Enabling effective communication
How a City & Guilds qualification is helping people with speech-impeding disabilities to communicate effectively
24 May 2013
City & Guilds has been helping people with speech-impeding disabilities for 15 years, through the Certificate in Effective AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). In total, 406 learners with a range of disabilities have registered to take it since it was launched in 1998. The qualification helps learners with speech-impeding disabilities to communicate, opening doors to further education, improved social skills and employment.
AAC devices are used to supplement methods of speech and writing for people of all ages who have speech or language impairments, such as autism or cerebral palsy. They range from high-tech and sophisticated communication aids such as eye movement tracking devices and digitised speech-generating computers, to low-tech support, which includes symbol books and alphabet boards.
Raising awareness to change perceptions
‘I thought it was quite poignant that Stephen Hawking opened the London 2012 Paralympics with his AAC device,’ says Moira Welch, who was involved in setting up the AAC qualification in the 1990s. ‘It brought the issue of alternative communication into the public eye on a huge scale.’
Moira helped write the QCF qualification in 2010 when the AAC course was revamped to bring it in line with other City & Guilds qualifications. Before retiring in late 2011, Moira was one of a small number of external verifiers visiting centres who offer the course. She now writes exams for City & Guilds on a consultancy basis.
‘This qualification proves to the world that the learner can function, that they are using their own method of communication, and goes some way towards altering people’s perceptions of communication disabilities,’ says Moira. ‘If an AAC learner gets this certificate they can show people that they can actively participate in communication, conversation and social situations that require speech.’
‘There is no other suitable qualification for AAC users. They can’t apply for English courses because of the logistical demands of the qualification and the physical demands of the exam,’ says Gwyneth Worthington, who has overseen the AAC programme at the Percy Hedley Foundation in Newcastle for almost a decade. ‘The City & Guilds course, written on the back of the Scope Core Curriculum, is tailored to their communication needs and is both functional and flexible, giving students focus and motivation for their leaning as they progress at their own rate.’
Gwyneth oversaw a presentation given by two AAC learners at Percy Hedley to sixth form students considering a career in medicine at the nearby Newcastle University Medical School. Adeel Ramzan and Lewis Fisher spoke about their AAC devices, marking a monumental step in their progression on the course and advancing their peers’ understanding of their disabilities.
‘I send my writing to the computer to the infrared receiver. It is not easy because I know what I want to do on it, but I am too slow on it,’ explained Lewis about his DynaVox joystick-controlled device. He also showed the class a video of him using new eye-gaze technology, telling them, ‘it is better and faster than my joy stick; I think I am going to buy one’. Adeel talked about his head pointer, a device that uses infrared to track his head movements and translate these into words on a computer screen through a ‘talker’. ‘I even have a phone on my talker to text my friends whenever I’m free at home,’ he said.
Kelly Webb has been working at Scope’s Beaumont College of Further Education in Lancaster for 13 years, and began coordinating the AAC programme in 2001. ‘Attitudes are changing with more and more people using AAC in the mainstream and going into higher education,’ she says. ‘It is the only qualification that recognises their skills and, if it wasn’t there, the public wouldn’t realise that these people can use different forms of communication and get their message across just like I can.’