For the very first time, we – the UCLU Giving Voice Society – ran a Taster Evening on Wednesday 5th October 2016 to spread awareness about speech and language therapy, and what it may be like for somebody with a speech, language, communication or swallowing need.
We are extremely pleased to say it was an overwhelming success!
We had some first year MSc Speech and Language Science students attend, but the majority of attendees were undergraduates from a variety of UCL courses including: Linguistics, Psychology and Computer Science. It’s fantastic that so soon into this academic year, we already feel like we are reaching out to new people, sparking a genuine interest and initiating realisation about the importance of what Giving Voice stands for.
If you missed out on this event, we will be making our slides from our introductory presentation available on our Facebook page, alongside all photos and videos of our stalls (see descriptions below!). If you were wondering how your field/ interests may be relevant to Giving Voice and want to find out more, please have a look at them. Not only may you be surprised by some of the facts and statistics we’ve found, but you may also be surprised to realise that your own skill base could bring something incredible to the society.
A particular highlight of the presentation included clips of tremendous comedian, Lost Voice Guy, who we hope may feature as a guest for us at an event later in the year… Watch this space!
If you’re intrigued, have any questions or ideas, or want to get involved with Giving Voice in the future, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
We would love to hear from you!
UCL Giving Voice Committee
Facebook: UCLU Giving Voice Society
Word Finding (‘Articulate’) Stall
In our ‘Word Finding’ game, players were given a series of written words and asked to describe these words to a partner. We challenged them to see how many words their partner could correctly guess from their descriptions in just one minute! This game aimed to replicate the experience of word finding difficulties, where people have severe difficulty in producing words despite having a clear understanding of the word they wish to use. Everyone experiences this type of difficulty from time to time: it is the experience of a word being on ‘the tip of your tongue’. However, those with atypical word finding difficulties may find that it has a severe impact on their communication, which became clear to those playing the word finding game. They expressed frustration that some words were extremely difficult to describe and that it was challenging to try and quickly develop an array of alternative definitions for words if their partner was having trouble guessing. Some even expressed frustration at their partner when they were not able to guess the word from their (obviously very clear!) descriptions.
As well as allowing people to experience the challenging and frustrating aspects of word finding difficulties, this game allowed players to experience a compensation strategy that some people use to try overcome these difficulties: circumlocution. This strategy involves describing a word you are struggling to find by using lots of other related words. By describing the words they had written down, players were using circumlocution to help their partners guess the word. This had varying levels of success! While some people were only able to get their partner to guess one or two answers, one expert describer managed to get their partner to guess an impressive eight words! This demonstrates how effective this type of communication strategy can be if an individual is skilled at circumlocution and if the person you are talking to is good at interpreting that information!
Idiom ‘Pictionary’ & Charades Stall
The Idiom Pictionary & Charades activity seemed popular among the attendees. For this activity, there were different idioms and well-known English phrases on the table; one person had to choose one at random and then through either drawing and/or charades only, had to try and communicate the message to their partner. No talking allowed!
What seems like such a simple game is actually quite difficult and can be very frustrating! Many people who had a go commented that it was difficult to convey the meaning of their phrase without using words, particularly as it involved figurative language, which is one of many experiences individuals with communication difficulties have when they cannot communicate their message. Some people also found it hard to get inside their partner’s head and work out what their drawings or gestures were referring to, which is also a barrier communication partners face with people with speech, language and communication needs.
Thickened Fluids Stall
In the atrium of Chandler House we provided some refreshments with a twist! The dysphagia stall gave people the experience of trying thickened liquids and opening up a discussion about what it must be like to have a swallowing difficulty.People with swallowing problems may struggle to swallow thin liquids, such as water, as they pass through the mouth quickly and are hard to control. Most people know this as ‘going down the wrong way’, and those with a regular swallow may find that they are able to clear their throat to easily fix this. People regularly coughing when drinking fluids, however, are at a high risk of the fluid entering their lungs, which could cause a chest infection known as aspiration pneumonia.
To prevent this from happening, patients would have their drinks thickened. This is safer as it moves slower and allows better control of the swallow. Three different consistencies were made last night (syrup, custard and pudding) so that attendees had the opportunity to compare them all. Some were made with orange juice and others with water, but everyone came to a consensus that the thickener was more tolerable when there was a stronger flavour.
Everyone who approached this stall was hesitant about trying the thickened fluids, based on their murky appearance, but most were willing to have a go! Some people even practiced thickening the fluids themselves to a custard thickness and were fascinated as they felt it thicken with every stir. We had a few psychologists attend the event, which led to really interesting discussions about the psychological impact of having to ‘eat’ your drinks by using a spoon. Overall people appeared genuinely interested to learn about dysphagia and stated that it was not something they had ever considered before.
One of the interactive activities at the taster evening involved each pair giving and receiving instructions using AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) devices. According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, AAC are forms of communication that either replace speech or are used to support people to communicate, such as signing, symbols, eye gaze devices, communication boards and voice output aids (think Stephen Hawking). Individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) might use AAC, as well as those with Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s, MND (Motor Neurone Disease) or complex learning needs. October marks International AAC Awareness Month, and if you are particularly interested in finding out more about it, whilst also having fun, we are holding an AAC Treasure Hunt around Bloomsbury on the 19th October 2016.
During our activity, one person in each pair was given a blank maze and the other was given the same maze but with a point marked on it. Using a communication app that was downloaded onto an iPad, directions were given purely using this alternative means of communication. All of the people who had a go at this activity were interested in finding out a bit more about the different client groups who would use this kind of device and there were many discussions around the different types of AAC device available, such as eye gaze devices. Many people made the link to figures such as Stephen Hawking and some computer science students who attended were even interested in how the more complex devices work!
For most of the students, this activity was their first experience of seeing and using AAC devices and they found it fascinating to experience a communicative exchange using alternative means of communication.
Fiction or Diction (Balderdash) Stall
In our Fiction or Diction game, players were given two words matched with their definitions. Players were asked to either read the definition of one of the words, or make up their own definition of that word, being as weird and wacky as they wanted. Their partner had to guess whether the definition provided was the real one, or had been made up.
Players seemed to really enjoy this game, and were coming up with weird and wacky definitions for lots of the words they were reading. After the games players made lots of interesting comments about being able to recognise the words, or parts of the word, but had no idea about the real definition of the words they heard. This provided an interesting experience of what it might be like to have some language difficulties, where they cannot access meanings of words and can therefore lose the whole meanings of sentences. For players making up definitions it also provided an interesting experience of ‘circumlocution’, whereby people with language difficulties may ‘talk around words’. This was because many players said that they tried to use the definitions on the card as a guide, to help them come up with meanings, but found it difficult to change the language, so found that they were talking for a long time to describe things which were very similar to what they were reading.
Makaton Practice Stall
We had one stall which gave people the opportunity to practice using some Makaton signs. Makaton is a programme which uses signs, symbols and speech to help people communicate. It also uses facial expression, tone of voice and positional gesture to supplement the hand signs, so it really is a comprehensive approach to communication!
Signs are used to enhance key words in a sentence in spoken word order – this gives extra clues to the person receiving the message, or might help a person whose speech is unclear make themselves understood.
People responded well to learning how to exchange greetings (“hello, how are you?” “I’m good thank you”) and finger spell their name. It was exciting to see the ‘penny drop’ moment for lots of participants when they realised how intuitive many of the signs were. People reflected that trying to supplement their spoken communication to ensure successful interaction isn’t necessarily scary – it can be really rewarding. Many people asked questions about the types of clients who might benefit from using Makaton and why professionals would use this type of communication.
Only one of the visitors to this stall had heard of Makaton prior to the Taster Evening, so this was a great opportunity to share a new approach to communication! We signposted people towards the Makaton website for further resources and training courses.
Hearing Aids Stall
At our hearing aid stall, we gave people the opportunity to learn more about what hearing aids are and how they work. Individuals were given the chance to try on a hearing aid (albeit a very old model!) and walk around the events and interact with different people to get a sense of what it is to be a hearing aid user and how communication might differ to prevent communication break downs. Everyone was very enthusiastic in learning more about the mechanics of hearing aids and how they have developed over the years.
Ultimately, it allowed people to have a dialogue on interactions they have had with hearing aid users, experiences of family/friends who are hearing aid users, as well as how communication partners play a vital role in ensuring communication runs smoothly ie: facing the individual directly, speaking clearly but not over articulating and exaggerating lip movements, as well as not shouting as it may be uncomfortable for a hearing aid user (Action on Hearing loss).