Gesure, signing, symbols, boards and books, adapted computers and Voice Output Communication Aids - in the words of the Hello campaign, 'Other Ways of Speaking' that ensure everyone can have a voice.
My final year project 23 years ago was on 'Using computers with people with aphasia'. Technology has moved on unimaginably since then, and people with communication difficulties are benefiting as AAC (Alternative & Augmentative Communication) becomes ever more adaptable, portable and affordable.
Speech and language therapists have a crucial role in ensuring the 'other ways' are appropriate to the individual's needs and functional in real life situations. The difference matters between aphasia and dysarthria, a physical disability and intellectual disability, or a language impairment that may or may not involve comprehension, as does the age, personality and interests of the client. The right choice of 'other ways of speaking' and support to establish their use in everyday communication is vital.
Manufacturers of voice output communication aids are taking their role seriously. Euan Robertson is Clinical Application Specialist at DynaVox Mayer-Johnson. He says, "I strongly believe a manufacturer's job is not over when a device is sold. Implementation is the difficult part, and AAC manufacturers have a responsibility to help this process. As such, DynaVox have created the Implementation Toolkit and run free workshops across the country. Although DynaVox InterAACt software is demonstrated, the strategies can be used with any form of high or low tech AAC system."
The recently launched MyChoicePad is making impressive use of its website and social media to spread the word about appropriate and functional use through short videos. Developed with the full support and collaboration of the Makaton charity, 'chief juggler' Zoe Peden says, "The angle we've taken is not just that of a low cost AAC device, but more about building the skills for communication using symbols and signs."
The Makaton charity has also been involved in the production of the free 'Other Ways of Speaking' resource, along with 1Voice, ACE Centre, ACE Centre North, Scope and Signalong, as member organisations of Communication Matters. Anna Reeves from ACE Centre North says, "It is imperative that the needs of children and young people who have difficulties speaking are identified at an early age. Finding the right method of communication can have a dramatic impact on a child or young person's life – helping them to express themselves, participate in decisions, and improve their self esteem, which will ultimately impact on their contribution to society at large."
For proof of this, you only need to watch this video, produced by the ACE Centre for Hello, as part of the National Year of Communication: