However, we live in a world in which the main form of communication is spoken language, and people who completely rely on AAC are at an automatic disadvantage. People who cannot rely on spoken language to communicate require support and accommodation. We can do this by encouraging them to use whichever form of communication they find the most accessible, that most other people can understand.
The entire world has been dealing with the Covid-19 virus for a year, with a few major serges, which put a large strain on hospital systems. However, a couple of vaccines have been developed and this is giving people hope the pandemic will be over soon. With great disappointment and frustration, the roll out of the vaccines, especially in The United States, has been slower than expected. Therefore, the best practices of slowing the spread of the virus are still wearing masks and social distancing.
When somebody is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 they should self isolate or if their symptoms are severe they need to be hospitalized. This can be stressful for anybody, but it can be especially stressful for individuals like myself, who rely on AAC because we might be put into an unfamiliar situation. Currently, hospitals are still not allowing visitors when somebody is admitted whether they have the virus or not. Normally, either family members or Personal Care Attendants accompany these individuals to make communication easier and ensure that their needs and comfort are being addressed.
How to communicate effectively
Many individuals who rely on AAC reside in group homes, so self-isolation is next to impossible due to close contact with other residents and care providers. One solution is to transfer the residents who require isolation to one specific group home. But this could have a big impact on the continuity of care, especially if the resident has a complex communication disability. As is the case in hospitals, if the staff is unfamiliar with how a resident communicates, it can be a stressful situation for the resident as well as the staff.
If you are someone who uses AAC, or someone who cares for someone with complex communication needs, it is important to be prepared to ensure that communication needs are met. This is especially relevant if someone needs to be unexpectedly relocated or hospitalized. One thing to be done is to prepare communication support materials to help with comprehension and expression. Make sure these are ready on hand and be sure to include low-tech, nonelectronic options as some people may not be able to access and use electronic technologies.
Creating a health passport
An example of a low-tech option is a medical or health passport with all critical health information including medical conditions, medications, current medical team, and contact information. Make sure that this is easily located to share with medical personnel. People can also prepare instructions for medical staff or other new communication partners explaining communication techniques as well as positioning and daily care requirements. Use simple clear language. Provide photos if possible, or include videos demonstrating techniques.
As a part of my research for this blog, I decided to create my own medical passport to see what the process was like. I found a template online so that helped tremendously to know what information to include.
The process took a total of ninety minutes and it really made me think about how to explain simple tasks for my care such as helping me drink, feeding me, and even how to position me in bed. Below are examples of pages from my medical passport.
Because hospitals stopped allowing visitors at the start of the pandemic, patients became more stressed and isolated. A computer programmer named Brian Whitmer developed Co-VidSpeak after he saw the need for patients on ventilators to communicate with loved ones at home. He determined that patients could greatly benefit from positive emotional connections with others. However, when quarantine or social distancing is in effect, physical proximity is not an option. Co-VidSpeak is a free open source, web-based video conferencing tool built for people who can’t speak but still need to emotionally connect with those at a distance. Here is a short video that demonstrates how Co-VidSpeak works.
Boardmaker is another resource for special education that supports communication, access and the social/emotional needs of more than six million students in 51 countries. According to the website of Tobii dynavox, creator of Boardmaker, “At home, at school, or in a clinical practice, Boardmaker drives your student’s success.” The company announced that, “To help educators, parents, and learners during this time of need, the Tobii Dynavox team has gathered our resources and created Coronavirus materials within them.” The company is releasing new sets of “At Home Learning” communication boards every couple of days to make homeschooling easier. Boardmaker also created printable communication pages to support caregiver-to-patient communications in a hospital environment.
These uncertain times can be even more uncertain for people with a complex speech disability because they might be put into an unfamiliar environment. This might occur because they might be sick and need to be admitted to the hospital, or they need to be isolated.
Fortunately, with the right preparation, uncomfortable situations can be less stressful.