Change that leads to better lives

Accessibility - beyond the face to face

Author: Sharon Horne, Advocacy Manager, Your Voice Counts

When the Covid 19 pandemic hit, Your Voice Counts, like many other organisations, went from providing a service where face to face meetings with clients was the norm, to working remotely almost overnight.

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Our advocacy services faced the additional challenge of finding ways to engage with people who found communication difficult. We needed to continue to provide a statutory service in environments, such as care homes, that we could no longer enter, and where confusion and isolation had become new norm. How could we support people to access a service to help them find their voice?

We quickly linked with our colleagues in the local authority, hospital trust and care settings to ascertain what would be the best way to engage with people during these challenging times, and to think about how we could individualise our service to each person’s needs. We worked quickly to establish new systems, protocols and guidance to set out how our service would adapt to the changed environment. Initially, due to the level of cognitive decline many of the people we work with experience, we anticipated that few would be able to engage via video calls, and whilst that was true in some cases many, with some invaluable assistance from staff working within the settings, we found we were able to establish a new vehicle for communication.

Staff in placements were able to support access to video links which enabled our advocates to talk to people, not only about their rights under the relevant legislation, but more importantly about being human, about being in an institution where everyone around them would be working with their faces covered and full PPE, and where seeing a smiling face was now the exception and not the norm. For some individuals the care home where they lived and felt safe had gone from being the place of safety to a place of fear and isolation. We quickly recognised that value of being able to offer a listening ear and a friendly face.

Our advocates were fantastic at adapting and rising to the challenges that the pandemic presented. Their own resilience was tested by enforced lock downs and home working and the isolation from colleagues that this brought. Face to face meetings were replaced by a combination of video and telephone calls, text message, and instant chat on whatever platform the individual found themselves most comfortable. We were determined to ensure that people had some form of connection to the outside world and where we sought to increase the frequency of this contact. Our team spent hours ensuring that people weren’t forgotten and made time to listen the staff working in such trying circumstances to ensure we did what we could to feedback their experiences. I’m incredibly proud that we were able to provide this connection to so many isolated people, and that we were able to play a small but significant part in in seeing people through such difficult times.

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