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6 May 2024

Digital Inclusion: Communication


Suzanne Green is Capability Scotland's "well-kent" face, an expert who works directly with disabled people, ensuring their voice is heard. Here's her thoughts on digital inclusion for communication matters:

“Capability Scotland believes that our country should be an inclusive Scotland, where everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard.

Greig researchSince commencing my post as the Inclusive Communication Officer in 2021, I have been working to that mission in several ways for the people we support. My role has evolved since I started and in this past year, I have been involved in so many different projects. No two days are ever the same. One day I could be delivering a Talking Mats (a visual communication framework which supports people with communication difficulties to express their feelings and views) training session and the next, supporting students or customers at one of my communication groups.

There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone with a communication difficulty find their voice. This can vary from simple choice boards to a communication book or a high-tech communication aid, such as a speech synthesiser or tablet.

I liaise with various NHS Speech and Language Therapists across the different health boards, and this has meant provision of communication aids for those who need them. I have built up some great partnerships with external agencies, such as the Scottish Centre of Technology for the Communication Impaired. They offer a national specialist AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) service. This has resulted in some of the people we support being referred for assessment and getting their own communication equipment.

Once a communication aid is in place there is still a long journey ahead working with the person and training those around them but it’s so fantastic when you see someone make progress, and change their quality of life dramatically for the better.

RuthSomething that touched me in my work was supporting Mark. Prior to getting his communication aids, he was non-verbal and had no means of communicating other than eye-pointing. I remember looking around the room at the boccia tournament when it had come together and seeing the joy on people's faces, the amazing atmosphere. I thought to myself, without his aid, this idea would have been in his head with no means to express it and I realised even the simplest of things can make such a difference.
I have been supporting people to participate in various research projects. One was with the University of Dundee. A researcher doing her PhD was looking for people with lived experience of Cerebral Palsy or other movement difficulties that significantly interfere with being able to speak.

The research project was to find out if tracking eye gaze could give a clue to how language might be tested in people with limited speech and movement so that AAC systems and teaching can be tailored better
Another project we are currently involved in is with the University of Glasgow. The research project includes a group of our students from Corseford College, exploring their lives. The research findings will be used to create recommendations for how government policies aimed at helping young disabled people could be improved.

I support customers at our regular Have Your Say meetings, which are Capability Scotland 'town halls' in a sense, and we occasionally welcome guest speakers. Recently, we had staff from Barclays Bank in Edinburgh who came to discuss how they could make banking better for disabled people.
After hearing of the difficulties faced, particularly for those with communication needs, they were keen to help.
This resulted in a visit to their Princes Street branch, delivering an AAC awareness presentation to bank staff. The aim was to show the different communication systems people may use, to be more confident when having a conversation with someone who uses different communication aids, and to make information more accessible.

Bank training

The most important part of the work I do is seeing the difference it makes to the people I support. I have been working Julie at Wallace Court, who is completely non-verbal, and her physical disabilities mean using an aid would be too difficult. Talking Mats are a fantastic way for her to voice her opinion and her mum, Cherry, said, "there’s no stopping her now!". She has progressed to using a communication book and when I shared something she said to me with Cherry, she emailed me to say, "that brought a tear to my eye knowing she told you that”.
Hearing that from a parent truly is a wonderful experience and reminds me how important the work Capability Scotland does for disabled people in Scotland."