Communication Accessibility Awards 2021

The 2021 NZSTA, in collaboration with the Minister of Disability Issues, Communication Accessibility Awards have been awarded to individuals and organisations who were observed demonstrating the following Communication Accessible Principles:

  • Awareness and knowledge
  • Attitude
  • Competency
  • Information
  • Environment

We are honoured to announce the 2021 award winners: 

Kitty Zeng as an interpreter who is always willing to go above and beyond to give the support needed to patients with significant communication difficulties. Uses active listening skills, gives time to respond, and quickly adopts SLT strategies to enhance sessions without needing to be asked to do this.

Liz Ballantine, Clinics Receptionist, University of Auckland who is always willing and able to provide information to patients and clients in any and all formats that will optimise their ability to understand it. She is “unshockable” and is always sensitive to the grief these families are experiencing, and the courage patients demonstrate everyday, living with communication disabilities. Discretely celebrates their highs and commiserates their lows with them and they always arrive in the best possible space to work with students.

Papanui Primary School – Lisa Thompson (SENCO) for providing school-wide access to a range of AAC systems. Core vocabulary boards are available in the classrooms,. Large core boards are being made for their playground. Key staff also have wearable core boards. Teachers have all attended PD around implementation of AAC and how it can be used to support a wide range of learners. teaching staff have been open and willing to learn. There is excellent support from senior management at the school, and as a result there is a consistent message and clear buy-in from the staff. This has been a collaborative process, supported by the school’s MOE SLT.

Sarah Goodfellow is the inspirational teacher in a special school. Most of her students are non-verbal and struggle to communicate their needs. She seamlessly and intuitively provides AAC (alternative and augmentative communication) tools in her class, both low and high tech; juggling key-word sign, core-boards, touchchat apps etc.  But more than that Sarah tunes in to each of the students watching their non-verbal cues and interpreting them, adding language, simplifying and repeating core words. She brings such a passion to the communicative environment, energising the team of students, teacher aides and specialists to maximise learning opportunities. Sarah is always positive and keen to learn new technology and tools to support her students reach their potential.

Ruth Blair has been employed as the SENCO for Lochiel School for several years. Ruth has led her school on a journey to structured literacy. She has worked tirelessly to upskill her knowledge and understanding of language, and language disorders. She never skips an invitation to learn the language-literacy link, how to improve language in the classroom, or how to identify and support children with developmental language disorder. She has strived to identify every child with communication needs within Lochiel School, and has worked with multiple agencies in an attempt to meet the needs of all students. She has worked to disseminate knowledge throughout not only her school staff, but the wider community as well.

Sarah Price, occupational therapist at CCS Disability Action, Canterbury is a huge advocate for transdisciplinary teamwork and goes out of her way to make sure her practice reflects all aspects of the family goals. Sarah often works alongside children on the autism spectrum who use verbal speech to a variety of degrees. She has observed the team provide both AAC and language strategies and seeks guidance for herself on how she can be a good communication partner and ally for these children and their families. She requested her own core board so that she can be ready to model this at all times, and has requested training on a variety of communication apps on devices, so that she is able to model to a child, and alongside their family, when she is visiting herself. She is open with her learning journey to families and makes them feel supported as she learns alongside them.

Seiola Tapa is a teacher aide at a special school who works with non-verbal students and intuitively demonstrates the NZSTA communication access principles. She tunes in to each of her students and compassionately attempts to understand what communication struggles they are experiencing. Her compassion, careful observation and patience with her students means non-verbal communicative connection is always there. Seiola uses observation and  active listening skills to give her students extra time to respond and use their AAC communication tools. She patiently uses visuals to support transitions and repeats core words so the students receive key information in a supportive manner. She uses the tools the SLTs at Sommerville provide to create a communicative environment e.g. visuals and key word signs.

Robyn Thomas & Heather Orman, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch – The school (led by Heather, new entrant teacher, and Robyn, teacher aide) have gone above and beyond to ensure a young student with complex needs has their communication and learning needs met with support and consultation from the child’s whānau, The Champion Centre and TalkLink. They have shown awareness and knowledge through coordinating education for other staff and families in the school community. They have shared knowledge about the child and his communication challenges before the child starting the school. The school rearranged their timetable to ensure the child could attend music class during his time at school, as he does not currently attend school full-time and has a great passion for music. The school team has acknowledged areas of need regarding their professional learning and development around further skills to best support the child and has sought help by bringing ideas and questions to visits completed by relevant professionals. The use of skills such as active listening skills, giving time to respond, using alternative augmentative communication tools are used by staff. The learning environment has been altered to ensure communication tools are available and utilized throughout the day. As well as having the child’s low-tech communication board available, the child’s AAC communication board is projected onto the whiteboard throughout the day, and core language is modelled throughout literacy and reading activities. The class has a focus word of the week from the coreboard, which is also modelled throughout activities. This supports peer interactions for the child and his peers.

Wellington Airport who introduced the sunflower lanyard for hidden disabilities. This promotes communication access by helping staff and others realise someone may need extra support and strategies when communicating. Those who choose to use the lanyard may feel more confident and less anxious about the busy airport environment and have a generally more positive and relaxed experience travelling and interacting with others. Ngā mihi nui Wellington Airport for leading the way with this initiative.