Staff sign the way to better communication

Council's transport personnel learn Makaton to enhance interaction with clients

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Staff from Hounslow Council’s Transport Operations department - a service that helps children and adults with learning disabilities travel in the borough - is making journeys more engaging for the people they support, thanks to some special training.

Speech and language therapists from Hounslow’s Community Team for people with learning disabilities have taught them Makaton Sign, a language programme designed specifically for people with learning disabilities.

Staff have learned basic Makaton signs so they can communicate more effectively with clients on their journeys to and from school, or day centre.

Makaton provides a means of communication using standardised signs and symbols. In this case, the training focused on Makaton signing, which many of the transport staff had seen their charges using, but never knew what it meant. Makaton signers only sign key words in a sentence, and use speech alongside those signs. They also use facial expression, body language and eye contact to communicate effectively.

René Relph, a speech and language therapist in the borough, led the training.

She said “This has been a really positive step to raising awareness of different types of communication, and that communication is not all about speech. The training will hopefully enable transport staff to have more positive interaction with the children and adults they are supporting.

“It’s great that Makaton will not just be used at schools and resource centres, but will also be used by other people in the community, like the transport staff.”

Twelve staff from Transport Operations, which is based at the Bridge Depot in Hounslow, have learnt to use basic Makaton signs. The training has proved to be so popular, more sessions are expected in future.

Drivers, who work alongside escorts, have a very responsible job looking after some of society’s most vulnerable people - their work also involves taking adults with learning disabilities to resource centres.

Mary Perrior has been driving for Transport Operations for 10 years during a 25-year career at the council. She said “We have learned basic phrases, so we have enough to get by. It has given me enough confidence to communicate with the children I take to school, and the adults I drop off at day centres, and I’m sure they appreciate it. I have one little lad who smiles when I sign ‘good morning’ to him. It’s lovely to get a reaction.”

April 11, 2006