Tip of the Month
In the past decade, significant strides have been made in technology that allow the people we serve to communicate. Many members have recently come to use what are broadly known as “communication devices” in order to express themselves in ways that were previously not possible. These devices vary depending on the person, and can range from a tablet that allows one to type words and have them spoken, to a series of words that cycle and allow a member to push a button with a mobile part of their body to speak a specific word. This technology has opened up worlds of opportunities for people who would have otherwise been considered non-verbal. However, they also come with a unique set of considerations and challenges, so there are some important things to keep in mind when working with someone who uses a communication device.
It can often take much longer for someone with a communication device to formulate a phrase or a thought than it would for someone with use of their voice for words. A communication device may not have the exact word or phrase a person wants to use, and they will have to be creative. Make sure to wait for someone to complete thoughts, ask clarifying yes or no questions, and stick with somebody until they have had a complete conversation with you. This can often feel frustrating for both parties, and that’s okay. It’s important to work through this frustration, because it will ultimately end in the member having his/her wants or needs fulfilled.
Encourage proper use
Especially when they are new or novel, some members may treat their communication devices like toys rather than tools for self expression. Though members have the right to use devices any way they want, it is our job as staff to encourage them to use them as a means to make requests, express needs, and have conversations. If someone is just saying the same word over and over again, maybe help them explore other options and features of the communication device, and encourage them to practice and try out new things. Respond favorably when someone uses their newfound voice in a productive way. This will help members realize that the things they have to say with their devices are important and can get them what they want.
Communicate with your supervisor about modifications and problems
Many communication devices come with default settings, and have words and phrases that are not relevant to the specific member’s life. Some are set up by medical professionals that do not have the same practical day-to-day experience that a Direct Support Professional might have. It is important to note that the settings on these devices are generally not fixed, so if you find some words or phrases that could be removed, or more importantly, useful phrases that could be added, make sure to let your supervisor know, so that she or he can make modifications. Also, if a communication device is not working properly (e.g. not holding a charge or not making noise), inform your supervisor immediately.
Remember that these devices are members’ voices
Communication is an incredibly important part of life for anybody. Self expression is a basic human right, and it is not our place to deny this, even if we have the power to do so. If someone is using their communication device to be inappropriate, the proper response is to redirect this behavior, and have a conversation about it. It is not a fair response to shut off or take away a communication device if this happens. This would be the equivalent of covering a verbal person’s mouth, or taking away their voice. Ultimately, members should know they are responsible for the consequences of what they say, and staff should encourage them to use communication devices responsibly and appropriately without restricting their rights.