I have helped start up a social group called iChat My Way for people of all ages who have complex communication needs and use or are learning to use alternative ways to communicate (like iPads, photos, pictures, signing and gestures etc). The aim of the group is to be a fun place where users, carers and siblings can practice their AAC use in the community, make friends and learn from each other. The group has the full support of management and staff at McDonalds who are also committed to increasing the communication accessibility of their restaurant for people with complex communication needs.
The issue I have now is how do we educate the rest of society to be patient, tolerant and accepting, allowing people with communication needs the time they require to express themselves, request information or order food.
At our meetings I have witnessed people rolling their eyes, standing behind our members tapping their foot, we have even had someone try to push in front of us. I think this is sad and I can’t believe that people think it is acceptable behaviour.
What I have realised is that society is not use to people with communication needs having the technology to allow them to have a voice. In the past parents or carers would have ordered for them. They would not have been able to express themselves or request information or tell you a story. So with this new technology and with the person centred approach to disabilities giving people with disabilities a greater sense of community and value, it may now be time to start educating the rest of society and making them aware of people with communication needs.
Society has learnt to be aware and empathetic towards people who are blind or who are deaf. Now it is time they become empathic and aware of people who have complex communication needs.