Ciara is a first year Speech and Language Therapy student at the University of Manchester.

She recently had a joint online placement with Total Communication Services CIC and Elysium Health care.

As part of her placement she attended Total Communication Services Communication Advocates group and she had her first taster of signing as the group regularly practice Signalong.

Ciara then decided to research the different signing systems available and she wrote up her thoughts as a blog post.

Makaton and Signalong

Both are great systems and can really help a range of people from children to adults with learning disabilities who may be hearing impaired

According to the their website Makaton is the UK's leading programme for adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. They also have a TV presence for example, the CBeebies show 'something special' which is great for children learning Makaton. There have also been Makaton storylines in Emmerdale for those of you who like soaps, Makaton could be for you. There are currently over 1 million Makaton users. Makaton symbols are commonly used in public buildings such as hospitals and libraries to help people find their way around, you may be using Makaton in your daily life now without even knowing! Makaton is also continuously taught by a tutor in sessions which means you will have a go-to person to advise you on all your communication needs. Makaton tends to be more well known throughout the UK and there is even a "Makaton friendly" town in the UK, which is Romsey.

The main difference between Signalong and Makaton seems to be the way they are taught. Makaton is taught through continuous sessions with a tutor and Signalong is taught through learning the method then you can potentially independently learn further signs. This means using the skills taught by the tutor to copy the position of the hand, orientation, placement, and line drawing to copy the sign. This is great for people who want more autonomy over what they learn as you can learn about a specific topic you want to talk about. For example, learning signs about the topic of sexual awareness means can people have important conversations about consent or their sexual orientation. Signalong’s teaching method means you can actively keep learning new signs throughout your life without necessarily needing a constant tutor. Most of the signs will be recognised by British Sign Language (BSL) users because sign along has its roots in BSL. Signalong’s critical point is "one concept, one sign" this means that the same sign is not used for similar concepts. For example, in BSL the sign for 'doll and 'baby' are the same, however, in Signalong they are different. Therefore, people do not need to rely on context to help them explain. Signalong could be ideal for adults who want to learn specific signs quickly and especially for adults with a background in BSL. Signalong could be considered easier to learn because it shows specific ways of signing so you cannot get it wrong, this would be useful for adults with learning disabilities who may have been taught simple BSL previously and want direct instructions. BSL is a challenge because it is a language in its own right and has a different word order to spoken English. Both Makaton and Signalong are sign support systems and you speak as you sign the key words.

Both systems provide an effective way to communicate and can be applied at all ages. They are both very successful in enabling children and adults with Learning disabilities to communicate. Whichever system you choose, the important thing is learning one so you yourself can communicate effectively or you can listen and encourage others to communicate.

The self -advocates in the North West chose Signalong and this system has sparked a real interest for me in all signing.

While this past year has been undoubtedly challenging, we’ve embraced new ways of working remotely, including weekly sessions via Zoom with Bury People First and our group of Communication Advocates.

During these sessions, we’ve looked at different ways in which we can effectively communicate, and the most consistent theme throughout was that the advocates really want their voices to be heard – how can this be done?

Well, various topics have been discussed throughout the year, including:

· Having the right to accessible information

· Supporting people with additional communication needs

when they’re transitioning from child to adult services

· Needing support staff to understand different methods of

communication, and training them properly in order

to do so

Activities using Signalong

With the kind permission of Signalong, we were able to learn the top 20 core vocabulary signs, as chosen by our group of advocates. This list included everyday words such as ‘Hello’, ‘Shower’ and ‘Happy’, and in 2021 we hope to promote these words within the wider community and encourage others to learn them too.

Also using Signalong, we learnt how to sign the first letter of our names, followed by the sign for our favourite hobby, or something else that represents us – for example, Alison from Total Communication would sign the letter ‘A’, followed by the sign for ‘communication’, as she’s a Speech and Language Therapist. As well as it being a beneficial activity for learning signs, it’s also been a fun way of getting to know one another!

Another fun activity we’ve done over the past year is learning how to sign along to popular songs, such as Jacques Offenbach’s Can-Can – the words in bold below are the ones we learnt the signs for:

My dog, he can do the can-can,

Better than the cat can,

But the goldfish finds it very difficult,

My dog, he can do the can-can,

Better than the cat can,

But the goldfish finds it very hard.

Along the way, the group chose new animals to replace the ones above – we’ve also had llamas, ducks and snakes!

Talking Mats and person-centred communication training

We delivered Talking Mats training to North West therapists working in mainstream schools, which was really positively received.

Also, we worked with Kirklees Disabled Children’s Service to deliver a 3-day communication training course for 25 members of staff. Again, feedback was excellent.

Student placements and volunteer

We’ve had two Speech and Language Therapy students on board this year, Emma Beckett and Samantha Owens, who are both third-year students at the University of Manchester.

Emma and Samantha have joined the weekly advocates group on a regular basis, and have consulted them about training materials that we plan to co-produce and co-deliver. They’ve also created a training course about helping people to understand spoken language.

In addition to the students, a marketing volunteer joined the team in autumn 2020 – Lauren Heys is helping us with writing funding bids, along with social media/campaign planning.

Lauren Heys, Marketing Volunteer

To view the full Social Impact Report, click here.

By Emma Beckett Communication Development Worker & Speech & Language Therapy Student

Total Communication Services CIC work closely with Bury People First. Bury People First is run for adults with learning disabilities, run by adults with learning disabilities and social workers.

Bury People First usually work in their office, but over lockdown, have been meeting several times a week from their homes using Zoom. Total Communication Services are involved on Tuesday mornings for communication and Signalong sessions, although other topics have arisen over our time in lockdown.

This is very much an advocacy group, and there are consistent themes of wanting to have their voices heard by everyone, and more often than not, high-profile figures such as Boris Johnson. Topics for campaign which have come up are: access to communication aids, the right to communicate, the right to accessible information, support for those with communication needs when transitioning (from child to adult services, moving home), the public’s tend to focus on disabilities over abilities regarding people with additional needs, and the need for staff training to enable efficient work with people with additional needs.

Having said this, Signalong is still a focus point in the sessions. The group have learnt hand shapes and letter shapes to help develop their signing system. We have practiced our twenty core signs (please see our Signalong blog for more information), created name signs for everyone in the group, and taught the group signs that they wanted to know. Also, we have a couple of songs which we have been practicing and supporting with the use of Signalong, these are Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, and an animal-themed song to the tune of Can-Can by Jacques Offenbach. We have talked about using the Signalong that we have learned together in training. The group are involved in developing some training for staff as part of the Oliver McGowan campaign.

Students have had the opportunity to be involved in the process, taking part in meetings, helping to create/find resources and are currently planning a session to run on Zoom with the group. This has been a learning curve for everyone involved though, as working online introduces a new set of challenges to adapt to and work around. The group has now expanded to include other self- advocacy groups and we are continuing as the Communication Advocates.

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