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