A Llandysul pensioner is helping to advise Bronglais Hospital how to make signs around the hospital more accessible for people with learning difficulties.
Fred Evans is working with the Community Team for Learning Disabilities as a ‘sign tutor’ to help make signage more communication-friendly. It is part of a scheme to make it easier for people to find their way around the hospital which will help people feel more secure and less anxious.
Fred, aged 68, who lives in the rural care community Faerdre Manor, is working alongside the team’s speech and language therapists. “I’ll be supporting members of the public who rely on visual signing,” said Fred, who has a mild learning disability. “Having symbols around you are familiar with can help with feelings of confusion and anxiety.”
The Hywel Dda Health Board project has been so successful it is now rolling out the new sign system across its hospitals. It has also been selected as a finalist in this year’s NHS Wales Awards to be announced on July 3. Fred is trained in a strategy called ‘Total Communication’ that includes tools such as signing, body language, symbols, photographs and objects of reference. Faerdre Manor service manager Jennifer Groden pioneered the use of the strategy when she started work at the care home in 2008.
“We have people with learning disabilities here, others with mental health issues, so we had to develop a communications strategy for people who need to do signing, visual and intensive interaction.
“Giving people the ability to convey their choices and say what they want in life, or tell someone if something is wrong, is vital to a person’s well-being. It provides them with ownership of their lives and promotes a feeling of worth.”
The Health Board came up with the new approach to help patients find their way around the hospital after engaging with adults with learning disabilities, staff, the local community health council and patients in Pembrokeshire.
“The use of symbols and colour zones has made a big difference and patient satisfaction has increased as a result of the project,” said Lesley Jenkins, Acute Services Nurse Manager at Hywel Dda Health Board. “The new signs are now being rolled out to hospitals in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Hywel Dda Health Board is very grateful for the assistance Fred has provided to the team at Bronglais Hospital.”
Fred lives with five other service users at Faerdre Manor. The community provides supported living for up to eight adults with learning disabilities and associated complex disorders. The facility provides a life-skills training service, access to a full range of activities, courses, skills training events and person-centred support planning – all in Total Communication format.
Service users are encouraged to seek jobs or volunteering opportunities whenever possible to maximise their skill base.
Around 95 per cent of people with learning disabilities have communication difficulties. Some find it difficult to understand and process information others may have problems understanding social interaction.