Thursday, 13 December 2018

Communication - Are We Being Inclusive?

Last week I attended an elected members event over in West Lothian on the topic of Inclusive Communication. The workshop was run by Sense Scotland -
So, who are they? -
 Sense Scotland is a charity set up by the parents of Deafblind children some 30 years ago.

Until last week's workshop I considered I was someone who was pretty good at communicating - anyone who knows me, knows me to be vocal, opinionated and confidents in expressing my opinions through either the spoken or written word. However, how do we communicate our message to someone who may have a barrier to traditional (or perhaps, typical) methods of communication? To begin with I would state that over the past 20 years I have communicated with individuals on a fairly regularly basis who have and do experienced barriers to regular channels of communications. My best friend at university (who I haven't seen so much in recent years but who is still a friend) was visually impaired. She had been sighted until around 16 year old when her eyesight rapidly deteriorated leaving her over 90% blind. That was my first experience of spending time around a person with barriers to communicate. I quickly learned the skills of guiding and the dos and do nots of shopping, partying and hanging out with a blind person - yes, they do require assistance but no the assistant in the shop or the guy in the bar doesn't need to speak to me when she has a question - being blind does not mean needing a voice to buy you a coffee. I also learned the perceptions of others who are unsure and uncertain of how to approach anyone with a communication barrier. My friend was working through her final year when advised that the university did not think she was quite ready to graduate as her blindness meant she would not be able to absorb the tough work load. It was not her though who wasn't ready it was them - the university. Their lack of suitable software, readers, adaptations was what was going to cause the delay not her lack of ability. In the end she won the battle and graduated at the same time as the rest of us and from that day on has never let her visual impairment hold her back and has now risen to a very senior position in a well known multinational. 
Over the past 20 years I have met other individuals who have experienced barriers to communicate, I had a friend who was deaf, another who is partially sighted and having spend the best part of 3 years teaching children with a variety of additional support needs (ASN) I am well versed in how one form of communication does not fit all. Having also traveled extensively to parts of the world where English is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population I have been aware of the need to vary my tone, my sentence structure, my accent and the speed at which I speak. As a teacher you use your voice to get the message across, your eyes to ensure you have everyone on task and your ears to ensure the classroom is not distracted.  Therefore, with all those experiences I thought I was pretty damn good at communicating to everyone! 

Well I realised that was possibly not the case. Sense Scotland provided us with a definition of Inclusive Communication - "sharing information in a way that everybody can understand". 

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