Learning to use assistive technology can smash communication barriers for people with disabilities, allowing them to use social media or their smart phone to stay in touch with family and friends. Livability services devote many staff hours to training and assisting the people we support with alternative communications aids.
At Treetops, Livability’s Essex residential home for adults with high dependency needs, many people choose to adopt this technology – and put in the hours it takes to learn to use it well – so they can enjoy communicating independently again.
Tim is one such person. A natural communicator whose disability prevents him from verbal speech, he’s training to be a counsellor, he preaches at his church from time to time, and he’s about to embark on work experience at a local car company.
These interactions are made possible for Tim only through his Dynavox, a communications device that enables wheelchair user Tim to use head-operated controls to spell out what he wants to say. His words can either be displayed on his screen or played as audio, to whomever he’s chatting to.
Tim says being able to use the Dynavox is ‘seven out of ten important’ to him: ‘I do feel less isolated – I’ve had my device for 12 years. It wasn’t hard to learn, I was comfortable after a morning but at the start I wasn’t wanting to use it every day.’
This technology opens up opportunities for Tim which simply would not be possible as a disabled person who cannot communicate verbally. ‘If I didn’t have my device, communication would be very slow and frustrating. I don’t think work experience would have said yes to me. I’m going down the counselling path [at a local college] and I ran a church group.’ Tim says he ‘sometimes still gets frustrated with my device’ but he most enjoys using email and files.
Down the corridor at Treetops, Tim’s housemate Rachel is a big fan of social media. Rachel operates her computer with Eyegaze technology rather than a headrest control, using eye movements to access what she wants online. ‘It’s massively important to me,’ she spells out on her screen. ‘’My favourite thing to use is Facebook so I can keep in touch with family and friends. I do get frustrated with it at times but it does stop me feeling isolated because I can talk to people outside of care.’ The system was a gift to Rachel from her family and friends.
Now Treetops is working with resident Alison on installing a new environmental system for her needs, which will open up ways for Alison to communicate again after a debilitating stroke. ‘This kind of system is complex and we’re investing a lot of staff time in set-up and training so Alison can get the most out of this amazing kit,’ says manager Mandy Nixon. ‘As a Livability service, we talk about making it “all add up” for the people we serve, and communication is a massive part of that – we see how much it benefits people’s everyday lives.’