UCLU Giving Voice Swallowing Awareness Day 2017

To raise awareness of swallowing difficulties this year, the UCLU Giving Voice Committee decided to combine a twitter campaign with an interactive, informative swallowing awareness evening, encouraging guests to consider the client’s perspective.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 21.06.53In the 11 days leading up to our main event, we posted articles, images and videos all about dysphagia across social media. Some of these were to share information about prevalence of dysphagia, and others were to pose questions, such as the role of Apps in the management of dysphagia. During this period, we received 6,400 twitter impressions, 314 twitter engagements, 138 likes on Instagram, and managed to get 52 people signed up to our event.

Our focus for the Swallowing Awareness Event was on patient experience. We wanted to help people better understand the psychosocial impact of dysphagia on patients, and to engage with quality of life issues for this group of people. Importantly, we wanted to celebrate all that speech and language therapists do to make a difference for people with swallowing difficulties.

Dr Jane Warren, neurologist, opened the evening by talking about what a normal swallow looks like, and gave an engaging insight into the complexity of the mechanism which so many people take for granted when it is working ok. Guests were intrigued and didn’t hold back with their questions, which ranged from the impact of cleft lip and palate on swallowing, to why people might drool more in their sleep!

We were lucky enough to have a patient generously share their story about their dysphagia following cancer; and to tell guests about how his swallowing had improved with the help of his speech and language therapist. It was poignant to think about the lasting impact of his difficulties, and how it has resulted in him having to think about not only how this affects him, but also his loved ones.

We used many of the materials provided by the RCSLT on their Swallowing Awareness page to frame each of the stalls during the second part of our evening in order to give guests a hands-on experience of how speech and language therapists assess, diagnose and treat patients with dysphagia.

SwallowAware-6.jpgThe first stall was the assessment stage of dysphagia management. Guests were able to experience having an oro-motor and swallow exam, and to understand the steps taken when assessing dysphagia, for example the need for Videofluoroscopy and FEES. Videos of these helped bring to life the mechanism with Dr Warren had explained and gave guests an opportunity to hear about how speech and language therapists work closely with other members of a multidisciplinary team as part of the assessment and treatment process.

There was some great feedback with pause for thought for all budding speech and language therapists: guests indicated that having their throat palpated could be intimidating, but that this was made better when the speech and language therapist explained what they were doing. The best part of the assessment process according to the guests was having an opportunity to express their concerns about their swallowing and have someone listen to their questions.

The second stall involved information about swallowing techniques and postural changes used to help patients with dysphagia. Guests were given the chance to practice modelling the exercises to Giving Voice committee members. We had a poll on the stall asking people to vote on a scale from “Comfortable” to “Not comfortable at all” about how they would feel using such strategies in a restaurant. Most people voted towards “not at all comfortable”, due to it feeling ‘awkward or embarrassing’. Many guests commented that it would depend if the exercises were time consuming or noticeable, and that it would likely affect where they would choose to sit in a restaurant. Overall, the poll provoked many interesting discussions about the psychosocial impact of swallowing and how much of an impact if would have on many of the activities most of us take for granted.


At the third stall, guests had the opportunity to find out more about different thickened fluids by making and tasting their own, and comparing the impact of thickener on different drinks. Questions were raised about whether this would encourage an individual to maintain adequate hydration, and realistically how appealing this would be on a long-term basis. Guests commented that they would be more willing to drink thickened squash, as it was similar to jelly, but the water would be more difficult to bring themselves to drink, and that it would not psychologically satisfy the need to quench their thirst.

SwallowAware-13.jpgGuests also had the opportunity to see and try different levels of pureed foods. They were initially put off by the appearance of the foods in their unrecognizable states. They stated that they would find it difficult to follow a Speech and Language Therapist’s recommendation to follow such a diet modification. A brave few tried some of the thin puree brocolli, carrot and potato, and nobody recognised the vanilla sponge cake!

A few guests reported they had seen recently in the news about work in care homes to present pureed food in a way that means each individual food is recognisable. 100% of the guests asked reported they would find mealtimes more appetising with pureed food presented in this way, showing that enjoying food and maintaining adequate nutrition is heavily dependent on not only the taste of food, but also the appearance.SwallowAware-18.jpg

Finally, guests were able to bravely experience what it was like to feed someone else and be fed. Guests commented that it was an intimate experience, and reflected how important it is that people with swallowing difficulties who need assistance are not left out of experiencing eating as a social activity.

SwallowAware-14.jpgWe challenged people to sort different foods into ‘high risk’ and ‘low risk’ for people with mild swallowing difficulties. Some guests said that they’d never thought about food as being something risky, and were surprised by how many of their favourite foods were on the ‘high risk’ list.


We were impressed by the insightful questions raised and the engagement with all our activities. Overall, this event was a success in challenging people to think about the psychosocial impact of a swallowing difficulty by enabling them to consider this management process from a client’s perspective.


Express BSL 2017

Express British Sign Language (BSL) returned for another year in collaboration with the UCLU Sign Language Society, with great success.

The UCLU Sign Language Society opened the session with a discussion on Deaf awareness and the need for non-verbal forms of communication. They then covered basic BSL such as the alphabet, greetings and conversational BSL. By the end of the session, people were able to hold a conversation with each other in BSL – most of whom had no previous knowledge of sign language!

UCLU Sign Language Society run casual classes all year which can give you a firm grounding in BSL, or official classes in level 1 or 2 and frequent socials for practising your signing. We had a great turnout of students from Medical and Speech and Language Sciences degrees, and together we raised £76, which will offer subsidised BSL lessons for members of the UCLU Sign Language Society who may otherwise not be able to afford it.  You can access their presentation here: Express-BSL.

On Wednesday March 15th, UCLU Sign Language Society are holding an event with The Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), where they will deliver an all important Deaf awareness talk , to let the world know what UCL is doing to make students more Deaf aware. DCAL, based at UCL, brings together leading Deaf and hearing researchers in the fields of sign linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience. You can find out more here: Event Information.


UCLU Giving Voice Committee

Facebook: UCLU Giving Voice Society

Twitter: @GivingVoice_UCL

Instagram: uclugivingvoice

Email: ucl.givingvoice@gmail.com

UCLU Giving Voice Annual AAC Treasure Hunt 2016

October is International AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) Awareness Month and what better way to raise awareness of AAC that by getting people to experience it first-hand!

Some Key Facts on AAC:

  • It is used as a way to replace speech or to support speech in individuals with communication difficulties.
  •  AAC can also be used to help these individuals to understand what others are saying.
  • There are lots of different types of AAC. Signing, eye gaze, alphabet charts, ipad apps and voice output systems are all forms of AAC.
  • If you’ve ever given someone a “thumbs up” or waved goodbye, you’ve used AAC!
  • AAC is used by people of all ages. It is mainly used by people with Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease, dementia, Alzheimers, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Difficulties, and Cerebral Palsy.
  •  Approximately 652,000 people in the UK benefit from using AAC (Scope, 2008)
  • You can find more information here: http://www.communicationmatters.org.uk/page/what-is- aac

Last year UCLU Giving Voice held a successful AAC Treasure Hunt and we have decided to make this an annual event. With committee members scattered around the Bloomsbury area, armed with low tech AAC devices, challenges and clues, the participants had to race to the finish line to win prizes.

Teams meeting in the UCL Quad, getting ready to set off on the hunt. 

To start off the event, tokens were hidden around the UCL Main Campus and the team who could find the most had a head start in their journey to the first location. Committee members were easily identifiable around the area with ‘ASK ME’ signs and big glowing pink balloons.

We were surprised by the number of people not taking part in the event who stopped and asked us about what we were doing. This was a great opportunity to explain what Giving Voice was, what this event was aiming to do and where they can find out more information. None of the general public had heard of Giving Voice or AAC before, and it was often a mention of Stephen Hawking that made them understand. A member of staff from an underground station was particularly interested in Giving Voice as she said she wished she could received more training on supporting people with communication difficulties, owing to the fact that she comes in contact with them regularly.

Teams using their Communication Boards to ask for help. 

Once teams reached their first location, they had to use their BoardMaker Communication Boards to ask for help, and were then given a written clue by committee members. If they needed further clues, participants were encouraged to continue using their AAC rather than resorting to using verbal language. Many participants realised how limiting this could be and would often search their communication boards for things they wanted to say, and had to use gestures to fill in the rest.

There were 5 locations around Bloomsbury that the teams had to find, and each location employed a different form of low tech AAC,  including image boards, yes/no cards, pen and paper, alphabet boards and fingerspelling. Once all 5 locations had been visited, they would eventually be signposted to the final mystery destination, which was, of course, a bar!

Throughout the course of the evening there were various challenges that the teams were encouraged to complete in order to shave minutes off of their final time. These included “Buy something for £1 using only AAC to communicate” and “Ask as many people as possible what the time is without using your voice”. A particular favourite was asking teams to spell GIVING VOICE with their bodies!

‘Giving Voice’ letters formed with their bodies!

Additional fun challenges led to 5 random objects being collected, one stranger being videoed using AAC, 10 members of the public being spoken to about AAC, 22 instances of asking for the time without using words and 5 items being bought in local shops using only AAC. One team discussed the challenges they faced when buying an item in a shop: they found it hard to get the shop attendant’s attention without using words, as he was on the Screenshot_20161020-142327.pngphone. They then felt that he was trying to look at all the symbols on the communication board rather than the symbol that the team member was pointing to, which she found frustrating.

Overall the event was another huge success for UCLU Giving Voice. We had 25 people attend from a variety of courses including Computer Science, Psychology and Linguistics. Participants were eager and committed to using their AAC devices and were creative in the ways they tried to communicate for example demonstrating their knowledge of Makaton Sign!

This event gave attendees the chance to experience use of low tech AAC to replace speech. Some said AAC was fairly intuitive, but reflected that there were additional options on devices such as the communication board that they didn’t use but thought could have helped them in some interactions. This led to conversations about the need to promote uptake of AAC devices by thinking about the user’s needs and competence, and ensure there is support and training for users. One team member stated that AAC provided a shared experience, such as the letter board, because everyone could see what was being typed. This led to a conversation about

Teams using their Communication Boards to ask for help.

attitudes towards AAC, and the fact that there are types of AAC that are becoming more ingrained in everyday life. For example, the increased use of everyday devices that require typing may mean that AAC may no longer be perceived as ‘odd’ or ‘different’.

The event ended in the UCLU Library Bar where some participants even used AAC to order pizza. The man who served them was not phased at all and engaged easily with their Boardmaker Communication Board. He said it seemed to “make sense” and was appreciative when complimented on his good communication skills.

Team One were the overall winners of the 2016 AAC Treasure Hunt, and received a little parcel of goodies. Congratulations to team one! Head over to our social media pages to see more photos and videos from the evening.


UCL Giving Voice Committee

Facebook: UCLU Giving Voice Society

Twitter: @GivingVoice_UCL

Instagram: uclugivingvoice


Bloomsbury Festival 2016


The Bloomsbury Festival is a creative celebration of art, culture and science which takes place each October with over 130 events held over five days. This year’s events are inspired by the theme LANGUAGE, and UCL will open the gates of the Main Quad on Saturday 22nd October from 11am – 5pm to host a range of exciting activities “Beyond Words – A day to play with a sideways slant on language”.

UCLU Giving Voice are proud to be involved and support the UCL Communication Clinic in raising awareness about the challenges of living with aphasia. We will be helping the public get involved with an interactive art exhibit about “Lost Words”; surveying the public about how they feel communicating with people who have aphasia; and facilitating the interaction of artists who have aphasia with the public as they display their artwork.

UCLU Giving Voice members will have EXCLUSIVE PREFERENCE in being able to volunteer for this event. We will be holding some optional drop-in lunchtime training before the event for anyone who is super-keen but a bit nervous about the opportunity to support people living with aphasia.

Become a Giving Voice member today and look out for the email on Tuesday 18th October with instructions for how to volunteer for the Bloomsbury Festival and details about training.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch via social media.



UCL Giving Voice Committee

Facebook: UCLU Giving Voice Society

Twitter: @GivingVoice_UCL

Instagram: uclugivingvoice

UCLU Giving Voice Taster Evening


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


Instagram: uclugivingvoice



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.

idioms idioms-2

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.




AAC Stall

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).


UCLU Welcome Fair 2016!

On the 1st and 2nd October the UCLU Giving Voice Committee attended the UCLU Fresher’s Welcome Fair and had a fantastic time meeting new people and spreading the word about Giving Voice. Rain definitely failed to dampen spirits!

Our eye-catching stall at the Fresher’s Fair.


Thanks to RCSLT Giving Voice UK we were able to decorate our stall with Giving Voice badges, pens and balloons. We had spent time creating banners, posters and flyers to inform the freshers about what Giving Voice is all about, and to advertise our future events. We managed to hand out 295 flyers to people over the course of the two days!

We created many fun, quick challenges for our visitors to complete in order to enter into a prize raffle draw. The aim of these challenges was to get people talking about speech, language and communication difficulties, by asking people to describe certain terms without the use of words, produce signs, or reading a jumbled sentence with a fact about SLCN.

Teaching us the BSL sign for ‘Festival’

We were really impressed with the response to these challenges and the number of people who were willing to give it a go and engage in a conversation about it with afterwards. We were able to teach at least 8 people to sign “hello, how are you?”, and one girl taught us a new BSL sign for ‘Festival’!

Over the course of the weekend, we also took the opportunity to carry out a quick poll to discover how many people knew what a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) did, and how many people had experience with someone who had a speech, language or communication need (SLCN). We managed to ask 122 people these questions and had some really interesting responses!

Only 37% knew what an SLT did, with a common response that they ‘help people who stammer’. Two of the people we asked knew someone who was a practicing Speech and Language Therapist. 40% of people had experience of someone with SLCN. 3 people had received therapy for speech or language difficulties as children and 4 people had friends or ffreshers2amily with Autism Spectrum Disorder and had seen SLTs make a difference in their lives. 1 person had a hearing impaired classmate and used to sign to her in classes, and 1 person had a friend with a stammer.

Only 17% of people we asked had heard of Giving Voice: most other people assumed it ‘something to do with singing’, and those who had heard of it associated the society with ‘volunteering’. One person we spoke to actually felt he had an undiagnosed language problem and found it particularly interesting to hear about the work around supporting people with these difficulties.

We also used this opportunity to talk to other societies, such as the UCLU Sign Language Society and the UCLU Volunteering Society, and we look forward to working collaboratively on some events with them in the future!

Overall, the response was great and one girl who didn’t know what Giving Voice or SLCN was on Saturday, even brought her friend back to our stall on Sunday and explained it to her. We hit social media hard over the weekend, documenting everything we were doing, and with great results:

119 likes on our Instagram photos (and counting..!)

comments on our instagram photos

86 ‘engagements’ with our Twitter posts (number of interactions with tweets, eg liking, retweeting, clicking a link)

1,900 ‘impressions’ on Twitter (number of times users saw the tweets on twitter)

10 likes on twitter

16 likes on Facebook


We’ve really had an amazing weekend as a committee interacting with you all and spreading awareness. Here’s to the year to come!!

We will be announcing the winner of our raffle prize soon, so keep an eye out on social media for the announcement!

twitterlogoUCL Giving Voice Committee

Facebook: uclugivingvoicesociety

Twitter: @GivingVoice_UCL

Instagram: uclugivingvoice