Receiving our nomination for the Giving Voice ‘Innovation award 2013’ caused me to look back over the past seven months and realise how much awareness the DVoiced campaign has raised and how much I have learned about AAC (alternative augmentative communication) in the process.
We are a group of student speech and language therapists, studying at Newcastle University and I personally had no experience of AAC when we started out on the campaign. I felt that I should know more about using AAC for my future role as a speech and language therapist and wanted to gain a user’s perspective. The idea to spend a week using alternative communication seemed to perfectly coincide with the Giving Voice campaign, ‘No Voice Week’ which was April 22nd-26th. A facebook page (Dvoiced), twitter account (@Dvoiced) and blog were created in preparation to share our experiences and thoughts prior to and during the week. We each chose a method of communication including both high and low tech, including Dynavox and Liberator devices, smart phones with free apps, iPad apps and a communication book. When these failed we occasionally had to resort to our limited knowledge of Makaton, BSL and hand gestures/facial expressions.
The campaign allowed us to experience first hand (although within a short time frame) how difficult it can be to rely on alternative communication and the adaptations needed to participate in every day exchanges. We found common problems across communicative devices such as being able to keep-up with the conversation speed, gaining someone’s attention, asking questions and access to a limitless range of vocabulary. Most of our interactions were positive with communicative partners being patient and adapting the interaction to allow use of the device, however, some attitudes towards an electronic voice were negative.
We used the various devices throughout the week to talk to family members, buy travel tickets, shopping, coffees etc. We used them within university, during lectures and within the library and we also visited a restaurant and a busy pub, to try to experience the use of AAC across environments.
During ‘No Voice Week’ we arranged a drop-in session for fellow speech and language students to see and use the devices, held an awareness-raising stall on campus, met with the disability officer on campus to discuss students use of AAC devices and the support available, received training on the Dynavox device and some members were able to attend a 1Voice NE event to meet AAC users and their families. We also met with local comedian and AAC user Lee Ridley ‘Lost Voice Guy’ to chat about his incorporation of his device into his stand-up comedy career.
We blogged/tweeted and ‘facebooked’ our experiences of using AAC including the positive and occasional negative experiences. However, we were each astounded by how far-reaching the campaign was and the support it received. The blog had over 200 views, reaching people all over the world as well as local supporters including Liz Panton of ‘SaLT Mine Daily Diggings’ and we have new twitter followers every week. Due to this we were lucky enough to test-drive a new app, (AACorn) currently being developed and provide feedback on usability. There is a wealth of information and support available online and I am sure that our experiences will support our role as speech therapists in the future.
Overall, the event allowed us to gain more experience and understanding of alternative communication, the various options available, users and their families feelings towards this and a users perspective of the difficulties surrounding the use of communicative devices. I hope that we were also able to raise awareness of alternative communication and the use of AAC with those that we interacted with throughout the course of the week and feel privileged to have been able to hear first-hand opinions and preferences regarding AAC use and the challenges that they can bring.