The Unspoken Voices Project evolved during a clinical academic internship, carried out at the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit in 2014/15, which was aimed at evaluating and improving my clinical AAC service. Following a review of research literature I discovered that there are a range of supports that services can offer people who use communication aids but a lack of consensus about what type of support to provide to whom and when. There is also no clear description of what ‘effective use’ of communication aids actually means to the people who rely on them. Nor are there a set of tools that services providing communication aids could use to gather feedback from their service users. It became clear that if I want to develop a service that really meets the needs, hopes and expectations of people who may benefit from communication aids, I would need to take time to find out more about their experiences.
The Unspoken Voices Project is about taking the time to listen to people and to understand some of those experiences. During the project I will interview people as they journey through an AAC service, from before their initial assessment, through receipt of a communication aid, to incorporating and using communication aids in everyday life. I plan to interview people of different ages, some of whom will have always had difficulty with communication and others who will acquire their communication difficulty as an adult. I am seeking similarities in perspectives and concord in opinion. I want to understand what people want to achieve from using a communication aid and use the common themes that emerge from the interviews to develop a tool that captures a range of possible outcomes. I will then present these outcomes to wider group of people with experience of using communication aids to establish whether there is a consensus within the group as a whole or within subgroups and, if the latter transpires,: who do those sub-groups contain?
The project was informed by the gaps identified in current knowledge and practice in the field of AAC. It was developed and adjusted with the help of people who work with AAC, people who use communication aids and people with experience of carrying out research. I have recruited a group of people with experience of communication aids to support me to maintain the focus and integrity of the project as it progresses over the next five years. This blog will be used to capture how the project progresses: reflections, learning, successes and pitfalls. I will be interested to hear how you feel I am getting on along the way and grateful for any support, advice or feedback.