Ireland Communities and society, Welfare and equalities

Wexford County Council’s communication boards: Chambers Ireland’s 2020 Disability Services Provision award winner

Wexford’s new landmark public park, Min Ryan Park, opened to the public during the summer of 2020. In a year that brought so much turmoil and disruption, the park provides the people of County Wexford with a fabulous new amenity, which is being enjoyed by all ages and abilities. The park, which took just over 12 months to construct,  boasts an array of attractive features, including a playground, picnic area, dog park, memorial garden, walking track, water features, multi-use events area, play spaces and wildflower meadows. The Park also includes a series of rich, biodiverse eco-systems such as a wetland area, wildflower meadows and native woodland habitats.

Since the project was initially conceived, the design of the park had always been to complement the quality of life for people in Wexford by providing a high quality, attractive and open public space, with universal accessibility at its core. In acknowledging this central tenet of Wexford County Council’s approach to the park design, the Council developed an interactive communication board for the park’s impressive new playground area.

For all of us, the ability to communicate is a necessity and to be understood is essential. Most things we do on a day-to-day basis involve some form of communication – the way we express ourselves, show emotion and develop relationships. There is a basic level and need in all people to be able to communicate with each other. For someone who is non-verbal or has additional communication needs, however, communication with a person who uses spoken language can be challenging. Regardless of a person’s ability or their restrictions relating to language, the communication board facilitates communication in a simple and easy to understand manner.

In essence, the communication board is a large sign type feature, which measures 2.2m long by 0.6m high. Contained on the board are a series of easy to interpret images and icons, called Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS for short. The board allows a user to point to whichever image is most appropriate to what they need, want or feel. This very simple process is designed to be as easy to understand as possible and requires no specific training for either the user or the interpreter. Once the user has communicated their thoughts, via the board, a parent, guardian, friend or carer can then assist in translating the user’s thought into action.

The idea for the communication board was originally suggested by Maria Banville – a local member of the public, along with Health Service Executive speech and language therapist Jennifer Whelan, to Cllr. George Lawlor. Following Cllr. Lawlor’s representation to Council officials, Wexford County Council were delighted to incorporate this feature into the playground area of the park.

A collaborative, community-led approach was taken to developing the board, with input gratefully received from the HSE, Wexford native Dr. Rhona Dempsey, of the InterAcT initiative at Trinity College, as well as the Speech and Therapy Unit of the Central Remedial Clinic, Dublin.

The communication board is based on a number of factors, including:

  • Acknowledging the variations in people and how they may communicate;
  • Offering an alternative communications method;
  • Taking time to listen by sight using symbols, gestures and pictures.

Generally, communication and a means to communicate are essential for people’s physical and mental well-being. For a child, the ability to communicate is vital for their development, health, safety and wellbeing. The communication board supports this necessity and it does so in a fun, inclusive, practical, interactive and self-explanatory way. Min Ryan Park, an amenity that embraces play, imagination, creativity, nature and a sense of community, is the prime location to engage elements that are at the core of any child’s development.

Since the opening of the park, there has been a massive outpouring of interest in the boards from across the country and beyond. Several local authorities and community agencies now propose to install the boards in various public locations, to assist those with additional communication needs. Wexford County Council has subsequently developed a webpage with further information on the boards, including a template that can be designed for prospective users. This page can be accessed here.

Most recently, Wexford County Council were delighted to win the award for ‘Excellence in Disability Service Provision’, at the Local Government Awards. The award was a fantastic acknowledgement of how a community-led, collaborative approach can result in very effective improvements to the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens. Wexford County Council would like to acknowledge all those involved in the development of the new communication boards, especially those in a community capacity who initially proposed and supported the idea.

 

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