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Posted on November 10, 2015

Last month was the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) AAC awareness month. Here at Smartbox we held our very first No Speech for Smartbox Day. We were invited to get baking or to use a communication aid to raise funds for Communication Matters.  Now I am not much of a baker, but I did want to show my support, so I decided to take on the challenge of no speech for 24hrs. 

My name is Gemma Eardley and I have worked for Smartbox for over 9 years, originally out on the road doing assessments and now in the office doing training and support.  I have seen the many challenges our customers have to face every single day. How with some help from our equipment, but mainly their own determination, they achieve great things.  So I was intrigued to see how I would find manning the support phones for just one day using a communication aid.

My first task was to choose the right device and resources for me.  I decided for face-to-face communication with people during the day I would use our new Grid Pad Rugged 10 with Bluetooth speaker and an adapted version of Beeline.  My main adaption was to change the keyboard from ABC to QWERTY – easier for somebody used to typing on one all day.  I also added in some of our new Chat History cells, which if you have the feature turned on will recall what you have typed, for fast communication.  This feature was incredibly useful as the day progressed and it learnt the sentences I would say again and again.  For communication on the phone I used a laptop with the same grid set and a Bluetooth speaker.

My day started early at 5.45am with my fiancé waking me up as he was getting ready for work.  Now, most mornings (if I am awake enough) I like to say good morning to him, but today I couldn’t speak: I had left my communication device down stairs!  Not being able to say good morning was hard. It is such a simple thing we take for granted, but when you can’t do it you miss it.  I realised in those first few moments how important it is to be able to say what you want, when you want to say it.

At Smartbox HQ, our customers on the phones were incredibly patient with me and I was so pleased it went well.  Using a communication aid for the first time did mean I had to concentrate more than I usually do when using speech so multi-tasking was a struggle at times.  I had to concentrate on the support I was providing as well as what I wanted to say to the customer.  Communicating with people on a one-to-one basis when they were in front of me was easier as I could read their body language and pre-empt what they were going to say. This meant I could start composing my answer before they had finished talking.  Group conversation was more difficult, as the pace was quicker.  The Chat History feature helped a lot, despite only having the pre-programmed phrases and no history of my own. The prediction cells and Chat History really were key for me when I wanted to keep up!

No Speech for Smartbox was a very interesting and enlightening day. I will definitely be taking up the challenge again!  Not using speech for any period of time is something I would encourage everyone to do. It has reinforced for me that everyone needs access to communication and that they need time to say what they want, not just what I have time to hear.

So why don’t you give it a go?  It does not have to be a whole day, try it for just a morning or even a lunch hour with a friend.  It would be great to hear how you get on.




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