Category Archives: Team News

Emma and Gemma’s Blog for European day of SLT

This blog post is about Emma and Gemma’s experience of using communication aids to speak, as part of marking the European day of SLT in March 2018.

We wanted to try to put ourselves into the position of our AAC users, and experience what it is like to rely on AAC while out and about doing fairly regular, day to day tasks. We had arranged to set up a stall in the hospital outpatients area later that morning, so thought it was a good opportunity to begin our day with a couple of these tasks. We also hoped that by using AAC out and about, we would raise awareness of AAC with members of the public that we met.

We decided that we would do one job each,  and the other person would observe what was going on from an outsiders perspective. We would only use unaided, non-verbal communication, and one method of powered (or high tech) AAC. Both tasks were very straightforward, and actually required only a very small amount of AAC to get by. Despite this, we found our experiences to be highly valuable and insightful, giving us a snapshot of how it feels to be an AAC user.

Emma’s task- buying a stamp using predictable on an iPad

My task was to go into a shop to buy a stamp. I decided to use an iPad with Predictable; an app which I am relatively familiar with and works on both iOS and android devices. Before we set off, I made sure to add some pre-programmed phrases, so that I could quickly communicate what I needed. I was amazed at how anxious I felt before setting off. We were going to a local shop- what if they recognised me? What if they responded in a negative way? What if other people stared? – all things which surely go through the heads of our AAC users when we ask them to practise in real life situations with devices, apps, access methods and software packages that may be completely new and alien to some clients.

When walking to the shop, I also felt empathy with users that had commented to me that they didn’t feel confident to have their device accessible when out and about, in fear of their public safety. I was only carrying my iPad and still this thought crossed my mind. What about our users who need their device mounted to a wheelchair, or those that wouldn’t physically be able to defend themselves if anything happened?

When I got to the shop, it looked fairly quiet, which reassured me. I went to the counter and was greeted by a member of staff. I used the iPad to say good morning, and ask for a stamp (both in my saved phrases). The lady nodded and said “first class?” I panicked, and rather than just nodding my head, I went into my phrases to confirm “first class” back to her. The lady quickly got me my stamp and I gave her the money, and said “thanks”. I wanted to make sure that we told them a bit about what we were doing before we left, so I (again using pre-programmed phrases) said that we were from the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team and were using this to demonstrate how people may use technology to support their communication. The lady nodded, and I left the shop.

As we left, I reflected on how strange the whole interaction felt, in comparison to if I had been a speaking customer. I know the staff are very friendly, and usually would have asked a question about what we were doing, or offered a comment about the day. Today, the conversation was limited to just what was needed, and it was as though because I wasn’t talking, my communication partner didn’t talk either. I was really surprised about how it had made me feel , and because of this, I had forgotten to ask for some change. I found that I could stick to the routine with my pre-planned phrases, but if anything about the conversation went off track, I found it very difficult and panicked. I could have very easily used the keyboard to type something out, however this would have taken up more time, and I didn’t want to keep other people waiting. It was very difficult to combine using the app with more natural means of communication such as using eye contact and smiling, which again added to my anxiety of trying to include being polite and friendly, while at the same time trying to use a different system. Gemma noticed that as a short queue built up behind me in the shop, other customers were immediately looking at me and the iPad, which as someone who hates being the centre of attention only added to my anxieties!

I think if I had the choice of someone else being able to carry out this task for me, for ease and speed, I would happily accept their help. It is no wonder that many of our AAC users report that they sometimes let someone else do the talking for them in such situations, and similarly demonstrates how driven, motivated and inspirational the clients that do use their devices while out and about are.

Gemma’s task- buying milk using the speech assistant app

My task was to ask for help finding the milk, and then to purchase this at the shop. I used the Speech Assistant app on Samsung smartphone, which is a free text to speech app available on Android operating systems. I decided to go with using an app on my phone because it could fit in my pocket, and if I was to use AAC, I would prefer something portable and small where possible.

I had tried using the app the evening before with my husband in which I was free typing out all of my messages to him. I found that typing out my message on each turn in the conversation was slowing me down, and when I tried to speed up typing, I was making mistakes with pressing letters on the keyboard. I also found that whilst typing, I was unable to give eye-contact to my husband. I decided for my task the next day, that I would set some pre-programmed phrases as I had a good idea about what I was going to ask at the shop. I felt this would support my social engagement with the conversation partner.

I was like Emma, feeling anxious before this and had similar thoughts running through my head. I visit the shop regularly so wondered if someone may recognise me. I felt somewhat self-conscious. I was anxious of how the people I communicated with may respond.

I first approached an assistant to ask where the milk was using the AAC app. I tried a different approach to Emma of informing the shop assistant before asking my question using a pre-set phrase that I am using an app on my phone to help me communicate. The shop assistant put me at ease as her approach was warm and understanding. I asked her where the milk was using the app and she showed me.

I then stood in the queue at the check out. The lady at the checkout was having a conversation with the customer in front of the queue, making jokes. She looked to me as she was joking. Perhaps if I was verbally speaking, I would have joined in and commented, but I realised I did not have a phrase ready on my device to respond, and was also anxious of their reaction if I used my phone instead. When it was my turn to pay for my milk. I informed the lady at the checkout that I was using an app to help me communicate. I then asked how much the milk was and thanked her. Her response was supportive, and she used some unaided strategies to support the conversation. I did feel a contrast to the previous customer, as the lady did not engage in as much ‘small talk’ with me. Perhaps she was feeling unsure too how to respond? I too like Emma, felt my communication was focussed on what I needed.

The experience enabled me to empathise so much with the clients I support in my role. Previously, I may have underestimated how it could feel to use AAC to support social communication. I considered how I may have set targets previously and offered recommendations for using AAC, without having the experience myself.

I considered Janice Light’s model of communicative competence, in which perhaps the area I was working on was ‘social’ competence, adapting to use AAC as a method of communication socially. I considered that for many of the people who use AAC, there are many other goals and targets they may be working on first, such as learning to access a system, learning to use symbols, learning the location of vocabulary, learning to build sentences. Many people with AAC too may have physical or sensory difficulties where learning to use a device in a social situation is just one part of their AAC journey.

Janice Light 1989

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I was glad to have Emma with me as someone else I could share the experience with. This further consolidated my feeling that clients using AAC may benefit from meeting other AAC users, such as in AAC user groups, aphasia cafes, and charities such as ‘the stroke association’ and ‘One Voice’.

Following this experience, I have shared my experience with some of the clients and carers I have since visited, and I have found this to be a positive way of demonstrating that I can personally identify with some of the experiences they may have using AAC. I feel so pleased that I tried this, as now I understand more than ever, what it can be like for someone using AAC to support their communication.

Summary of our experiences

As mentioned above, we were both using very simple apps, a direct access method and a text to speech system. Throw into the mix the often complex access methods, symbol systems, and navigation around software packages that some of our users have, it is not surprising that clients (sometimes with additional cognitive difficulties) often find it highly challenging to use their devices in public places or to carry out everyday tasks with unfamiliar communication partners who know very little about AAC. It will definitely make us think twice when setting goals with clients, and certainly help us to empathise with clients who find this aspect of AAC use more challenging. We would recommend anyone who works with AAC to have a go at something like this, in order to experience first hand exactly how it feels.

We also raised £20 on our stall which we have donated to communication matters. Thank you to everyone that came to talk to us!

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References

Light, J.C. (1989). Toward a definition of communicative competence for individuals using augmentative and alternative communication systems. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 5,4, 137-144. You can read the original article here with thanks to ISAAC for making this available for free: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/07434618912331275126

Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2014). Communicative competence for individuals who require augmentative and alternative communication: A new definition for a new era of communication?. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 1-18. doi:10.3109/07434618.2014.885080
The Speech Assistant App can be downloaded for free from: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=nl.asoft.speechassistant)

The Predictable app is available on IOS and Android operating systems, and can be purchased from:

(https://www.therapy-box.co.uk/predictable)

 

 

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Being a Field Servicing Technician in the Assistive Technology Team

In this post Phill, one of our new Field Service Technicians tells us about his role.   If this is something that interests you, or someone you know, then we have a position out to advert at the moment so please have a look and get in touch!


Tell us what the job of Field Servicing Technician in the Assistive Technology Team involves?

Phill, one of our field service engineers.

Phill, one of our Field Service Technicians

No two days are ever the same. One day you may be refurbishing equipment that has been returned ready to be returned to another client or setting up a device for other members of the team. You could be installing a system for a client or carrying out a routine service. But the best part of the job is that every day you can make a real difference to someone’s life. This could be something as “simple” as letting someone control their TV using a different style of controller to enabling someone to communicate who may not be able to speak.

What was your previous field servicing experience?

Previously I worked as a service engineer for a large international company on high end devices from numerous manufacturers. The equipment I worked on was in almost every sector from Healthcare to banking, Small single offices to international  companies.

How does this role compare to your previous field servicing experience?

Previously I was just a number in a service division of an international company. Now I’m part of an amazing team of people who are all working towards providing the best possible service possible. Everyone goes the extra mile to help our clients.

What would you say to someone else coming into this role?

If you really like helping people and working with technology then this is the job for you.

Tell us about a client you recently visited, what did you do?

One of the first visits I attended was to watch a colleague install an environmental control system. After we had completed the install the reaction from the client and her Husband  was fantastic. Being able to control the TV and adjust her chair made such a difference. A more recent visit I have attended was for a young man who is not able to communicate or use standard devices to control his TV, Radio or go on Facebook. All this is now controlled from one device. Although he couldn’t talk we still had a laugh with each other after I told him I was going to make his device tune the TV to Classic FM. We settled on Heart FM

Anything else?

The Barnsley AT Team

The Barnsley AT Team

If you want a new challenge in a rewarding field, working as part of a fantastic team in a great environment then this could be the move your looking for.

Work with us!

The Barnsley AT Team

The Barnsley AT Team

We are recruiting to a number of positions in our team – we are looking for Technical staff and also Speech Therapists and Therapy Assistants.   If you wish to apply, or know someone who may be interested, please see the listings on NHS jobs below.

Technical Staff: Do you have a technical background but want to work in a more rewarding role, making a real difference to the lives of individuals with disabilities? We are looking for Technicians, Field Service Engineers and Clinical Technologists to work in our nationally recognised Assistive Technology Team.

If you have a technical background and an interest in electronic Assistive Technology, we have a number of posts open, according to your skills and experience:

If you are a registered Clinical Technologist, or have a defined route for completing registration:

Therapy Staff: Are you a Speech Therapist or Therapy Assistant with a specific interest in AAC and Assistive Technology?

Find Out more about our team and the services we provide on our website.

BBC Accessibility Champions

In August Vicky Johnson and Marcus Friday from our Team were invited to present to the BBC accessibility champions event at BBC Media City in Salford.

BBC Accessibility Champions

BBC Media City, Salford

BBC Media City, Salford

This day was organised to bring together many BBC accessibility champions. The group included people who design BBC websites and apps to ensure accessibility. The audience consisted of programmers, user experience designers, researchers and testers, business analysts, assistive technology users and accessibility specialists.

The BBC now has approximately 85 accessibility champions which span across many BBC departments, eg TV, radio, sport and children’s. Presentations were given to explain the ways in which the champions ensure that accessibility is considered early in the design process, and that testing is carried out as a website, app or game is developed.

‘Physical’ ICT Accessibility

Vicky and Marcus, from the Barnsley AT team, were invited to speak at the event in order to provide the audience with an insight into how users with severe physical impairments access technology. The focus was on their clients who predominantly have upper limb physical impairments and sometimes have associated visual and cognitive difficulties. An overview of the Barnsley AT Team was provided, along with some powerful case studies of clients using their AT systems to enable computer access, control of the environment, and access to communication.

Three breakout sessions took place in the afternoon and we listened to the Head of Accessibility and Accessibility Specialists provide an insight into the developments in the accessibility of BBC output in recent years. Part of the discussion focused on how to ensure that breadth of BBC output is accessible to those with visual, cognitive or physical difficulties.

Looking to the Future

The day ended with a fun session spent in the Blue Room. The BBC have dream jobs where Technologists are employed whose role is to keep aware of new mainstream developments which may have an application or scope for development of interest to them.

We tried the Amazon voice recognition system called Echo which uses the protocol IFTTT (if this then that) which provides a flexible system, where for example the system recognises your request and you program it to perform any number of actions e.g. control your environment, interact with an app in order to order a taxi or food or action another command programmed in other IFTTT enabled apps. We also had time to try Google Glass and a relatively cheap head worn display called Glasshouse.

It was a privilege to meet some of the people behind the iPlayer TV and radio apps, including the Good Food site. Overall, it was an informative and enjoyable day which has opened up the opportunity for Barnsley AT Team to work further with the BBC.

Specialised Services for AAC and Environmental Control: An Update

There have been big changes within the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team over the past three years, we have been steadily recruiting more team members as we expand our services across the Yorkshire and Humber region as part of the staged roll-out of Specialised Services for AAC and Environmental Controls. You can read more about the history of this process on our website.

We are now almost at the end of this process. We currently cover most areas within Yorkshire and Humberside and will be accepting referrals from all CCG’s by the end of the year. Information regarding our care pathway and how we work with local services can be found on our website:

Supporting Local Services

We are keen to work with local services to support them through this transition period and beyond. We have already visited lots of teams to talk about our service and how we can work with each other to support people using AAC and Environmental controls.

We also offer a wide range of free training courses which can be delivered in your local area. Details of our curriculum are also on our website: www.barnsleyhospital.nhs.uk/assistive-technology/services/training-courses/

We are also trying to bring together local services to share and learn from each other. This includes setting up and arranging the Yorkshire and Humber AAC Clinical Excellence Network meeting which has been running for almost a year now. The group meets every four months to discuss a range of Assistive Technology issues and serves as a useful forum for networking and CPD.

Also on our website is a range of resources, including our popular ‘local services resource pack’ which details products and resources which local professionals will find useful: www.barnsleyhospital.nhs.uk/assistive-technology/services/resources-and-information/

NHS England have also recently published guidance about AAC provision from local and specialised services. This is a useful reference for local commissioners and managers when considering AAC provision: www.england.nhs.uk/commissioning/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2016/03/guid-comms-aac.pdf


We have received lots of positive feedback so far and are enjoying getting to know the professionals across the region supporting AAC and Environmental Controls. If you have any questions about our service or would like to arrange for us to visit your team, please email barnsley.at@nhs.net

To receive further updates and news from the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team, please sign up to our mailing list (we send a message or two per month).

Be a Field Service Engineer with a difference

We are currently recruiting for field service engineers.  This is not your average field servicing job though – this post is rewarding and challenging in equal measure. In addition, there are routes to personal development including working towards registration as a clinical technologist within the NHS.

These roles are key to our team’s ability to install, service,  maintain and repair the communication aids and environmental controls that our team provides to individuals with severe disabilities.

You will have to have a strong electronic/computing engineering background and the ability to communicate with a range of people and have an excellent ability to fault find and fix problems. You will also enjoy being a part of a supportive and dynamic team.

Read more about the job on the NHS Jobs page.  You can also see more about what we do on our website.

Join our team

We are continuing the expansion of our service, to provide specialised Augmentative Communication Aid and Environmental Control services across Yorkshire and Humber.   As such we have new roles available within the team:

  • Office & Contract Manager – NHS Jobs Ref 163-2687E-10-15
  • Assistive Technology Clinical Specialist (Occupational Therapist) – NHS Jobs Ref 163-2633E-10-15
  • Therapy Assistant / Technical Instructor – this will be posted on 23rd Oct.
  • Clinical Technologist (Electronics) – this will be posted in November.

We are looking for motivated individuals with a real drive for making a difference to the lives of people with disabilities. Our team is known nationally and internationally for quality and innovation and by joining you will help us maintain this reputation and more importantly to deliver a great service within Yorkshire and Humber.

If you are interested in any of these roles, please have a look at the job descriptions (linked above) and please feel free to get in touch to discuss them further.