Transforming communication

Nick Bishop

Nick Bishop finds out how modern communication technology will make a difference to disabled people’s lives at Hill House.

Bev Glover smiles as she sits in her powerchair alongside assistive tech guru David Hursthouse, who is in full PPE. Bev is in the first few weeks of trying her new communication device, a Gridpad 12. 

Bev is a big part of Hill House – a residential home for 24 disabled adults in Sandbach, Cheshire – and has lived here for many years. She has verbal communication but sometimes other people can struggle to understand her. So the new device will help her to get her point across. 

What is a Gridpad?

The Gridpad looks like a large tablet computer and runs ‘Grid 3’ software that allows people to choose what they want to say. Bev accessed her device with a switch so she can scan through and select cells with words or phrases on. She also has text to speech software that she can use to support her verbal communication when she needs it.

There are various Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. AAC is any communication that supports spoken speech, from signing to paper-based resources. It also includes apps and high-tech specialist devices like the one that Bev uses. At Hill House, they will choose the method(s) of AAC based on the individual needs of each person.

Working out the best options

Lissa Garvey, Speech and Language Therapist at Hill House, is sitting down with each resident with communication needs, exploring all the latest options and establishing what works. Lissa says:

“I really think there’s a lot of potential. We’re talking to people and matching them to what works best right now. The project can introduce things that will make people’s lives better, and that’s exciting. You want to give people what they want and support them to achieve their goals.”

While the project is in its early days, Bev is clearly enjoying her the Gridpad. 

Lissa says:

“Delivering our first new AAC device was a really big moment and Bev’s been loving it. She’s a very sociable person. She’s been wanting to use Skype for ages but that’s just not been possible. Now she’s really keen to start that.”

Opportunities for independence

Bev is aware that even after getting used to a new device, she will still need to be patient. Like most AAC users, she knows that it always takes a while to select the right option and say what she wants. Crucially, though, she also knows she has new options. And she’s keen to use them.

Skype was a big goal for Bev as social interaction is key, and there are more possibilities to explore. Bev can talk to Alexa with her communicator, and the popular Amazon voice assistant makes environmental controls easy to access. Bev will soon be able to control TV, window blinds and doors with her communicator.

As David Hursthouse says:

“We’re trying to provide more opportunities for independence and spontaneity. The levels of independence this technology can give to Bev and to others at Hill House is life-changing.”

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