Welcome everyone to our Summer Newsletter. Of course, I am writing this retrospectively and sitting in the office in September. The Summer months were spent adapting our behaviour and the way that we were able to do things to fit in with the New Normal and keep ourselves and our families safe from infection through keeping our distance from each other, however, it meant that It was a good time to be able to focus on a new concept, a solution and a way forward….and this is exactly what we have been doing.
While many organisations are struggling to deliver their core business and to meet the needs of their clients, Cued Speech UK and Robotica Machine Learning have been developing new and ground-breaking technology which will be able to support deaf children at home and school and deaf adults in industry, at work and in public situations.
Robotica Machine Learning, supported by CSUK have developed a Speech-to-Cue Avatar and her name is Cassie. Cassie offers total communication, developed to support Cued Speech, she has very accurate lip patterns and subtitles as she cues and speaks. Cassie could be used on an APP for live conversation or she could be used to give pre-recorded messages in Public facing contexts such as airports, seaports, police stations or NHS Trusts. Our aim is that the revenue that can be made from corporate sales will support her free dissemination into schools and homes.
This could be our Avatar for communicating in Cued Speech!
We were generously funded by Claire Milne to make the proof of concept but in just six weeks we are at the prototype stage and ready to test the avatar in different contexts. CSUK have an academic working group, a user group of deaf cued speech users and Robotica have a number of commercial possibilities. It is our intention to keep our work mutually profitable for both organisations. The potential that this assistive technology has for CSUK is considerable, we will be breaking down communication barriers for deaf children and adults while creating a sustainable income for the Charity which should support us into the next five years and beyond. We are looking for a funder to support us with £300k over the next three years in order to be able to continue to invest in our interest in Cassie.
Avatar Development Group - It has been a very interesting process setting up a consultation group of interested parties including a growing number of deaf cued language users both here and in America who are helping Robotica refine the avatar. There are so many aspects to consider as the work gets increasingly detailed, for example - how will she pronounce and cue words like ‘loch’ ‘croissant’ ‘Argyll’ and ‘denouement’ as well as the 824 words that end with the all-important schwa sound /uh/ (which all cuers will know as the side-drop).
The current focus is now on Cassie’s ‘lipreadablility’. If Robotica can create a 3D avatar that is at least 30% lip-readable then it will be equivalent to a human speaker. This alone would be a huge achievement in the world of avatar development. With the expert eye of our deaf lip readers guiding the process, we are hopeful that this target can be reached and perhaps even surpassed.
Learn to Cue Game - We are also excited that Robotica have taken up the challenge of creating an app that will be a ‘learn to cue’ game. Users will have the chance to meet Cassie through this game and learn to cue-read from her as well as discovering how to construct and cue at least sixty simple words. There are more levels planned for the game as funds allow - these will include introducing and building literacy skills for deaf children and fun games and quizzes for anyone wanting to practice their cueing skills.
We have been lucky to receive sufficient funding from trusts and foundations before the pandemic hit to keep our services going. Trusts and Charities such as Global Make Some Noise have provided us with grants that have proved invaluable. Even the small grants that have come in from Trusts such as the Woodward Trustand the Benham Charitable Trust have helped but funding opportunities continue to be challenging as more and more Trusts are turning their focus to Covid related themes such as homelessness, domestic violence, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and complex needs.
This is why it is important for charities to be as creative as they can in how they raise funds. As we previously noted, we now have our own self-study where people can learn Cued Speech online and we are continuing to be successful in selling licences to staff from specialist departments such as local sensory support services and audiology departments.
Knowing that all income is helpful, we have even just set up our own shop on our website, where we plan to sell a wide range of products and digital content. So if you have been desperate for a Cued Speech T-Shirt – now is your chance to buy one! The digital content will mean for example, being able to download a series of our nursery rhymes and children's stories so you can use them where and whenever you want to help educate your children.
Fundraiser for Cued Speech - We were excited to learn that the husband of our very own Kathy Kenny had decided to organise his own fundraiser for Cued Speech.
You would be forgiven for expecting a one-off cake sale, or a half marathon but Wayne decided to think big! So instead Wayne will be swimming in the sea, in all weathers and all conditions for a whole year!
If you would like to offer him your support, you can donate by going to his Gofundme page at https://gf.me/u/ykdfck or just in type in “Wayne Kenny 365” in a search engine and you’ll find it..
We shall be sharing updates of his swims on our social media including our Facebook page and our new Instagram account..
Supporting Children during lockdown
Tobin, Kathy and Rosie Molton have done amazing work supporting children from Eggbuckland school with language and activities, boosting their self-confidence and encouraging their social skills. The aim was to make sure that when the time came, these children would be ready to return to school.
Our lovely Cued Speech tutor Lindsey has been badly effected by long term Covid symptoms. She was previously commissioned by Eggbuckland to deliver Cued Speech and language support but sadly she is currently not well enough to return to school but Tobin has been able to fill the gap until her return.
The summer months have seen great success with candidates taking their exams online or as restrictions have lifted, some have also opted to come to the Boatshed in person. We have enjoyed working with everyone immensely and as ever, gratitude goes to our online tutor Karen Weir who has helped so many students reach ‘exam readiness’, also to Kathy Kenny and our tutor-in-training Sam Lawton.
Well done to everyone who passed their level one exam including our own wonderful Cued Speech Regional Advisors Kirsti and Sagira!
Also - fabulous cueing parent Ela Roszkowska who worked hard with Kathy Kenny and passed the exam with flying colours.
Congratulations finally goes to Deaf Inclusion Worker Tess Lees who passed her level one exam with us in January this year and has now successfully added level two.
Family Support Practitioners
Over the summer, I continued to work from home in line with guidance from our Welsh local authorities. I have missed ‘real life’ interaction with families and colleagues but I’ve adjusted to our current ways of working and feel lucky that I can continue to support families virtually. With the support of my team, I have picked up new ideas, games, tips and tricks for engaging on-line, and I have nabbed the best wi-fi spot in the house.
These virtual visits and calls have lessened the isolation experienced by some families during this lock-down period. The Hearing Impairment playgroup in Torfaen even managed a virtual ‘End of Term’ playgroup party. I am currently sharing one cue a day with this group of families (current topic: ‘back to school’!)
I have continued to learn more about Cued Speech myself. The usefulness of the system was explained simply to me by a young child who told me how her hearing aid had got wet and been removed to dry out ‘Mum used Cued Speech and then I could understand her’.
Well, it’s been a busy and creative summer looking for new ways of engaging our Cueing families and supporting them with new and fun resources. I have enjoyed being able to continue to produce more videos for our ‘View it - Cue it!’ series. You can find this series on our social media and our Cue Tube channels. These videos are only a minute long and are great little moments of practice or to help add to your word bank for various topics.
Another exciting venture has been working with SIMMO Music Productions to help produce our two new Vowel songs which shall be rocking their way to you very soon! A refreshing way to learn and practice your vowel sounds and I can’t wait to share those with you all.
I have also started to design some new picture flash cards for our consonant hand shapes and I am sure that children, parents and teachers alike will love using these as much as I do. Why not design your own flashcards and share them with us? I would love to see all your wonderful ideas and drawings!
Kathy Kenny has continued to support families from home via zoom and has been able to meet a couple of parents in person again all socially distanced of course.
Over the summer holidays most families have taken a rest from engaging with cued speech but a couple of families have soldiered on through. Kathy has a family in Devon who are now able to use cued speech with their 2 year old son, reading familiar stories, using cued speech at regular times in the day, playing games in the park and using cued speech in a number of different settings where the child can’t access speech because of the noisy environment.
Another family in Plymouth have learnt to cue and the Mum successfully passed her level 1 with flying colours! She is still engaged with Kathy on a fortnightly basis to help to produce more fluency in her cueing. She is also looking to learn to cue in her home language of Polish.
Kathy has been teaching her own wider-family members and friends to cue which has made a significant difference to the summer holiday which is characterized with seeing family and friends. In nearly all these meet ups there has been a willing person to try out their cued speech skills with Kathy’s daughter Megan which has been invaluable to her ability to join in conversations.
Every cloud has a silver lining and my Covid positive was passing my level 1 Cued Speech exam - Yay me!!!
I have continued to support families virtually and even started helping two families learn to Cue. In August I was permitted to meet families outdoors - in parks and playgrounds in line with social distancing guidelines. It was great to get away from online meetings and Zoom screens and meet the children outdoors, visiting the local parks and enjoying the warm weather.
I took one family to a local animal farm which was a first for the child and it was an excellent experience for them. I had the opportunity to introduce so much language and Cueing and it was an amazing and rewarding experience for all.
I look forward to September and hope to share my new and improved cueing skills with many more families.