Category Archives: Learning disability

Making Connections: Access Rating’s new App to promote Accessibility

Access Rating logo

Many thanks to Access Rating for this guest blog describing their services and free mobile app.

We were so pleased when Talking Mats invited us to write a post for them this week. There is such a great need for disability-related organisations to connect and share right now. COVID 19 has had a devastating effect on us all, but particularly on disabled people, who are facing even greater barriers across health, employment and access every day. A joined-up approach to delivering our services has never been so important.

About Access Rating

Access Rating Blog Photo

We are Access Rating; a social enterprise which seeks to create opportunities for disabled people to work, live and socialise with the same freedoms as non-disabled people. We provide a range of services, from employability support for disabled people, to access audits for businesses, to help them create more accessible venues and services.

Always striving to find innovative ways to promote access for disabled people, we have recently launched our Access Rating mobile app.  This simple online tool allows disabled people to rate their access experiences of any venue they visit in the UK. In turn, accessible venues can attract more disabled customers from their positive recommendations …whilst encouraging those a little behind, to follow suit.

That’s a lot of work, but we’re not alone; Access Rating is just one cog in a wider society of individuals, communities and organisations which support disabled people throughout their life journey. Each of us plays our part in empowering disabled people to reach their potential and exercise their rights as they choose. And the impact of what we achieve depends very much on those who support us in our efforts.

The ‘Purple Poundas an Incentive for better Access

The Access Rating app has the potential to be a game-changer within the quiet world of retail and hospitality accessibility. We say ‘quiet’, because it is. Despite current legislation and the tireless work of countless organisations, too many businesses still don’t understand what it means to be fully accessible.  And without an access-specific platform for disabled people to voice their opinions on these venues, there has been little incentive for businesses to get on board. The app hopes to change this by increasing visibility of good – and not so good – practice.

However, there is another factor which may be influencing accessibility in the right direction.

With the crushing impact of COVID19 restrictions, more struggling businesses are turning their focus to the value of the ‘Purple Pound’ – that’s the spending power of disabled people, their families and friends. And at £274 billion in the UK each year, and rising, businesses have a lot to gain; with so few accessible venues around, disabled people are likely to become loyal customers to those who actively seek to cater for their needs.

It is timely then, that our Access Rating app serves as an incentive for businesses to ‘up their game’. And the more venues that are rated, the greater the motivation for them to maintain their good name – or begin building it.

Connection is the key word here. Everything works better when we work together. And that’s why we’re asking you to help us spread the word, by rating the venues you visit.

Download the Access Rating App: Your Opinion really counts!

The Access Rating mobile app is free, easy-to-use and nation-wide in its reach. So whether you are disabled, live with, or work with someone who is disabled, we invite you to download the app directly from the links below, or from our Access Rating website. By taking just a few moments to rate any venue you visit –  be that a hotel, library or shopping centre –  you can help to make our society a more inclusive and enjoyable place to live, work and socialise for disabled people across the UK.

We thank Lois from Talking Mats for the opportunity to connect and share our news, and are delighted to have made new friends who share our passion for building a more inclusive society.

Visit the Access Rating website for further information or download the app directly from Apple and Android stores.

 

RCSLT Survey on Access to Speech and Language Therapy

RCSLT COVID

Many thanks to Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT and Padraigin O’Flynn, External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT for this blog describing the newly launched UK-wide RCSLT Survey, which includes free Talking Mats resources to support those with communication difficulties to have their voices heard.

Like many of you, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has been worried about the impact of COVID-19 on people with communication and swallowing needs. Based on what we’ve heard from our members, service user organisations and service users themselves we’ve been very concerned about how the UK-wide lockdown (March-June 2020) affected people’s access to the speech and language therapy they and their families and carers need. 

To help us understand the issue better and to inform our response, we’ve just launched a UK-wide survey. Following consultation with service user organisations, the three key questions we’re asking are: 

  • How did lockdown affect your speech and language therapy? 
  • What impact did this have on you? 
  • What are your thoughts about the future? 

From the start, we were clear: we wanted the survey to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, no matter how they communicate and no matter what their communication preference is. Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked with members to produce the survey in a range of accessible formats.  

We’re particularly delighted that one of those formats is Talking Mats – and we’re very grateful to Lois and Laura for all their advice and support . As you will know better than anyone, the mats will enable people to give us their views and tell us how they’ve felt and are feeling. We are delighted the mats will provide people with the means to self-advocate – this will add a richness to the survey findings that they might otherwise lack.  

Talking Mats

Well be working with service user organisations to promote the survey to their networks. But we’d also really like your help too. Please share the survey and encourage as many people as possible to fill it out. The more voices we hear, the more stories we collect and the more responses we receive, the greater the impact of the survey findings will be. 

Those findings, which we hope to publish early in the New Year, will be used to influence Governments, Parliaments and Assemblies across the United Kingdom. The case that will be making to ministers, officials and parliamentarians – that people must have access to the speech and language therapy they need – will be all the stronger for it being based on service users’ lived experiences. The very powerful testimony that the mats will provide will strengthen that case even further. 

The survey is open until 5pm on Friday, 8th January 2021 and you can find more information about it here: 

https://www.rcslt.org/learning/has-coronavirus-affected-your-access-to-speech-and-language-therapy 

We hope you find the mats useful and if you had any queries or wanted any more information, please let us know. We look forward to working with you to help make a difference to the lives of people with communication and swallowing needs. 

Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT 

Padraigin O’Flynn External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT 

Counselling across Communication Barriers (Part 2): Learning in Lockdown

Action Group Stock Photo 2 crop

Following on from last week’s guest blog, Edith Barrowcliffe from the Action Group describes how she has continued using Talking Mats throughout lockdown.  Please note that the image used in this blog is from a mock session and has been taken for publicity purposes only.

In the second week of March I was running a 9 week old pilot counselling service (HearMe at The Action Group) for adults with cognitive and/or communication difficulties, supported by Talking Mats.

A week later lockdown catapulted me into remote working and demonstrated just how crucial Talking Mats were. Without access to the digital app or a suitably high resolution webcam my first online sessions were conducted without them. One client immediately began struggling to retain the thread of their subject matter.

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I quickly rigged up a secondary webcam, allowing me to shift between my face and a clear view of the physical mat on my desk. Clients direct me how to place the symbols for them.

I’ve recently acquired a Talking Mats digital license and am pleased to find I can add in additional images. My experience with the physical cards is that allowing the client to direct the session often means searching through multiple different sets or hastily drawing new images. We move at a slower pace because of this but it seems to be an important way of giving weight and attention to whatever the client (Thinker) brings. My fantasy version of the digital talking mats app would include an image search function allowing me to rapidly search all the symbols in all the sets, pick one and caption it appropriately mid-session!

The client I mentioned above uses Talking Mats in this very freeform way – when they tell me something I ask if they want to put it on the mat and they will reply yes, or no. Once I’ve located or drawn the image they tell me where to place it. Towards the end of the session we review the mat, photograph it, and I send them the picture.

 Another client uses a more structured approach. I present a choice of symbol sets based on topics that seem to be important to them (eg home environment, relationships, mobility). They select a topic and we begin a more typical talking mat, giving us a framework and focus to explore their feelings around each symbol. After a while the client/Thinker moves on to other emotionally weighted topics unrelated to the symbol set and we transition into something more akin to “regular” counselling – albeit with simplified, concrete, reflections of the kind proposed by Garry Prouty [1] Yet the Talking Mat seems to provide a “way in” to these deeper feelings that we otherwise don’t reach.

Not everyone uses Talking Mats. Lockdown has limited my capacity to offer it – not all clients have a computer/tablet for video calls and some clients actively prefer the phone. I’m continuing to learn, explore and find my way with this very diverse client group, but there is no doubt that Talking Mats opens up emotional exploration for some who might not normally manage it.

 Edith Barrowcliffe, Hear Me, The Action Group

With thanks to our funders and partners for making this work possible – Hospital Saturday Fund, The Action Group Board, Leith Benevolent Society, Port o’Leith Housing Association, and The  Scottish Government.  And to the team at Talking Mats for their support and help!

[1] [PROUTY, G. (2008) Pre-Therapy and the Pre-Expressive Self. In: PROUTY, G. (ed.) Emerging Developments in Pre-Therapy. Monmouth: PCCS Books; also PÖRTNER, M. (2007) Trust and Understanding. Revised Ed. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books, pp82-85].

 

A new, updated version of our Digital app, will be available in the New Year.  You can download a free taster version of our app here:

  https://www.talkingmats.com/product/talking-mats-taster/

For more information about using Talking Mats remotely, check out this recent blog:    

https://www.talkingmats.com/using-talking-mats-remotely/

 

 

Counselling across Communication Barriers (Part 1)

Action Group Stock Photo

Many thanks to Edith Barrowcliffe from The Action Group for sharing her experiences of using Talking Mats to support counselling with adults who have cognitive or communication difficulties. Watch this space for Edith’s follow-up blog next week which will describe how she has continued to use Talking Mats during lockdown.  Please note that the image used in this blog is from a mock session and has been taken for publicity purposes only.

Eleven years ago, I began working at The Action Group with adults who have additional support needs and was struck by how many had mental health difficulties that they were getting little help with. Sadly, with services scarce enough for the “mainstream” population, I could see why.

The issue resurfaced for me in 2016 when I began training as a counsellor. I kept returning to whether talking therapy was possible with those who had difficulty communicating – or even thinking about – their feelings.

Then in 2019, I attended Talking Mats training. Immediately excited by the potential for emotional connection, I signed up for the advanced “Keeping Safe” training and approached The Action Group’s CEO with the beginnings of a plan.

I’m fortunate in working for an organisation willing to take new ideas and run with them. Within six months I was embarking on a pilot project, called HearMe, offering counselling to adults with cognitive or communication difficulties, with Talking Mats as a key method to help overcome those barriers. Within a fortnight of opening the service was full to its limited capacity and had a waiting list!

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The work has been experimental, learning as I go and adapting to the particular needs of each client. To conduct initial assessments, I’ve assembled symbols based on “Thoughts and Feelings” from the “Keeping Safe” pack. We return to this to review progress. Most clients have used a top scale of “True”/ ”Not True” with statements “about me” for the assessment. We always begin with a practice mat based on more neutral material, allowing the client (Thinker) to learn what’s involved and me to gauge whether the mat is right for them. This is crucial – one client found a way to frame everything we placed on the mat positively even when they’d been able to tell me the opposite was true a moment before! In this case we simply used each symbol as a focus for exploration.

We’ve kept the number of questions relatively small, but the assessment can take two or three sessions to complete as clients often respond quite deeply to the symbols.

Some more verbally able clients move on to a more “freeform” style of counselling as we progress, relying less on the mat to open up. But even in these cases having symbols on hand can be helpful. One client brought up the topic of sex – then apologised and asked if it was OK to talk about it.

“It’s fine,” I was able to reassure her, producing the relevant symbol. “Look, we even have a picture for it”. She laughed and visibly relaxed, the card giving her tangible evidence that the topic was allowed.

It’s still early days, but from the feedback we’ve received so far, the project really seems to be helping people to open up, express feelings they’ve never given space to before, and explore ways they want to change their lives.  The power of simply being heard.

Edith Barrowcliffe, Hear Me, The Action Group

 With thanks to our funders and partners for making this work possible – Hospital Saturday Fund, The Action Group Board, Leith Benevolent Society, Port o’Leith Housing Association, and The Scottish Government.  And to the team at Talking Mats for their support and help!

Follow the link below to find out more about our Keeping Safe training (now available online) and resource: 

https://www.talkingmats.com/keeping-safe-a-new-talking-mats-resource-available-to-purchase/

 

 

Covid 19 Experiences – Using Talking Mats in a Secure Hospital Setting

thoughts_and_feelings

As a group of Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) working in a secure hospital we recently embarked on a mini project using Talking Mats to check in with our service users with learning disabilities during Covid-19. We collated the evidence from our respective professional bodies (Royal College of Occupational Therapy, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy, Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and British Dietetic Association) in terms of changes that people might experience if they’d had Covid-19 and produced a talking mat around these.  

It quickly dawned on us that we might be on to something here, and that creating an opportunity to ‘check in’ more broadly with our service users would serve a useful purpose, so we added some additional categories around changes to routine, psychological wellbeing and feeling safe.  

This was my colleagues’ first experience of using talking mats, and their faces when I turned up clutching my 99p actual doormat were a picture! I introduced them to the theory behind the mat and its presentation and harped on about the benefits in terms of attention, comprehension, non-threatening interaction, initiation and structuring narrative; they nodded supportively.  

We set off across our learning disability wards in multi-disciplinary pairs and all but a few of the service users agreed to have a chat with us. My colleagues commented that they were pleasantly surprised by the engagement and the amount and novelty of the information gained; we  identified things that the service users hadn’t told anyone because they hadn’t been asked that question!  

JB Blog Photo

In talking to others we were asked why weren’t rolling this out in a partner secure hospital for people with mental health conditions? ‘no reason really, we just haven’t got there yet’ we answered. Then came the…. but we can just do it like a questionnaire with them. This question wasn’t, and in my experience isn’t ever ill meant. It comes from a place of naivety in relation to the presence of communication difficulties in people with mental health conditions and because of that, lack of exposure to different professional groups such as Speech and Language Therapy and the skills and approaches we have to offer. Skills in gaining and holding someone’s attention. Skills in decreasing pressure in communication situations. Skills in enabling time, space and ways in which people can initiate their thoughts.  

The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) working around the project has enabled me to show others how talking mats can support their practice. It has enabled them to see how a very simple and non-threatening visual tool can open up conversations and lead to information that the service users hadn’t shared before, in a way that a face to face conversation doesn’t.  

Thanks to Jo Brackley, Clinical Lead, Speech and Language Therapy Secure Services at Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust for this inspiring blog – which demonstrates when we shift the way we listen and gather information from patients we get a different result and improve the quality of information and communication . If you or your team want to consider Talking Mats training then we can provide this for organisations . At the moment we can take a cohort through our online course together and then arrange a zoom call to discuss application to your work setting  – email info@talkingmats.com for more information.