Expertise in Multimodal Communication Deepens Inclusion

Piirrettyjä päitä keskustelemassa toistensa kanssa. Taustalla on puhekuplia, lintuja, kirjaintauluja sekä selkokielisiä kuvakortteja.

We promote the accessibility of communication environments and the conveying of linguistic meaning by utilizing diverse resources of interaction like multimodality. At the heart of education and RDI activities is linguistic accessibility. By taking it into account, equal opportunities for participation can be produced, regardless of the mode of communication. We use the diversity of interactions as a resource.

What is Communication Expertise?

The task of communication expertise is to research and develop interpretation using methods that support communication (Augmentative and Alternative Communication, AAC), as well as pedagogical practices of method control. Our view is that the knowledge gained from the field can also be used more broadly for the development of different operating environments, such as the interaction skills needed in remote working.

We master the means of interaction and communication in traditional environments and interactive technologically mediated activities, and we promote the encounter of diversity and the knowledge of cultural minorities.

Our training provides interpreters who know how to utilize various methods that support communication, such as sign language or image communication, which support, supplement or replace the language used in interaction situations. Depending on the orientation, the graduate interpreter can also work as a communication instructor with strong pedagogical skills in planning and guiding the learning of communication methods for the whole community.

Linguistic Accessibility Benefits Everyone

Our expertise can be utilized in research and development work in various areas of society. Linguistic accessibility and fluency in communication benefit all members of society. Linguistic accessibility aims to enable the participation of a wide range of people.

Our own use of multilingualism and long-term collaboration with sign language communities has given us unique know-how interaction skills in visual and bodily interaction. With it, we have to give a new perspective to looking at interaction situations.

Two drawn person holding speech bubbles. A bird flies overhead.

A Multimodal View of Interaction

At the heart of communication expertise is an understanding of interaction as a multimodal phenomenon. All human activities and interactions use a wide variety of resources, such as gestures and the architecture of the physical space to convey meaning. Everyday conception of language focuses on spoken and written languages, which limits the possibilities for participation. Expanding the understanding of language and challenging established and unconscious behaviours can provide new ways to create common understanding and fluent interaction.

There is a particular need for communication expertise when working with people who have challenges in speech and comprehension. There are an estimated 65,000 such people in Finland (Finnish Association for Developmental Disabilities 2020).

Our interpreting students graduate to become communication instructors and interpreters who have a wide range of communication methods at their disposal. A communication specialist is able to support people and communities to expand their understanding of language, learn new ways of interacting, use technology to support communication, and rethink the operating environment and the conditions it provides for participation.

Changing Interactions Between Working Life and Everyday Life

The need for communication expertise has increased as technology has changed much of everyday life and workplace communication.

A wide variety of work and leisure activities can be done online, but what are the thing that should be considered in online interactions? How accessible are situations, how can technology be used to create equal opportunities, what skills are needed, and who teaches them?

Interaction skills are emphasized when participants do not share the same physical space. Working online can also enable a new kind of inclusion, if the needs and wishes of people from different backgrounds are taken into account when planning activities.

These issues have already been addressed in the legislation. The law on the provision of digital services, which strongly emphasizes accessibility came into effect in 2019. The EU is preparing a European Accessibility Act (European Commission 2019), which also aims to oblige the private sector to organize its activities while taking accessibility into account.

Public actors and communities are now leading the way towards a more accessible society, to which the cutting edge of communication expertise provides support through education and development activities.

Project Activity and Education Development

Communication expertise is a new focus area at Humak. Communication expertise education has existed in its current form since 2018. This new kind of competence has created a basis for new types of project activities and expanded our networks.

The roots of our expertise and operations stretch even farther, which is reflected in our project activities. The EU-funded (AMIF fund) Kuvako project ran in 2017-2020. The project developed interaction situations in reception centers using image communication. As a result, the Kuvako mobile application was developed. It serves as a means of communication in situations where there is no shared common language and people have diverse cultural backgrounds. The operating environment set high goals for the comprehensibility of images and user interface, regardless of language and cultural backgrounds. The expertise developed in the project can be utilized in a variety of international contexts. There was also interest in development work at the EU level, and the Kuvako project was invited to present its activities to representatives of the European Commission in 2019.

The research and development work done in Kuvakom has been successful and the application has had a lot of interest outside the original target group as well. The Kuvakom application can be used extensively in areas where people work, such as the social and health sectors. In these areas, challenging interactions are encountered where understanding communication clearly is key. Our goal is to continue the development of communication tools and environments.

Communication Expertise Supports Human Interaction

Our focus area expertise is utilized in Humak-wide training and project activities, such as KuoHuLab and Baana projects, among others.

  1. KuoHuLab served as a community encounter and creative platform, where different people faced a common problem or a challenge. The platform helped create a sports group for sign language users a as part of the Kuopio Community College activity.
  2. The Baana project, on the other hand, developed a network-like recruitment model for the employment of immigrants and utilized plain language and picture cards to support interaction.

Linguistic accessibility expertise deepens the development of inclusion and community, as people gain the knowledge to take into account different resources of interaction, activities can be targeted at a wider and more diverse group of users. We want to further develop methods that support and complement communication as pioneers of education.

Communication expertise can be applied in any field and our goal is to help develop a more accessible society.