People who participate in Sense Scotland support and services have communication support needs due to a combination of:

  • learning and physical disabilities
  • sensory impairment including deafblindness
  • autism
  • complex health care needs
  • mental health needs

The Sense Scotland Service Users Consultation Group began meeting in 2004 with a small group of people supported by Sense Scotland. In 2014 it celebrated its tenth year anniversary and re-launched with a new name “Our Voice”, new logo and website. Today there are several regional Our Voice meetings in Aberdeen, Dundee, and Glasgow and recently in North Ayrshire.

Our Voice asks people who are supported by Sense Scotland what is important to them. The group help make people’s views known, not only to Sense Scotland, but to local and National Government and other organisations. It gives the opportunity for people to make their voice heard on issues that affect people in their everyday lives. For example: making transport more accessible to disabled people or making your views known on the area where you live. Each group meets once a month and there are quarterly joint meetings where all of the regional groups come together to meet with representatives from the Leadership team at Sense Scotland.

Assessing communication support needs

As the group grew in membership size and geographical locations, we found that the formats of existing agendas and minutes were not meeting all individual’s accessibility and communication support needs. We needed to provide different alternative formats and to clarify exactly what all people’s communication preferences were. A communication survey was carried out with all members with a list of new accessible formats that were available. Before the survey the existing formats that were used for agendas and minutes were DVD with BSL, Text versions, sometimes with special fonts agreed with individuals. After the survey was carried out the formats that were identified were DVD with BSL, Text, Braille, Audio CD (using Scottish Voices), Easy Read, individualised font (for example Comic Sans 24 which worked well for one person) and large print. Scottish Voices is a Scottish synthetic voice from Call Scotland supplied by Cereproc and funded by the Scottish Government. Together with Word Talk (used on a PC), this enabled us to save the text from a word document into mp3 format and we were then able to create audio CDs in a short space of time. Some individuals preferred to receive more than one format. For example Braille, audio CD and a text version sent by email so that they can access by computer with screen reading software.

AAC methods and minutes during the meetings

The agenda we now use at meetings is one based on the Talk for Scotland Toolkit agenda template and uses Bonnington symbols which are free. There is a poster with the Group rules and these are circulated with the agenda at each meeting. For meetings where there are British Sign Language (BSL) users, there are BSL interpreters, who are filmed throughout the meeting in order to make the BSL video minutes. We use a small group of interpreters regularly because they now adapt their signing to suit the particular language and sensory needs of individuals. The standard version of the minutes are typed in easy read format supported by mainly Bonnington symbols. However, we also create versions in all of the formats listed previously.

Much of the work with Our Voice is responding to consultations both internally from Sense Scotland but also from external organisations. On most occasions the information has to be made into different accessible formats before it can be presented to Our Voice members. Sometimes there are Easy Read versions of the consultation document already available. This makes it more straightforward to take directly to group members. Sometimes, however, we have to make this information into Easy Read format using a variety of symbol formats.

An example was the awareness raising sessions to give people information about the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 and information about registering to vote. One of the consultations sessions related to finding out what accessible information was already available to disabled people about the Referendum. We prepared a survey in an Easy Read format made with Photosymbols. However, we found it was a difficult for someone to understand if they had not taken part in voting before. So, at one of the Our Voice meetings we used a range of activities, including having a ballot box, a tactile map, pictures and films in order for people to understand more about the Referendum and voting. This information was then made into a storyboard.

AAC support

A separate meeting was held for some of the support staff who accompany members to the meetings. This considered what additional support was required after the meetings. Staff identified it was important to receive minutes within a week after the meeting and for most people minutes should be presented in an easy read summary format. The role of support staff and family members was very important to ensure that Our Voice members were supported to learn about matters arising from the minutes and to prepare for any actions they had to undertake. The Leadership Team was invited to agree involvement in organisational decisions. This all helped with communication. In addition, guidelines were put in place for members receiving minutes one week after the meeting. This helped members prepare for the next meeting in three weeks’ time.

Our Voice Conference evaluation

One of the events that members from the service users’ consultation group help to organise is their annual Conference. The Service User Consultation Group Conference is open to all people supported by Sense Scotland. We used easy read agendas and programmes using symbols and pictures together with other accessible formats such as Braille, Moon and large print. Our Voice members had different roles at the conference, some were presenting and others were helping with registration and handing out evaluation forms.

For evaluation of the conference we used a number of methods in which participants could use. These included:

  • Questionnaire made with symbols and pictures where you tick your answer with smiley faces for like, don’t like and not sure
  • Talking Mats (Talking Mats is an established communication tool, which uses a mat with symbols attached as the basis for communication. It is designed to help people with communication difficulties to think about issues discussed with them, and provide them with a way to effectively express themselves in a visual way that can be easily recorded.)
  • Evaluation Board with symbols where you can use sticky notes to write your comments
    Video feedback
  • Filling out questionnaire using the iPads (we used a trial version of QuickTapSurvey)
  • Symbols with boxes and sound recordings – Yes and No for whether you had enjoyed attending the conference and you place the ball into the yes or no box.

What we have learnt

For communication to be truly inclusive time is the most important factor. Our Voice members have to be given the correct format with enough time for them to read the information. Staff need time and resources to learn about new software or tools to make Easy Read documents. The information has to written in plain English and adapted for different groups. Throughout 2014, Our Voice members spent a lot of time exploring the aims and objectives, rules, roles and responsibilities of the group. This included guidance on when minutes should be sent out and guidance for external consultations. We found also that we had to constantly check we have the correct information about people’s preferred method of communication. As individual’s communication support needs change so does their preference in how they receive agendas and minutes. The use of technology and other methods is something we will continue to explore and develop with the group. For example, there are new developments in Talking Mats, iPads and other symbol systems. One final note to highlight is that “one size doesn’t fit all”. It is important to be flexible and to adapt to each individual’s communication support needs. Of course, we can adopt general principles and prepare material using standard formats, but we have to be open to meeting the communication support needs of each individual member of a group. This might mean 20 different responses if a group has 20 different members.

For further information about Sense Scotland’s Our Voice group please go to their website:

For further information about communication surveys or any of the communication systems described in this Case Study please contact:


CALL Scotland
Our Voice
Partners in Communication
Sense Scotland
Talk for Scotland Toolkit
Talking Mats
The Scottish Voices