldn’t have happened without Kharlie, Communication Coordinator and Disability Support Worker!

Kharlie worked closely with the young women in the Group, getting to know them well and supporting them to use communication aids and strategies and to learn about communication access in the community. Kharlie stayed in touch with the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service and went to Communication Coordinator Network meetings. Distinctive Options provided time every fortnight for Kharlie to develop communication  aids and resources. The Communication Access Group, and others supported by Distinctive Options, got the benefits.

Here are just some of the things Kharlie developed:

  • Picture based (individual) choice boards
  • Picture and object based shopping lists
  • Picture based what to bring lists to prepare for outings
  • Picture based instructions such as safety in the kitchen
  • Picture based routines such as arrival or washing the dishes
  • Community request cards (shared and individual)
  • Who here photos of everyone (both participants and staff)
  • Picture based activity planner so everyone can plan the details of what will happen and have an accessible way to remember it
  • Picture based story guides for individuals such as a road safety book for one participant

And she’s inspired others:

Now staff include pictures in notices to go home. That means participants have more access to information that concerns them.

Now one member of the Communication Access Group gets resources organised to ensure that staff and participants keep developing more communication strategies.

Over the year, Kharlie’s understanding of communication strategies and contribution to communication access has grown. She will be able to support Distinctive Options to be an even more inclusive and innovative service for participants with little or no speech into the future.

Key Word Sign in Wangaratta

East Hume was treated to an outstanding basic Key Word Sign workshop at the Wangaratta Library in October. Marlene Eksteen, a qualified Key Word Sign Presenter, facilitated the workshop, and 16 people with a broad range of backgrounds, including support workers, day care teachers and parents, attended to further their knowledge of Key Word Sign.

The day incorporated lots of fun and practical activities where everyone was encouraged to practice and refine their signing skills!

‘Would you like a chocolate or a lolly?’ Participants received a yummy reward when they made their request with Key Word Sign!

During the morning we learnt about AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) and its importance for people who have difficulty communicating. Participants were excited to learn how they could use Key Word Sign as a form of AAC.

We learnt about the different stages of communication and how Key Word Sign  can help at every level.

After lunch we attempted to bring on some Christmas cheer in October by learning how to sign ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’, which ended in lots of laughs!

We learnt how to finger spell the alphabet, and of course to introduce ourselves by spelling our names.

Participants were also given the opportunity to make their own scripts, which they could take home and practice with their loved ones/clients or other people they support. We also shared these with the group and learnt lots of new signs as we went.

Feedback from the day was resoundingly positive; with everyone saying that they loved the day and found it very relevant, practical and informative.

And we heard some comments that showed just how valuable Marlene’s session was:

“I feel much more confident to use Key Word Sign now – I always thought we could only use it with people who are deaf”

“I work in a disability home, and the staff who use Key Word Sign with the clients often seem to have a better rapport than staff who don’t”

We are looking forward to holding further Key Word Sign workshops in the East Hume region in the near future.

Kelsey and Meredith, East Hume Regional Communication Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working Together to Build Communication Access –          Our First Award!

The four young women taking action on communication access in Bendigo (see last month’s blog) have made their first award to a local small business for being so communication friendly.

They regularly visit the Terminus Milkbar in Golden Square. They have always felt respected and have been able to communicate successfully without speech.

The staff were delighted with the certificate. They put it up where everyone could see it.  

Presenting the certificate


Using the communication board to explain:  “You are welcoming, take time to communicate, talk directly to us, and listen really well.”High fives all round!Everyone is proud

Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service