How assistive technology is helping Mary find her voice

Until recently, Henshaws Specialist College student Mary Hinde had a vocabulary of just two simple words. Now, with the support of expert language therapists and the latest assistive technology Mary is making herself heard. We talk to those involved in making this transformation possible and look at the impact it is having on Mary’s day to day life.

How assistive technology enabled Mary to communicate

Mary was born with severe physical disabilities and visually impaired.  She could only respond to questions which required a yes or no answer.

“Mary got her first communication aid 10 years ago, but we had problem after problem and it just never seemed to work,” explains Sarah, Mary’s mum. “Conversation was non-existent and I know it was incredibly frustrating for Mary. We all did our best, but even when we were giving her two or three options – they were our suggestions of what she might like.”

Expert assessment by Henshaws

Many of the professionals the family previously saw didn’t have the knowledge to address Mary’s complex communication needs. However, when our Speech and Language Therapists and Assistive Technologists assessed Mary they agreed that she needed a new way of communicating.  Mary is now using a voice output communication aid (VOCA).

Student Mary using assistive technology in her music lesson

“Our Therapy, Educational and Sensory Support team worked with Mary to develop software on her VOCA. We set up new words and layouts and fit an improved switch which she can now access independently by moving her head.”

Heather Whorley, Henshaws Speech and Language Therapist

A holistic approach

Mary’s holistic timetable at College is based around communication. In her previous school she used her VOCA for just one lesson a week, at Henshaws she uses it throughout the day. Everyone who works with Mary is fully trained, giving her the confidence to use her VOCA to communicate.

As well as intensive language therapy sessions, Mary is learning vital skills to help her fulfil her ambition to become an Avon representative. Her College curriculum is geared towards this aim, from learning to pick up small objects to adding up the cost of an order.

Mary is also using her VOCA more at home, using it to make simple commands to express her needs.

Mary using her VOCA

"It is an absolute joy to see Mary communicating. We have always told people that Mary fully understands but to hear her voice and see the look on people's faces when she answers or asks them something is amazing.”

Sarah Hinde, Mary's Mum

Improving confidence and future plans

Using the VOCA is having a positive impact on Mary’s confidence too.  She recently took part in a play and now chooses the music she wants when she attends choir practice. It’s a transformation which has also been noticed by the staff at here at College.

“Mary tells us how she is feeling and talks about her weekend,” says Heather. “We are now exploring a larger language set to give Mary access to a greater range of words which she can draw on for fuller conversations.”

Henshaws is equipping Mary with a range of skills that will enable her to do something useful, something that will give her a sense of purpose.

And listen out – because that ring on your doorbell might just be Avon calling!

Student Mary Hinde banging on a tambourine in music class

Find out more

Read more about how we support all our students to go beyond expectations here.

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