This update is long overdue! It’s been a busy year but no more so than usual so no excuse really. Here’s the latest on the AAC Camp developments.
I’ve gotten lots of feedback on how great it would be to have an AAC Camp here in the UK. The biggest obstacle right now is money. In order to raise funds, we’ll need to show what can be done with very little funding. I’ve been thinking the the best way to ensure an accessible camp on a tight budget is to squeeze all the functionality out of the VOCAs. It would be great some day to have horse riding and zip lines but right now, with low financial investment, we could focus on developing abilities to use Skype, social media and email. We could look at developing abilities to play music, read books or access the environmental control capabilities.
So our team developed Camplify, a 3 day camp we ran last summer. We could only offer it to campers on the Whittington Health caseload and we really only focused on email, but the activities were built around what the PWUAAC wanted to do.
Here’s what went in the newsletter:
This summer Whittington Health specialist SLTs hosted Camplify, a three day camp for people who use AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices. These devices not only provide a voice from them in their immediate settings but can also offer them an online “voice” to use social media, video conferencing and email platforms.
Campers were asked to rate their abilities using these platforms and therapists created camp activities that targeted key skills needed to improve their use. All campers reported a significant improvement on their platform targets. Campers also reviewed the dangers of online interactions and discussed strategies to block contacts and report abuse. Post camp surveys reported that the camp was “very beneficial” and that they were “extremely likely” to recommend Camplify to their friends and family.
So it was a success! It was also a lot of fun! We used email and the Grid 3 to create a world where the camper is an intergalactic spy on a mission, receiving hyperspace transmissions (via email) from the command center to advise their actions. It was based on a “Choose Your Own Adventure” grid set from Smartbox’s online grids. If I were to do it again I would definitely use some form of video conferencing, like Skype, to improve communication. Emails can take such a long to travel across the galaxy.
As for the next steps, I want to offer Camplify to the rest of London so I need to put a short breaks package together. It’s a little clunky at the moment because there aren’t many potential campers in Islington but we’ll start here and spread the offer to other boroughs.
That raises an additional challenge. Home boroughs won’t send students to a short break in another borough if that break is already offered in their borough. We will have to show how Camplify and other AAC camps are different than existing short breaks. This kind of challenge will certainly help focus the camp and it mission. I can’t wait!
Thanks for following AAC Camp UK either on the website or on Facebook.
Until next time
It’s been awhile since the first and only blog post. There’s been lots to consider in how to make what I know will been a good camp and what resources are needed to make it happen.
For this year, the UK AAC Camp I’d hoped for still remains a dream. While there’s loads of enthusiasm and expertise, the key resource that’s needed to make the camp I envisioned is money and we don’t have any. Yet.
And having money would be really useful. Zip lines and horseback riding activities are memorable. Friends coming back to camp every year builds a community. It would be great to have that to look forward to every summer. But as I consider what we could do with very little money, it makes me think about what the campers would be doing the other fifty-one weeks of the year after the camp. That gives me pause. AAC Camp would be a great week but what do campers do the rest of the year? How would they share their camp experience and maintain those friendships?
Of course, we could sort all those questions out after having an incredible camp- I mean, what a problem to have, right? - but with considerably less money we could start to work on those issues right now. The big focus of AAC is face to face communication but technology and the way society communicates has evolved so much that non face to face communication happens just as much as communication with people in the same room. Moreover, if a person has transportation challenges, the non face to face could potentially be the greater unmet need.
How do we fix this? Well, there’s no money but this unmet need doesn’t require much money. It requires a focus on non face to face communication and as PWUAAC are exposed to software updates and system bugs, it will be sensible to offer three ways to connect to the outside world. That way if one system fails, they can raise the alarm with one of the remaining ones. I’ve found email to be the most reliable but I expect some form of social media -Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook or Instagram- to have a place. Finally, phone or video interface could be another way to connect.
I asked earlier: What would campers do the rest of the year? Leisure activities are another unmet need. These devices can manage a calendar, control the telly, surf the web, read a book... it’s a long list and one thing I’ve found when working with teenagers-they don’t necessarily want to talk to you! But give them access to the music library and they are interested in coming to therapy. We need to improve access to the leisure activities that VOCAs make possible. It would be great to keep everyone occupied for a week but what if they could entertain themselves every evening, weekend and holiday break? Again, it would take an investment of time, training and expertise but not loads of money. It could also draw in our friends from Assistive Technology and Occupational Therapy.
My final camp hurdle is again money related-I don’t have any for admin- from safeguarding to permission forms it’s going to take a massive amount of time. So my solution is to start local, within our current resource to offer a service development to the local caseload of 14-25 year olds who use AAC. These young people will be identified by the therapists working in the three boroughs that our organisation covers. The offer will be a three day non residential 'camp' at the end of July. Campers will be asked what email/ social media (remote or non face to face communication) platforms and tech based leisure activities they want to focus on. Richard Cloudesley School have generously granted us use of their school and we’re going to use it to create some ‘Crystal Maze’ activities adapted for remote communication as well as some sessions on developing the leisure activities that the campers want to access (eg DJing, gaming). I’m sure we’ll learn plenty from the experience which can be applied when we run it again for the next set of campers.
In order to get the funds for the camp we want, we need to show what we can do without much funding at all. If we bundle the non face to face and the leisure activities in to an alternative camp, call it “Camplify” as in ‘a camp that amplifies the use of VOCAs’. Well, I think Camplify is the best way forward. Once we show what can be achieved within current resource, we can approach other organisations to show what kind of camp could be possible with more.
So, we are now putting a Camplify application form to send out to potential camper on local caseloads. We’re still looking at how we can bring this to everyone in the UK and I expect to meet interested partners at some point this year. Some professionals may want to come to Camplify and I’d really like to see that but I’ll need look at interest and capacity. Please contact me if you’re one of those professionals.
Thanks for your patience-we will get there!
Just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone that stopped by the stand at CM for the last three days. Many of you shared your excitement at the prospect of an AAC Camp and I'm looking forward to collaborating those of you that can be part of the next steps. A special thanks to the AAC suppliers who have shown their overwhelming support. It was insightful to get your views and advice as well.
The final day was particularly revealing to me. I suspected there would be grassroots interest - similar to what I encountered after my CEN presentations - but it was a revelation to talk to the parties locally and nationally that would like to an AAC Camp become a reality.
My goal for this month is to achieve registered charity status. We're about to embark on a year long field testing project (I can't say anymore than that for now) at Richard Cloudesley, so this month was already going to be super busy. Becoming a registered charity isn't hard; it just takes persistence. But was never going to be a short term project anyway.
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