Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) is the national peak body for the speech pathology profession in Australia. At Scope, we have over 75 speech pathologists who provide services across Victoria. We also have a Communication Inclusion and Resource Centre (CIRC) that focuses on community education, communication access, and resources for people with communication needs.

At the upcoming Speech Pathology Australia Conference, members from CIRC will present the work that has been done to award the Communication Access Symbol to organisations and businesses across Victoria. Communication access aims to enable everybody to get their messages across wherever they are in the community. We spoke with Barbara Solarsh from CIRC about the project.

Dr Barbara Solarsh, Scope's Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre

Dr Barbara Solarsh from Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre

Scope: Can you tell us about Scope’s involvement in the 2017 SPA Conference?

Barbara: This year is significant because of Speech Pathology Australia’s 2030 “making futures happen” goals.  The first  of these is to make communities communication accessible. The work Scope is doing in communication access is very much in partnership with SPA and we would like to work with them to help achieve that particular goal.

Is Scope’s CIRC the founder of the communication access inititaive?

Yes. We started to develop the concept in 2008. Since then we have developed standards, processes, protocols, resources, strategies, training materials and communication access licences. We also employ six to seven people with communication difficulties as communication access assessors who conduct the audit process.

Tell us about what your team is presenting at the conference.

The presentation provides a description of the journey of communication access over almost 10 years. Our symbol is now a registered trademark and the rules for communication access have been registered with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission. We will talk about the range of organisations and businesses that have become communication accessible, and our vision for rolling out the communication access initiative across Australia.

Communication Access Symbol

The Communication Access Symbol.

What did the journey of developing the Communication Access symbol look like?

In the early work, Regional Communications Service therapists played a significant role. In meeting their service goals to create inclusive communities, they visited places across Victoria frequently used by people with communication disabilities.  They provided staff at these services with training and resources to support communication. This was the start of creating communication accessible places and led to the development of the Communication Access Symbol. Today, the symbol identifies places where an audit has taken place and communication access standards have been met. When a business is issued with a communication access licence, it indicates a long term commitment by the business to uphold standards.

So kind of like the wheelchair symbol for physical accessibility?

Yes, that is a universal symbol for physical access. Today, because of the commitment of architects to designing accessible buildings there are building codes and  standards which require access features. Thinking of that model, we thought,  ‘we need to develop standards that apply to communication.’ We then developed the symbol and the standards and the checklists to audit those standards. We then employed and trained communication access assessors who conduct assessments face-to-face and by phone. We developed a number of licences, which are awarded to places, and finally, we developed our process for ongoing monitoring. So that is what we have achieved over this time.

Today, the Communication Access symbol identifies a place where an audit has taken place and communication access standards have been met.

What are some of the challenges in getting businesses and organisations to take up the communication access symbol?

The biggest challenge is awareness. We are very supported at the moment by Australian disability policy, which has its main focus on inclusive communities. However attitude barriers are still a problem for people with communication difficulties. We want people to be aware of the importance and positive spin-offs of becoming communication accessible.

Are there plans to roll communication access out across Australia? How do you plan to do that?

We now have a Communication Access Starter Kit to support the national  rollout. We want communication access to be available  everywhere,  and we want people with communication disabilities all over the country to find employment as communication access assessors. The work has been well acknowledged nationally and internationally; we have had a number of regional and  national awards for the work done in communication access. But it’s not about the award itself. It’s about the recognition given to communication access through awards that is so important. We are now at a stage that we are confident that communication access is here to stay.

The recognition and support that Speech Pathology Australia have shown for communication access contributes to the emergence of a national movement for communication access.