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A Project To Facilitate Interrogation And Testimony And Make It Accessible To People With Complex Communication Disabilities, Via Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) – A Four-Year Project

 

In 2016 the Augmentative Alternative Communication method (AAC), that had run for the past five years (since 2013), came to an end. The aim of this project was to create a tool that would facilitate the process of investigation and testimony in court.

The Haruv Institute led the program to make investigation and testimony accessible via augmentative alternative communication (AAC), in collaboration with JDC-Israel; Ashalim; The Welfare Ministry  and Social Services, the Service for Child Investigations  and Special Investigations and Disabilities Departments of the Welfare Ministry; the Education Ministry – Special Education Branch, SHEFI (psychological consultation service); the National Insurance Institute; the Isaac Israel Organization (NGO); the Ministry of Justice – State Attorney’s Office; Israel Police.

 

Marketing and removing barriers

In order to expand the circle of investigations and increase the number of detections and reports of abuse within this population, the project staff members work together with professionals from different disciplines, the families of the disabled and the general public. Its aim is to raise awareness of the phenomenon of abuse and violence against people with disabilities in general, and those with complex communication disabilities in particular. The principal objective is to change the public’s attitude towards this population and cause the agencies working in the field to understand and believe that it is possible to interrogate this population in an efficient manner, and that people with complex communication disabilities who use the AAC tool have the right and the capability of transmitting reliable and legally binding information on what they have experienced.
Towards this purpose, the film, “The Right to Have My Voice Heard”, was produced and translated into English and Arabic, and was screened together with a lecture, that was adapted each time to the target audience. This program was presented in nearly 110 lectures before 3,500 professionals from various disciplines. A promotional pamphlet for distribution over the internet and at lectures was prepared.

 

 

Activities for marketing and removing barriers were carried out in a variety of places and in collaboration with different bodies

Education, welfare and health frameworks: the program was marketed among the frameworks that treat the complex communication disabilities population – in kindergartens, schools, child development clinics, employment frameworks, residential frameworks, welfare departments, etc. The program was promoted at staff meetings, in teachers’ rooms, courses, and integrated into teaching seminars.

 

The judicial and legislative system: in order to remove barriers among the judicial and legislative workers, a program was presented at the staff meetings of the regional State Attorney’s Offices

(central, south, north and Jerusalem), in the Course of Evidence Law as part of the judicial training program and to nearly fifty judges from different courts. In addition, the program was presented to the Child Interrogation and Special Investigations Service of the Welfare Ministry in the different regions, in order to assure that the AAC interrogations are assigned to especially trained interrogators, and to raise the awareness of employing speech therapists in additional investigations.

 

The Israel Police: As part of the collaborative effort with the Israel Police, a day seminar was organized to improve the accessibility of services to people with disabilities. The day seminar included lectures on the different forms of disability, provided practical tools for discourse with people with disabilities, and discussed the procedures and regulations police should follow when encountering people with disabilities, bringing this information into sharp focus. At the end of the day seminar, the AAC Program was introduced, to raise police awareness of the ability to interrogate also those people who do not speak.

 

Lectures for family members of people with disabilities :  With the conclusion of the AAC Program, there was a need to raise awareness among the families as well. Towards that purpose, Shosh Zeev Reshef was recruited. She is the National Director-Supervisor of the Service for Treatment of the Population with Autism and ASD. She held about twenty meetings with groups of parents to children with disabilities, to bring this complex subject to the surface among the families and raise their awareness of this issue.

 

Lecture at Ashalim : In order to expose the program before the general public and professionals, a TED-like video for the internet was produced within the Ashalim GO 2 project.

 

Presenting the program at the Isaac Organization’s International Conference, Toronto, Canada: In August 2016, the program coordinator, Uri Gur-Dotan, and Netta Ben-Zeev, the developer of the  AAC tool to help communication-people with disabilities be interrogated, attended the Isaac Organization’s conference in Toronto that focused completely on the AAC Program. This augmented the wide exposure and understanding that Israel is a leading figure in the world in accessing justice to the population of users of the AAC program. The AAC team participated in many different lectures delivered before representatives and interested individuals from all over the world, and even created partnerships for joint learning.

 

Concluding  day seminar : In December 2016, a summing-up day seminar, under the title “There is someone to talk to”, was held. It was attended by 150 professionals, and screened videos created by two AAC users, and how they view the program.

 

Training programs:   During the first years of the program, the interrogations of communication-people with disabilities were done by the speech therapist, Netta Ben-Zeev, and the special investigator, Micha Haran. As the program began, it became clear that there is a need to train more special investigators and speech therapists, in order to widen the professional pool at the national level and adapt them to the various degrees of specialization, geographic dispersion and cultural differences.

 

The program trained 12 special investigators in two cycles, who are closely familiar with the population of AAC users. The program presented the complexity of the collaborative work with the speech therapist; professionalism in simplifying language; the interrogation process and procedures, from the planning stages to implementation.
Additionally, 14 speech therapists were also trained. During the recruitment process, attention was given to their geographical location, their type of professional specialization with AAC (autism, CP, aphasia, children, adolescents, etc.), and the cultural and gender-related differences. The clinicians studied the work of the interrogator, the relevant laws, the investigation procedures and interrogation process as made accessible to the AAC population, while noting the different roles of the interrogator and the clinician.

At the end of the training program, a joint practice session with simulations was conducted, in which investigations based on real scenarios were prepared and practiced, with the help of actors from the MSR Center (the National Center for Medical Simulation).