Campaign focuses on people in Scotland with communication needs

nowhearme_NESNow hear me: It’s my right to speak

NHS Education for Scotland (NES) today launched a new campaign aimed at helping people to understand the needs of individuals who may have difficulties as a result of impaired or no speech and who use Augmentative and Alternative communications (AAC). The campaign is entitled, “Now hear me: It’s my right to speak”, will run for four months and is targeted at professionals in areas such as health, social care, social work and education but is equally relevant to the wider community across Scotland including shops, banks, public transport operators and leisure services.

It is estimated that there are 26,500 people in Scotland who require AAC, and there are many reasons for this. Communication may be impaired due to lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy or autism or it may be as a result of an acquired condition such as dementia, motor neurone disease, stroke or head injury.

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 or other input-to-speech programmes. Professor Stephen Hawking, the prize-winning scientist and author, is a well-known example of an individual who uses AAC.

To support the campaign, a new website has been created. The site is a gateway to information and advice, ranging from a basic video introduction through to a set of e-learning modules that will help everybody to better understand AAC. For the first time in Scotland, it provides easy access to essential resources for all those with an interest in AAC, including those who use it. Other elements of the campaign include online advertising and direct communication to a wide range of Scottish public services such as health boards and local authorities.

Rachael Monk, who is 31 and from Dumfries and Galloway, uses AAC technology because she has cerebral palsy. She said: “My communication aid has made a huge difference to my quality of life. It allows me to convey my thoughts, feelings and opinions. I can voice concerns, make choices, tell jokes, and chat with friends, like anybody should be able to do. I attended college and obtained an A level in Fine Arts, I have given speeches at conferences, and I am able to speak up in important meetings. Without my communication aid, I would not be able to do any of this or express exactly what I wanted to say.”

Helen McFarlane, Programme Director, Allied Health Professions, NES, and a speech and language therapist, said: “AAC has incredible potential to improve quality of life, allowing individuals to express themselves, be more independent and, importantly, enabling them to communicate with the people who love them. But there are no magic fixes. Different systems will work best for different people. What matters most is the support of the wider community and taking time to listen.

“Very often, I meet individuals who use AAC who tell me that they can express themselves but they need people to be just a little 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 to them directly, not just their carer. Anyone could face losing their speech and all most people in that situation want is for you to treat them the way you would want to be treated.”

Michael Matheson, Minister for Public Health, said: “I’m very pleased to welcome this campaign, which builds on the report, ‘A Right to Speak’ and will help guide work in this area. Everyone has a fundamental right to be heard. Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to take this for granted, but for some it can be a daily struggle. I call on everyone, but especially people who work with the public, to find out more about what they can do to help ensure this right is respected and guaranteed across Scotland.”

About NES

NES is NHSScotland’s national education and training Board. We are responsible for supporting NHS services to the people of Scotland through the development and delivery of education and training for all those who work in NHSScotland. We work closely with a range of partners to deliver our vision of Quality Education for a Healthier Scotland

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