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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 –          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

Working together to Build Communication Access – an update

In July we wrote about the Communication Access Group in Bendigo.

In the first half of  2018, These four young women got ready to work for more communication access in their  town.

The group is supported by the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service and Distinctive Options.

What’s happened?

The Regional Communication Service has continued to attend the group each month. The trained Communication Coordinator in Distinctive Options has continued with the group.

The group has steadily built skills. It is now easy for group members to identify items on picture  communication displays and use them to communicate their opinions and wishes.  (Through using the communication aids, some members of the group are saying some more  words and recognising more symbols and printed words.)

In August, the group contributed to a video. It showed people from all over Victoria using communication aids. The video was for Speech Pathology Week, which had the theme “Communication access is communication for all”. Group members showed community request cards and a communication board in the video.

Makng the video: Bendigo’s fountain and community request cards

In September, the group consulted on communication aids being developed by the local water authority. They were paid for this work by Coliban Water.

After reviewing the details, this group member was happy with the communication book

The Group also prepared to acknowledge good communication access at a local small business. They used a communication board to identify the good things the business does so that everyone can communicate.

A communication board to talk about communication access

The Group is now well on its way and contributing to communication access in Bendigo!


Mentoring speech pathologists in AAC

CAN’s work is all about inclusion and participation of people with communication disabilities in their communities.

People with communication disabilities benefit if their speech pathologist is competent in AAC and related areas. If a person has effective AAC, opportunities for social relationships, choice, and community participation open up.

Regional Communication Services provide specialised peer support to local speech pathologists to develop their skills.

With the roll out of NDIS in Loddon, new speech pathologists have arrived.

Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service has been mentoring them on request.

This time, when another speech pathologist asked for particular support, we decided to make it a two hour session and invite anyone from local speech pathology services who wanted to come.

There was an immediate response from five different service managers. Ultimately new speech pathologists from three services attended our session on positive behaviour support and strategies for communication.

The session included:

-orientation and reminders about elements of positive behaviour support

-real life stories about working with staff and services delivering positive behaviour support

-exploring options and resources for communication support

In evaluation feedback all these were identified as key learning areas.

The speech pathologists also enjoyed meeting each other and learning together.

We all agreed this was a two hours well spent.

Personal Information Cards – For Emergencies and More

Gippsland Regional Communication Service and Wellington Shire Council have been working with local Emergency Relief Centres.

One of the things they did was develop a template and information so all members of the community could create a Personal information Card.

The card is wallet sized so a person can have it with them all the time.

On the front is the person’s name, date of birth, address, and two emergency contacts with phone numbers. On the back is the person’s communication/language, required supports and alerts.

The cards were developed for use in emergencies, particularly for people with disabilities. But the cards can be useful for everyone and at other times.

The template is on the BoardMaker program, which is used to produce visual communication aids.


Through previous partnerships with the Regional Communication Service, BoardMaker is available for public use at the Sale Library. An information sheet now sits with the Library’s BoardMaker discs: “How to make your own card”.

The Regional Communication Service also ran an information session for community members.

It was well attended. Everyone went home with their own personalised card.


The session was advertised on the local radio and in the newspaper Council notes. From the advertisements for the community session, there was further interest – this time from local police.

This simple idea may have a big future!



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.



Talking Mats – giving people with a disability a voice

Talking Mats is an excellent tool that can give people living with a communication disability the ability to communicate what matters to them. This tool can be used with both children and adults and has shown through research as an effective communication method for people living with stroke, dementia, and intellectual disability.

Some examples of uses include:

  • Helping people to express their goals for day programs, rehabilitation, and therapy services.
  • Allowing people with intellectual disability to give their opinion about decisions.
  • Enhancing comprehension in people who have had a stroke.
  • Helping people with dementia to stay on topic and follow the track of a conversation.
  • Assisting people to express both negative and positive views
  • Allowing people to give feedback about a topic.

talking mats example of activities i enjoy

Above is an example of a Talking Mat. This mat has been used to understand the interests of a client. Possible interests are printed onto small cards. “Yes”, “no” and “maybe” categories are placed across the top of the board, with the topic of conversation placed down the bottom. The client then places each activity into a category to communicate areas of interest and what they like.

For more information, Visit:

By Karen Oswald East Hume Regional Communication Service Speech Pathologist

Being Connected – Libraries and Autism Project

Jenny Mustey, Library Services Manager at Campaspe Regional Library asked the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service (SLMRCS) to help prepare the libraries for Communication Access assessment.

Technology-communication-boardThe Campaspe Regional Library was awarded a Pierre Gorman Award by the Library Board of Victoria to undertake the project ‘Being Connected – Libraries and Autism’. Through this project, the library service will improve and enhance their services for people with ASD. The project runs for two years from early 2014. The project includes developing a sensory audit checklist and auditing all branches, Communication Access assessment and awarding of the Communication Access Symbol, developing inclusive programming, staff development and training, developing new resources including ‘This is my library book’ and purchasing a TAP-it or similar mobile accessible internet station.

The SLMRCS Speech Pathologist visited each site to identify training and resources needs, provided information about accessible environments and about technology for Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC), trained (using the Communication Inclusion and Resource Centre, Scope’s high quality training materials) and consulted with the librarians’ group, provided visual communication aids for use at service desks, and organized mystery customers (people with disabilities whose observations and recommendations were made to the Library).

The training to the librarians was in September, just before International AAC Awareness Month in October. A mention of this during the training resulted in one Librarian being inspired to try holding a Silent Morning Tea at the Library. A couple of weeks later, the local paper carried a large front page photo and article about the Silent Morning Tea, followed by a photo and article on the next page explaining communication access.

by Meg Irwin
Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service

Key Word Sign Australia app is finally here!

KWSA-app-icon-180pixThe Key Word Sign Australia app, released in November, was formally launched on the 3rd of December for the International Day of People with Disability at the Australian Centre for Moving Images (ACMI), Federation Square, Melbourne.

The celebration commenced with a rousing performance by Glenallen school choir singing and using key word sign to the tunes of “Walk right in” and “We wish you a Merry Christmas”.

Karen Bloomberg, National Coordinator for Key Word Sign Australia, and Speech Pathologist for Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre, gave a moving and rich history of Key Word Sign in Australia and including the evolution of the Key Word Sign app.

A demonstration of the functions and features of the app was then presented, receiving comments of delight from the crowd … “Oh wow!”, “I can’t wait to download a copy when I get back to work tomorrow”, “Fabulous”.

It was a lovely afternoon celebrating the contributions of many over a number of years.

Update 02

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The app enables you to do many things including:

  • Print out the entire Key Word Sign Australia dictionary, either alphabetically or by category – the first time the entire library of these line drawings have been available electronically;
  • Create and print individual resources using line drawings of Auslan signs, Widgit symbols or photos from your own camera roll
  • Watch video clips of the interactive vocabulary, numbers, alphabet or your own saved clips

Check out the Key Word Sign Australia app now!

by Katie Lyon
Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre

Silent Morning Tea in Wangaratta

It seemed like an ordinary day in October 2015.  Except that today was the annual Younger Street Silent Morning Tea.

The sound of silence came over Younger St, as thirteen staff members from Williams Rd and Younger St all desperately tried not to speak.  All were trying to introduce themselves to each other through other methods of communication.

Even before the event commenced Moz introduced Ms D Tape (Duct Tape) to all staff with gentle threats that she would be used if spoken words were heard.  No one needed a second reminder!

There were a variety of games that the staff participated in.

The first game was Communication Whispers

ben-drawing-his-chosen-word martina-using-alphabet-board
Ben drawing his chosen word Martina using the alphabet board to show Juliana what she thought Ben’s word was…


richard and kelvin meredith-another-word
…well, Juliana and Martina didn’t get it, Richard thought he knew the answer and called Kelvin to help him out! Here is Meredith giving the group another word to guess.

Celebrity Heads


Paul, Kelvin and Richard trying to guess who they are.



Tracey acting out the phrase “barking up the wrong tree” which we all were for a while!

Staff used many different methods of communication to get their message across including:

  • Drawing – a very artistic group of staff (even Leonardo Da Vinci would be proud of their artwork)
  • Acting/role playing – “And the Oscar goes to the whole team that made it possible”. Mind you, some of the facial expressions and body language/gestures were hard to put into words – you had to be there to see it. Definitely plenty of laughter.
  • Gestures – actually pointing to the object (cake, coffee etc.) to communicate what they wanted.

As well as working incredibly hard at finding alternative ways of communicating, all participants were treated to a delicious morning tea of cakes and slices. Most of us had no difficulty in letting our hosts know what we would like to eat and drink!

A lot of different emotions and excitement came over Younger Street on that particular morning, but laughter, enjoyment and a sense of pride in the successes that a diverse group of people had achieved were the main ones.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of Younger Street, Williams Road staff and Meredith Lane (East Hume Regional Communication Service Speech Therapist from Gateway Health) who made Silent Morning Tea October 2015 possible and another success.

Again, thanks to all who made this possible.

by Moz Cabai,
Acting House Manager, Younger Street,  Wangaratta