In our final blog on how innovation makes a difference for the people we support, we talk to one of our Welsh services, where their approach enables a new level of communication for people with disabilities.
‘Total communication is totally person-centred and uses any method of communicating that enables someone with disabilities to be understood and to express themselves,’ says Livability’s Shaun Jones. ‘So that could be using speech, signing, recognised symbols, photographs, video – anything that works for that person.’
Shaun is team leader at Plas Lluest in Aberystwyth, where 11 people with learning disabilities are supported in two houses. Of the 11, two people can read and write; the others use the total communication method. A central component of this is a set of recognised, ‘official’ line-drawn symbols. These can be downloaded via an app which enables a user to touch on a symbol and get an audio prompt in response.
Because total communication is so tailored to the individual, staff largely learn to use it on the job, but are supported by regular training sessions with the speech and language therapy team, part of Aberystwyth’s local authority community learning disability team.
For one resident, total communication in the form of a pocket-sized booklet of his most-used symbols has opened up communication options. ‘This gentleman, in his early 60s, struggles with his speech, so much so that over time, he had resorted to just saying a few phrases he knew others would understand,’ says Shaun. ‘We created a small booklet of symbols which has helped to broaden what he can communicate.’
Shaun praises the Aberystwyth team who have done much to promote total communication for the local learning disability community. ‘Every month they send out a pack of topical symbols – so for instance, this month’s are focused on autumn, Halloween etc – which we can then use to engage the people we support in conversation, and in our weekly speech and language group here at Plas Lluest,’ explains Shaun. ‘A major benefit, mainly from the symbols component, is that these are now used at local restaurants and eating places, to produce menus that the people we support can access. If you can’t read, a list of items and prices is no good. The council team asked those we support where they go to eat out, and they liaised with those places, supporting the restaurants by producing the total communication menus for them to use.’
Adopting this approach has substantial wellbeing benefits for the people supported by Livability, Shaun finds: ‘Using good, accessible communication goes a long way to dealing with the anxiety that some people here have, because they don’t feel understood. Something that’s very important to many of our folk is knowing what they are going to be doing tomorrow, and which staff will be supporting them. So we use total communication symbols to create a schedule for each person, displayed on a board, and this gives them peace of mind. Having good two-way communication can definitely make all of us happier.’