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TalkLink Trust: Celebrating Twenty Five Years

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Life is often about choices. We make them every day, sometimes they are good choices or even life changing choices, and sometimes in hindsight we wished we never made that particular choice. We learn from making choices.

I made one of my best choices ever, back in 1992, when I was asked if I would consider working for the TalkLink Trust. It was definitely a hard choice – leaving a secure job to work in the not-for-profit sector, for an organisation specialising in a very new area of work for speech-language therapists. Yet I was able to make that choice because I had people who could support me in that decision-making process. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life so far!

On the 24th November 2016, following the TalkLink Trust Board AGM meeting, we celebrated 25 years since the signing of the TalkLink Trust Deed. We invited friends of TalkLink: people who helped shape TalkLink as it is today, including past trustees and clients, and we heard some of their stories. This information has been recorded in the TalkLink-Trust-ANNUAL-REPORT-2016; which I hope will provide a record for the future.

Everyone should have the ability to make choices, yet often the people we work alongside find this difficult, or are not even given the chance to make choices. In a conversation at our anniversary celebration, I was talking to a former TalkLink Trustee who was recalling something that happened to her son who had complex communication needs. He would sometimes take himself off to bed at 5.00pm; it was his choice. But the people who provided his care felt it was too early to go to bed, so he was not able to make that choice. His mother pointed out that it was his choice and perhaps they should respect it, because the next day he may choose to stay up late! Something that most of us do, without even thinking about it. Quite a simple concept, but in reality people with complex communication needs are not always given the opportunity to make these choices and then we wonder why, surprise, surprise, they get upset or angry.

The tools to assist Supported Decision Making by people who have complex communication needs  are something we want to see being used more.  Developing a partnership with like-minded people such as the team at Auckland Disability Law will help, and we are going to work with the Talking Mats developers who will be coming to New Zealand in May next year. Talking Mats® is a visual framework which uses images to help people with communication difficulties. It has the potential for use with a wide range of people and is an approach which helps them think about issues and provides them with a way of expressing their views more easily.

In addition, we plan to develop a network of people who can advocate for the area of AAC. Often the people we work alongside form networks with a disability diagnosis focus, such as Cerebral Palsy, Motor Neurone Disease, or Autism. While, it goes without saying that these networks are important, we want to transcend the “diagnosis”, and look at ways to develop a community of support for people with complex communication needs. Even more than that, we want to look at ways to build awareness and break down barriers so that people who communicate differently have the supports to participate in their community without society imposed barriers.

How can YOU help? Become an AAC Activist – we need to educate people that it is society that imposes barriers to communication. We need to show people that “just because I cannot speak, doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say”. The New Zealand Speech-Language Therapists’ Association has launched the Giving Voice Aotearoa campaign to build awareness, and TalkLink will be supporting this initiative.  We are also exploring ways that the “Friends of TalkLink Trust” can work together to break down communication barriers. Watch this space for ways YOU can help coming soon…..

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Ann Smaill

Ann Smaill

General Manager, Speech Language Therapist at The Talklink Trust
I am the General Manager of the TalkLink Trust, and also a speech-language therapist. I have been working with people who have complex communication needs for many years.
Ann Smaill

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