Back to the future at Communication Matters
Highlights from the CENMAC team
The CENMAC team supports many children and young people who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to support their communication. It is very important that our team stays up-to-date with the latest research and digital innovations so we can provide our AAC users with the best service.
Communication Matters is an annual AAC event in September which provides a forum where AAC users, parents, SEND professionals and AAC product specialists meet to exchange information, network and see the latest technologies. The community is a tight knit one and it is a great opportunity for members of the CENMAC team to catch up with everyone.
There is also time for some fun at the conference with an Open-mic night, conference supper and with a theme of Back to the Future we had some fun with our costume creations.
Here are some of our highlights from the team:
Kathryn Stowell, Team Leader
From the keynote opening delivered by Graham Pullin to the closing plenary with Abdi Omar, the whole event was engaging, inspiring and thought provoking. It was wonderful to hear from, and meet so many people who are passionate about Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
It’s a privilege to be able to spend a couple of days hearing from others so we can reflect on our own services. In an area of assistive technology which is constantly evolving it was interesting to be part of the AI and AAC workshop and it feels exciting to see where this might take us.
The presentation by Euan Robertson, ‘How can robust symbolic vocabularies fit into a universal level AAC offering in school?’ was great to hear how many of the ideas reflected the outcomes we mentioned in our work with Abdi Omar. We are really looking forward to starting a pilot with Proloquo here at Charlton Park Academy this year.
Finally, well done to Abdi for his plenary, what an amazing venue and fantastic to see Abdi deliver his presentation to this audience
Mary Long, Deputy Team Leader
I particularly enjoyed the range of seminars and workshops available throughout the two days. The programme was so packed, that at times it was difficult to choose between sessions. One highlight was the seminar with Charlie Moran and Holly Golborne around the use of multi-modal communication and why people may choose to use various types of communication, often within one interaction.
It was also interesting to attend seminars delivered by my CENMAC colleagues, Charlie Danger and Tina Voizey, as well as the always inspiring Abdi Omar, who delivered the plenary.
Abeer Essa, Advisory Speech and Language Therapist
I have heard plenty of positive things about Communication Matters from other colleagues and was always intrigued to attend – and it did not disappoint! I very much enjoyed the two days I spent there; met new people, learnt about new technologies and approaches, and shared experiences.
The highlight session for me was ‘You Are Never Too Anything…a Literacy Journey’. It was presented by my colleague Tina Voizey, and Gina and James Walker about their son’s amazing literacy development. I learnt a great deal about AAC users and their literacy acquisition via technology. An area I am very interested in as a speech and language therapist and a specialist assessor in dyslexia.
Claire Hennings, Specialist Teaching Assistant
This was my first time at Communication Matters, and I enjoyed every minute. Leeds University was a beautiful setting and there was a great atmosphere the whole time.
I got lots of information from the seminars I attended as well as from talking to the people who were sharing their company’s technology and services.
As well as this I enjoyed meeting and talking to new people, and spending time people-watching! The Open-mic night was a highlight for me, the dancing, poetry, comedy, and other talents of the people sharing their skills were brilliant, I could not choose a favourite!
Charlie Danger, Occupational Therapy Consultant
The Communication Matters conference offers opportunities to learn new skills, gain more knowledge, catch up with friends and colleagues, and to find out about new technology. In 2023 the conference provided all of this in abundance, but if I had to choose a highlight, I would probably select one from the “new technology” category. Apple has unexpectedly made iPadOS (iOS17) much more gaze-accessible for Hiru and Tobii Dynavox trackers. The “Snap-to-item” option results in a smooth cursor-less experience that’s one of the best implementations of eye-gaze outside AAC we’ve yet seen. Thanks Apple!
Sarah McPoland, Advisory Speech and Language Therapist
Prior to the conference, the highly anticipated Dynamic AAC Goals Grid 3 (DAGG-3) was released. Having adapted its predecessor in 2020 to accommodate the needs of the caseload, I was particularly interested to attend the seminar describing updates to the tool which include the addition of psychosocial goals and a more acute focus on literacy. It was the perfect segway to a later collaboration between a SaLT and Teacher which focused upon supporting literacy and language.
Throughout the breaks and social events, I enjoyed observing informal interactions between AAC users – from early communicators developing friendships during mealtimes to more established users navigating social situations with sophistication as they reconnected with friends and acquaintances during the Open-mic evening.
Zain Alabbasi, Advisory Speech and Language Therapist
This was my first time attending the Communication Matters conference and I would definitely go again. There were so many great seminar topics on the programme which made it so hard to decide which ones to attend. In addition to learning lots from these thought-provoking sessions, it was nice bumping into and catching up with friends I had met on my Speech and Language Therapy course at university.
The highlight for me was seeing so many people from across the UK and with different backgrounds, including AAC users, come together to learn from one another and share their clinical experiences and expertise, all aspiring to support the development of communication solutions and contribute to creating a more inclusive society.
Back to the Future themed fancy dress evening
With the world of assistive technology making incredible and constant advances it seemed very appropriate that the disco theme was Back to the Future. It was great to see people let their hair down and get creative with their costumes. Can anyone guess what or who Mary Long was dressed as?
We’re looking forward to next year!
Mary Long and Saffron Murphy-Mann
Mary Long and Bob Sagoo
Mary Long and fellow delegates