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And Communication For All

On November 2, 2016, the Vermont Communication Task Force (VCTF) celebrated the finalization of guidelines for the use of Facilitated Communication (FC) as a means of communication for individuals receiving developmental services in Vermont. Representatives of the statewide Communication Task Force (Harvey Lavoy and Tracy Thresher from WCMHS, Pascal Cheng from Howard Services, June Bascom and Amy Roth from DAIL, and Mary Alice Favro from UVM) worked for several months to develop the Vermont Facilitated Communication Guidelines at the request of Agency of Human Services (AHS) Secretary Hal Cohen.  When Secretary Cohen approved these guidelines, Vermont became the first state to have done this and to have a way to consistently deliver training and supports to the individuals we serve.  Through this collaborative work between advocates, designated agency leaders, and AHS, Vermont has again led the way in opening doors towards equality and inclusion to all community members.

In recognition of this important step and to celebrate the abilities of some community members who have benefited from Facilitated Communication supports, the Department of Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) framed poetry written by Scott Brodie and Conor Cleveland to hang in the Commissioner’s Office and in the Developmental Disabilities Service Division.  Both gentlemen were able to attend a VCTF meeting this fall and to see their poetry on display.  To those who have seen and read Scott and Conor’s artistic expressions, these pieces are an important reminder that someone’s inability to speak does not mean that they have nothing to say.  

WCMHS Community Developmental Services (CDS) Communication Training & Resources program works with individuals who benefit from communication supports. The mission of this program is to ensure that individuals with complex communication needs are able to communicate in their method of choice.  The program staff works with individuals to offer support, training, and technology to be fully included, gain respect of others, demonstrate competence, educate others about their communication competency, develop independence, and have quality of and find purpose in life.  The program offers consultation, training, and technical assistance to individuals with complex communication needs.  Supports are also extended to their families, schools, and other community based service providers within Washington County, statewide, and across the United States.  One of the program Communications Services’ Peer Mentor and Self-AdvocatesTracy Thresher plays a starring role in the movie Wretches and Jabberers, which highlights the success and struggles of two adult men with autism who embark on a global quest to change attitudes about disability and intelligence. Learn more about the movie here.

The Vermont Communication Task Force (VCTF) is a statewide network created in 2000. The fundamental tenet of the Task Force is that all persons are competent, can communicate, and must receive the support, training and technology needed to actively participate in all aspects of life. Toward this end, the Task Force provides information and training to transition age youth and adults with developmental disabilities, family members, educators, service providers and community members. The work is multifaceted, focusing on the individual (direct supports), local (agency) and state (systems) levels to provide resources, information and advocacy.  As mentioned previously, one such recent effort resulted in the development of the Vermont Facilitated Communication Guidelines endorsed by the Vermont Agency of Human Services. These guidelines formalize what has been standard practice in Vermont for over 20 years regarding the processes that ensure facilitated communication is used appropriately and effectively.  The strength of the Task Force is its membership which comprises representatives from the DA/SSAs, Green Mountain Self-Advocates, Speech and Language Pathologists, staff from the Developmental Disabilities Services Division, Vermont Assistive Technology Project and University of Vermont Assistive Technology Try-Out Center. The Task Force supports a network of Local ­Communication Resource People from developmental disabilities services providers throughout the state. It is this dynamic partnership that continuously promotes statewide efforts to ensure all people can communicate.

annual meeting award

(pictured above- Harvey Lavoy, Tracy Thresher, Julie Martin of WCMHS CDS, June Bascom, Elizabeth Sightler, Scott Broderick, Pascal Cheng, Ashley Couture, and Mary Alice Favro)

For many years, a great collaborative partnership has existed between Communication Training & Resources and Vermont Communication Task Force. This partnership has yielded many successes, and most recently, VCTF received the Community Partners Award from Community Developmental Services at the WCMHS annual board meeting on 11/14/16.  This award recognizes a community partner organization for each WCMHS division that exemplifies what it means to work side by side to improve the lives of the individuals both groups serve.  The Award was presented by Tracy Thresher, one of Communication Training & Resources Peer Mentor/Self Advocates.  Tracy’s presentation went as follows:  "Good evening everyone, I am so pleased to be standing before you to present this award to the Vermont Communication Task Force. I have been a member of this great group for many years and they are a helpful resource to anyone who needs training in the area of communication. June Bascom has been instrumental in leading our group. We have members from each of the designated agencies who attend the meetings and help us determine the needs of the community. Thank you to everyone for your hard work and determination and please accept this award."   This award was presented to June Bascom of DAIL on behalf of the entire VCTF team.  June was very gracious in her acceptance, and the mutual admiration between all members was clear. The hard work of all involved over the years will ensure that there is communication for all now and into the future in Vermont and beyond.

 

Written December 2016

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