Augmenting lives


Liz Downes explains how a national charity is supporting the provision of special equipment and aids for living.

Helping people to see the person, not the disability, and to provide the means to set lively minds free, continue to be our prime objectives. We aim to achieve this by making sure each of our disabled members reach their full potential through the provision of suitable communication equipment such as speech aids, light writers and grid pads. It may not yet be obvious that you or someone you know requires a communication aid to get by in life, as some people are born with speech limiting conditions and others can develop speech issues over time.

We specialise in funding a particular type of device known as AAC—Augmented and Alternative Communication, also referred to as AT or Assistive Technology. These are both broad terms for devices that help people live more independent lives, but there are some differences of what falls beneath each category. AT covers a broad range of resources such as devices that offer a new way of accessing a computer such as a switch, or it could be an environmental control system that allows the user to turn off lights, turn on the television or even open a window. AAC is a type of AT that covers electronic speech aids, which uses augmented voices to vocalise word selections, phrases or even sentences for those using the devices. These devices replace someone’s speech when they are non-verbal or can make communicating easier for those with incoherent speech. There are lots of different types of AAC including Grid pads, Eye Gaze Technology, Lightwriters and even software for iPads and computers, that act as communication aids for people with disabilities.

■ Devices support communication.

We supply primarily devices that fall under AAC but we are also able to supply AT if it is necessary. Say if our member requires an eye gaze machine, we can fund this, but we may also supply a wheelchair mount to make it easier for them to use the communication aid. Communication aids can be truly life-changing to the people who need them but the problem is there is no one size fits all. Before we can supply funding for a communication aid, we need to know firstly which device is required.

If you suspect that somebody you know may be in need of a communication aid, you’ll need to be referred to a speech and language therapist who will work with you to determine what sort of device is suitable for the needs of the person in question. Based on their assessment, the therapist may offer to hire a communication aid so that you can use it outside of a clinical environment and evaluate how much help it provides. It may take a few trial runs of a few devices to find one that works, so don’t be disheartened if you try a form of AAC that doesn’t work for you at first.

When completing assessments and trial runs it is important to be frank and honest about your needs so that the speech and language therapist gets an holistic overview of the situation. Some people require a device solely for use at home while others may need a device that can be used at school or in a workplace. Assistive technology is most beneficial to a person when they have lifelong support of friends, family and support professionals. Once you have found the correct communication aid and we have completed our funding towards the device, we offer lifelong support to our members and will even consider future fundraising if a device needs repairing or replacing as the users’ needs change.

Liz Downes
Author: Liz Downes

Liz Downes
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Liz Downes is the Charity Manager at The Sequal Trust, a communication disability charity that aims to improve the quality of life for those living with severe learning disabilities, mobility issues and communication difficulties.



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