A campaign is aiming to help people understand the needs of individuals who may have difficulties as a result of impaired or no speech and who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
Launched by NHS Education for Scotland (NES), the campaign – Now hear me: It’s my right to speak – is targeting professionals in areas such as health, social care, social work and education. Organisers also hope to reach out to the wider community, including workers in shops, banks, public transport and leisure services.
It is estimated that there are around 26,500 people in Scotland who require AAC for a variety of reasons. Their communication may be impaired due to life-long conditions such as cerebral palsy or autism, or their difficulties may be the result of an acquired condition, such as motor neurone disease, head injury, stroke or dementia.
AAC methods range from the simple, such as picture communication books and gestures, to more sophisticated computer-based equipment running specialist software such as text-to-speech programmes.
Rachael Monk, a 31-year-old from Dumfries and Galloway, uses AAC because of her cerebral palsy. Rachel feels that her communication aid has made a huge difference to her quality of life. “It allows me to convey my thoughts, feelings and opinions”, she says. “I can voice concerns, make choices, tell jokes, and chat with friends, like anybody should be able to do.”
Gaining the support of the wider community is also important, according to Helen McFarlane, a Programme Director at the NES, who believes that while many AAC users can express themselves, they need people to be more patient. “Everyone communicates in different ways and it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand someone the first time – just let them know. Be confident enough to approach them and remember to address them directly, not just their carer”, she says.
To support the campaign, a new website has been created to provide information, advice and e-learning materials. The campaign will also include online advertising and direct communication to a wide range of Scottish public services such as health boards and local authorities.
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