‘A’ is for Access
The ability to communicate our basic needs and wants to people within our environment is something that many of us take for granted. But what about those who do not have an ability to communicate effectively? There are approximately 1.2 million Australians with a communication disability. Without access to the right tools and support, these people often experience communication barriers that inhibit participation in community life, and lead to social and emotional isolation.
Speech Pathology Week falls in August each year, and the topic this year is: Communication access is communication for all. A Growing Understanding is a supporter of Speech Pathology Australia’s call for greater action to ensure communication accessibility for all. We believe that access is vital in ensuring everyone can participate in social, educational and community activities. By providing services to support those with communication difficulties, we are proud to help children and families break down communication barriers, build life-long skills and grow confidence. But ‘access’ is more than just acquiring the skills to participate in everyday life.
What is communication access?
Communication access is where everyone can get their message across regardless of their communication difficulties. It is about people being able to go to school, into a shop or visit a service provider, and know that they will be treated with dignity and respect, that someone will talk directly to them and give them time to convey their message, listen to that message and be willing to use other ways of communicating to support their need.
When looking at communication access, the most important thing to be aware of is that communication is a two-way process. Both people need to take responsibility for making the communication effective and successful. For business owners, educators or anyone who interacts with people on a daily basis, there are a few simple things you can do to break down some of the communication barriers that may be experienced:
- Display easy to read signage that can help people navigate your premises without the need to ask questions
- Write and display information in easy to read formats, and incorporate symbols and images where possible
- Investigate assistive technologies (ATs) that can be implemented to help people communicate i.e. augmentative and alternative communication (ACC) devices like picture boards or a computer program.
For those with communication difficulties, a speech pathologies can provide support, therapies and strategies that will help build confidence and enable individuals to engage in everyday activities.
The role of the speech pathologist in communication access
Because communication is generally considered to involve two people, those with communication difficulties need to develop specific skills so they can be an ‘active’ participant in a conversation. A speech pathologist can help with the development of these skills, and inevitably enable an individual with communication difficulties to participate in various activities.
A Growing Understanding works primarily with children and their families in building communication skills, understanding and confidence. Through an evidence-based approach, we assess a child’s abilities and provide individualised services that address their needs and interests. This approach enables us to identify the best tools that will work for that child and their family, and bridge the communication gap. Some of the tools we utilise include the introduction of visuals, and using photos and symbols to aid a child’s ability to understand and navigate certain scenarios without the use of words. Other approaches might involve teaching a child to use sign language or non-verbal communication methods to portray their message.
With the diversity of digital devices and programs available, we can also help families to utilise assistive technology such as electronic communication and speech generating devices, voice amplification systems, computers, tablets and other devices to help establish two-way communication and build language and literacy skills.
A Growing Understating takes a proactive approach in ensuring communication access for the children and families we support. Through tools, therapies and the resources we use, children can learn new ways of communicating, build on their existing skills, and participate in a variety of activities with confidence.
But for us, ‘access’ isn’t just about being able to participate, it is about accessing the right kind of support and services to ensure children and families grow the skills required for participation.
Accessing the right kind of services
The Government utilises a geographical classification system called the Modified Monash Model (MMM) to better address the maldistribution of health and medical services across Australia. Utilising up-to-date population data, this model considers many regions within our catchment to be MMM4/MMM5 regions. This means that within these communities, there is often limited choice and availability of services, and an increased need to travel a substantial distance to receive the support required. If families are unable to access quality speech pathology care, it goes without saying that communication access becomes incredibly challenging for these people.
A Growing Understanding actively pursues means to deliver valuable services to those who may not be able to reach them. These include Skype or Telehealth consultations, home or school visits, and more recently, expanding our service offering to the Port Stephens area. With two locations, we can provide further choice for Hunter families, and assist in increasing access to services.
Our communities need to be accessible for everyone, including people with communication difficulties, physical disabilities, reading difficulties, vision impairment, hearing impairment and intellectual disability. And for this to occur, we need to ensure those in need can access the support they require. We are honoured to play a part in increasing communication access, and to work with children in aiding their ability to communicate so they can participate in real-world activities.