On 1 September, the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) hosted a disability awareness event at the Piazza on the Hatfield campus. The event focused on people who cannot speak or have limited speech, and thus rely on technology to communicate.
According to a press release from the CAAC, “For people with severe communication difficulties, making connections is not always easy. Discrimination, stigma, and false perceptions by society often make it difficult for them to be seen, to be heard, and to have a chance to ‘just say hi’.” The annual FOFA programme held at the Centre for AAC aims to empower young adults who use augmentative and alternative communication to make their voices heard by making connections, and breaking through stereotypes that marginalise and sideline them.”
During the event, students had the opportunity to learn more about disabilities and to speak to some of the people living with disabilities. Students also had the opportunity to try out the devices that people with disabilities use to communicate. These devices include eye-tracking computers that monitor eye movements to create words or sentences. The people living with disabilities asked every student, who came to speak to them, specific questions like “If you met someone on an internet dating website, how would you feel?” and “What do you think of people living with no disabilities parking on parking spots reserved for disabled people?”.
Perdeby spoke to some of the people living with disabilities to learn more about their disabilities. These people communicate using laptops with special software such as Grid 2 and E-triloquist. They can also type words or phrases that the computer will repeat to the listener. Lebohang Sehako, from Kuruman in the Nothern Cape, is involved in various community projects. He showed Perdeby the book that he is currently writing. His book is about his disability, how it has affected him and his advice to others living with disabilities. Robyn White from the CAAC said that they felt that the event was a success. White said: “We were actually expecting a lot of students just to walk pass or just stop for a lollipop, but we were so thrilled at how many students stopped and engaged with the FOFA participants, and some who stayed for more than an hour to talk to them.” White said that the disabled people also enjoyed the event. White said: “The feedback we got from the FOFA participants [was] only positive. They had such a great time and really felt included in campus life on Friday, which is so important for them. As we know, many young adults with disabilities often feel isolated from their communities, but on Friday they felt included and empowered, they were all so happy afterwards.”
The CAAC have the following tips should you come across someone who has limited or no speech:
• Talk to them directly.
• Ask one question at a time.
• Wait patiently for that person’s answer before asking another question.
• Do not pretend that you understand what that person is going through.
• Feel free to ask the person to repeat themselves if you did not understand them the first time.