18 Oct 2021

Launching the Communication Access UK Initiative

We talk to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists about their multi-award winning campaign at this year's memcom membership excellence awards.


Imagine this: You’re in a bank trying to withdraw some money. The cashier ignores you and turns to address your wife. You stop to order a coffee at the café, but the server mocks you and you leave empty-handed. Next stop: the pub. The bartender says you’re drunk and refuses to serve you.


For many of us - pre-lockdown anyway - a quick trip to the bank and a stop-off for a coffee or a pint would be an ordinary afternoon, easy to take for granted.


For the millions of people across the UK with communication difficulties – not so.


Whether due to stroke, Cerebral Palsy, autism, brain injury, a stammer or another cause, people with communication difficulties face real obstacles to going about their daily lives.


For some, these challenges have been heightened in lockdown, due to mask-wearing and social distancing.


In many cases, the obstacles arise due to lack of public understanding of communication needs, and a lack of training for people in public-facing roles.


The net result: millions of people in the UK are likely to receive poor service in shops and cafes, from financial services and when dealing with public services, with profound implications for their livelihood and wellbeing, and for the economy.


The solution


The Communication Access UK partnership, a group of charities led by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and Communication Matters, recognised this unacceptable state of affairs and took action.


In 2016, the charities set about designing a symbol – our answer to the blue wheelchair symbol – and accompanying training that would radically improve the lives of people with communication difficulties.  


Our vision? By undertaking our unique free training and displaying the symbol, businesses would demonstrate they could serve people with communication needs. The everyday lives of millions would improve.


We couldn’t just snap our fingers and make it happen, though.


Working in partnership with the University of Leeds, we began with research to gauge the need for the project.


We then consulted with 5,000+ people about the initiative, many of whom had communication difficulties. We continued to work with those affected first-hand throughout the project. It is their experiences and desire for better, more accessible communication that make this training so powerful.


We also worked with our coalition of charities and with government departments.  


In the early adopters’ phase that followed, we delivered the training to 1,000+ staff from 50 organisations.


By 2020, we were ready to launch the initiative.


The launch


Then, the pandemic struck, scuppering launch plans. Undeterred, we got creative and converted our plans to digital.


Our objectives and strategy were clear: to gain wide exposure in key sectors, including finance, retail, hospitality and public services, ensuring strong take-up of the initiative and ongoing organic spread.


As charities, our partnership did not have a big budget for the launch. Instead we relied on our networks, and on free media exposure.


We used an online event featuring high profile business leaders and an impactful social media campaign to create interest. We also managed to secure national media coverage for the initiative.


Now, almost a year after the programme’s public launch:


·        1,200 organisations have signed up to the scheme, committing to train around 30,000 staff

·        Thousands of individuals have signed up and undertaken the training

·        We far surpassed our goal of 1,000 total sign-ups

·        Hundreds of service users have been engaged

·        Earned media reach: 2.7 million+ people

·        Social media reach: 1.25 million+ people


Find out more at https://youtu.be/kD5_p_YZ1PY