In Key Word Sign, people speak and sign at the same time, and only sign the key words

In 2009, I was sent by Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) to attend the Key Word Sign Presenter Certification Training in Melbourne, Australia. This allowed me to learn about the Key Word Sign approach.  In Key Word Sign, we speak and sign at the same time, and we sign only the key words. It is used to encourage language development in children and adults with communication difficulties.

The training equipped me with the skills and knowledge to provide in-house Key Word Sign training to staff and parents, helping myself and a dedicated team lead the organisation to roll out Key Word Sign over the subsequent years. In 2014, MINDS implemented Key Word Sign (Australia) as a common signing approach across various schools and centres.

Here is what we did to implement Key Word Sign within our workplace:

1. Gather a group of Champions

We gathered Key Word Sign Champions from each school and centre. This group came together as a committee several times a year to look into initiatives to create a signing environment and encourage the use of Key Word Sign amongst staff. The Key Word Sign Champion does not have to be a Speech Pathologist; they may be a teacher, direct-care staff, or a therapist. The Key Word Sign Champion has a specific role to follow-up on Key Word Sign-related activities within their workplace.

2. Making our message loud and clear

We featured different staff signing on posters, instead of having line-drawing pictures of the signs. These posters are put up at high-traffic areas (e.g. corridors, lift/reception area) to raise people’s interest and awareness of Key Word Sign.
We also sent out a Key Word Sign email newsletter to all staff at least twice a year. Communication helps keep everyone at the workplace updated with any Key Word Sign-related news.

3. Embrace fun whilst using Key Word Sign

Using Key Word Sign is like learning a new language, and people often need encouragement and fun to put the learnt skill into everyday life. We create opportunities for staff to participate in quizzes (featured on the Key Word Sign Newsletter) such as guessing the correct sign related to the photograph. Just be sure to offer small prizes for the winners!

We encourage staff to use Key Word Sign in songs and take part in a song competition by sending in videos.

We have an annual initiative called Revisiting Key Word Sign @ MINDS – Use it or Lose it where staff have the opportunity to practice Key Word Sign in a fun, informal setting through games and activities within their workplace – these activities are conducted by the Key Word Sign Champions.


4. Network, and collaborate with external agencies

Networking and collaboration with external agencies is a great way to raise  awareness of the Key Word Sign approach, and also explore the possibility of developing resources. MINDS collaborated with Republic Polytechnic to develop an app that shows videos of how to correctly produce signs.

5. Review, and reflect on what could be done better

It’s important to continually seek input and feedback from staff and caregivers on the various initiatives implemented. We recently conducted an organization-wide survey. The findings from the survey will provide insights recommendations for how we could do better in making Key Word Sign happen at the organization in the future.

MINDS has now been using Key Word Sign for 3 years! We are continually thinking of fresh, new ideas to keep the signing spirit alive and well. To celebrate this journey we have made our very own video to raise awareness about the use of Key Word Sign.

You can also check out the ‘Key Word Sign Australia’ app to easily create customisable Key Word Sign resources, available to download for iPad from the App Store.

Eva Loh Wei Lyn is a speech pathologist at Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and is presenting at the AGOSCI National conference 2017. If you would like more information on how to incorporate Key word sign into your workplace, contact Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre on 1300 472 673 or circ@scopeaust.org.au